On one level, I'm pretty tickled about how well "Argo" has come on during the recent film awards. Back in early December, when "Argo" was hardly at the forefront of anyone's Oscar best picture conversation, I wrote a post that effectively guessed the path "Argo" is currently on:
... "Zero Dark Thirty" has topped fellow Thanksgiving weekend awards-season entry "Les Miserables" as the flavor of the moment, emerging as the pride of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review.
But should the momentum of "Zero" flag in similar fashion to "The Social Network" two years ago when it grabbed both those honors, what will step in?
At Hollywood Elsewhere, Jeffrey Wells posits the alternative as "Silver Linings Playbook" — which earned NBR recognition today in screenplay and lead actor — but it's not clear to me that the David O. Russell film is the most logical place for the pendulum to swing. "Les Miserables," "Lincoln," and "Life of Pi," among others, also lurk ... as do their detractors.
Instead, consider the well-liked "Argo," which approaches the stakes of "Zero Dark Thirty" while delivering much of the whip-smart fun that has so endeared "Silver Linings" to its fans. "Argo" doesn't go to either film's extreme, but it combines some of their best elements.
And the breadth of its popularity must be reckoned with. While it might not be everyone's No. 1 film, it could very well be No. 2 on a lot of lists — a movie that could rise to the top as less popular picture nominees are eliminated, one-by-one. ...
Since I'm tooting my horn (because frankly, no one else will), I'll come right back with this: When Ben Affleck didn't get the seemingly essential Oscar nomination for director, it gave me pause. But now, with "Argo" winning just about everything in sight, including the film ensemble prize at tonight's Screen Actors Guild Awards, everything seems to be falling into place – to the point that many would find it crazy to question its ultimate destiny as Oscar best picture winner.
But leave it to me to start questioning things again.
As I note in my analysis of this weekend's Producers Guild and SAG Awards, there's a risk of overstating the importance of "Argo" twin victories. They come from two significant branches of Hollywood but still don't reflect the vote of the vast majority of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences – a group gave the movie fewer Oscar nominations than four other films.
To be clear, I'm still liking the chances of "Argo." For one thing, it's possible that the Oscar nominations didn't reflect the support "Argo" has. For example, "Les Miserables" got two acting nominations, "Lincoln" three, "Silver Linings Playbook" four – but in the best picture race, do those matter much more than the single acting nod "Argo" earned?
On the other hand, how do you make the case, on paper, that "Argo" is as beloved throughout the Academy as "Lincoln," which was nominated in six categories that "Argo" wasn't: director, lead actor, supporting actress, cinematography, costume design and producton design? (The only nomination "Argo" got that "Lincoln" didn't was sound editing.)
For that matter, "Life of Pi" was nominated in five Oscar categories that shunned "Argo": director, cinematography, original song, production design and visual effects, with Alan Arkin's supporting actor nomination the only nod "Argo" had that "Pi" didn't.
Beyond that, PGA winners and SAG winners simply don't always win the Oscar.
I do believe there is a great deal of comfort with the idea that "Argo" is the next best picture at the Academy Awards. But when it comes to the people who matter, Academy voters, I can't let go of the possibility that they will think, in a number of ways, that "Lincoln" is the superior achievement.
At a minimum, the same people using the argument that AMPAS' Affleck omission served as a wakeup call to the "Argo" base should realize this: that the past weekend could be just as much of a wakeup call to the "Lincoln" core. (For the more cynical-minded among you, that means the take-down campaign for "Argo" may yet be in the offing.)
I guess your feeling about this depends at least in part on how much you believe in momentum. If the same facts were true, but the PGA and SAG victories for "Argo" were followed by its relatively disappointing showing at the Oscar noms, would you still believe it was destined to take the Acad's grand prize?
If "Argo" wins best picture, history will no doubt record that it became clear that would happen the weekend of Jan. 26-27 (though if I'm lucky, someone will notice that I suggested it seven weeks earlier). But if "Argo" falters at the finish line, you can't say you weren't warned.