Well, folks, the idea that this year’s awards season was going to be more interesting than usual was nice while it lasted. Things were really looking up after Oscar nominations! There were some interesting choices in the actress and director categories, and the early buzz on Argo had cooled a little. Lincoln suddenly became the assumed front-runner, with Silver Linings Playbook as the possible dark horse.
And then the BFCA, the HFPA, the Producers Guild, and the Screen Actors Guild all went with Argo, and all the air went out of the race just like that.
The Academy, I’ve noticed, has tended recently to be a little more daring in odd years, and a little more conservative in even ones. Maybe this is just my own preference speaking, but it seems to me that after they take a risk they push back a little more in the following year. Thus we have The King’s Speech following The Hurt Locker, and now Argo following The Artist. By the time The Artist got to the Oscars, it was so heavily favorited to win that it seemed like an almost boring choice, but it was also a silent, black-and-white film made by a bunch of unknown French people. A movie starring and directed by Ben Affleck, produced by George Clooney, and featuring performances by Alan Arkin and John Goodman is about as far from that as it is possible to get.
To put it even more bluntly, Argo is by far the most mainstream movie nominated for Best Picture this year. It’s not a bad film, exactly, just a conservative one. It is, as far as I’m concerned, the least creatively daring movie of the lot — even Les Misierables, which featured a lot of creative experimentation that failed abjectly at achieving any positive impact, was trying something. And then there are films like Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Zero Dark Thirty, which all bear the indelible stamp of their own distinct auteurs. The fact that these movies — along with the very respectable likes of Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook — were nominated at all is a testament to the Academy, just as the fact that they will almost certainly be passed over for a movie as banal as Argo does the organization a serious discredit.
This is the type of movie that wins lots of awards and that nobody talks about five years down the line. The Oscars have only ever been about rewarding timeless movies in theory, not in practice, but it’s refreshing when they see fit to reward a movie like The Hurt Locker, which will actually be watched and discussed for years and years to come. You can bet that Zero Dark Thirty will play in university seminars, Lincoln in high school classrooms, and Beasts of the Southern Wild in people’s homes for just about as long as we have cinema. Can we really say the same of Argo?
Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress are done deals at this point, and can you really blame them? Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway are so manifestly deserving that it’s hard to begrudge them all the hardware they’re picking up for their performances. I honestly could watch Day-Lewis accept awards for hours on end: his speeches are consistently lovely, warm, funny, poetic.
Best Actress is more up for grabs, though Jennifer Lawrence seems like the front-runner. I love her performance in that movie, but I’m pulling for Riva, who I think still has a slim chance. Lawrence is going to be so much better in so many more movies, as she gets older and more complex, but this is a unique achievement for an actress of Riva’s age and stature.
Best Supporting Actor remains kind of baffling. There’s just no compelling narrative behind any of the nominees, particularly since they’ve all won before. I find it hard to care much about this race – honestly, all I really want is for the Oscars to show part of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s rendition of “Slow Boat to China” for his clip, but alas, I fear it is not to be.