There’s got to be a morning after, and so ends the 85th Academy Awards. The prizes have been given out; there was a lot of heartbreak, and now its time to gear up for the next show. Last night the top Prize went to Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” which was the frontrunner going into the race because of all the predecessor awards it racked up. The Producer’s Guild of America, the Director’s Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild of America, and the Writer’s Guild of America all gave “Argo” the top honors in each of their awards shows. So of course it was only natural that “Argo” would be the favorite going into the race. There was just one thing wrong: “Argo” didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director.
I sense the movie wasn’t even loved by the Academy all that much because not only did it fail to secure a nomination that is practically essential to win the top prize, it came in fifth place in terms of nominations with a measly 7 (the movies leading it had 12, 11, and two films got 8). So what does this mean? Well, it means that the Academy Awards officially made themselves irrelevant. Even more so than they already are to most people. And this isn’t because “Argo’s” a bad movie. On the contrary, I gave the film the full five stars and put it at number three on my Best Films of the Year list. So why I say that “Argo” winning made the Academy irrelevant?
To start this story let us look back to late last year when the Academy announced that they would have the voters turn in their ballots before the guilds announced their nominations. There had been a lot of criticism that the Academy voting body was just a group of sheep that would follow the guilds wherever they went. Granted, the Academy has leaned on the guilds for years, but now that we have bloggers and Twitter people can follow them and the race becomes rather boring as one film wins everything. So the Academy decided they would cast their votes for the nominees before the guilds announced theirs, and would open the real voting up after the guilds had ended.
The point of this was to allow the voters to have more time to reflect on the awards without just following the crowd. Once Ben Affleck got snubbed for Best Director though, the guilds got a little prissy with them. Three of the Best Director nominations weren’t close to what the guilds had predicted. Where was Kathryn Bigelow? Where was Quentin Tarrentino? What about Tom Hooper? And where was Ben Affleck? The actor who reinvented himself as a great director. How DARE they snub him?! He’s the golden standard all actors should look to. When the dust settled, the guilds decided the Academy had done a great wrong in the world and set out to fix it.
Now the Golden Globe “Argo” won was irrelevant because the Globes aired the night of the Oscar nominations, so their choice of “Argo” probably had more to do with the fact that they could get Ben Affleck on stage that night instead of spiting the Academy. The rest of the guilds buckled down though. They were going to prove to the Academy that they had made a mistake, and they were going to push their underdog through to the big prize. And so one after another the guilds gave “Argo” their top spots in the awards. The PGA gave “Argo” Best Picture of the year. This is the one award no one really complained about though because the nominees were so good anything could win.
But then the SAG gave “Argo” the award for Best Ensemble Cast. This was an award that appeared to be a lock for “Silver Linings Playbook,” which had several actors up for individual awards at the SAG (and the Oscars, becoming the first film since “Reds” to have acting nods in all four categories). In contrast, the only actor singled out as being award worthy for “Argo” was Alan Arkin for Best Supporting Actor. We figured that could have been a fluke though since the actors especially took it hard when Affleck was snubbed, so this could have been their way of getting even. But then the Scribbler and WGA gave “Argo” the award of Best Adapted Screenplay. What was going on?
It had strong competition from “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Life of Pi,” sure, but how did “Argo’s” screenplay beat “Lincolns” brilliant screenplay. Then Affleck won Best Director at the DGA. At this point I could see what was happening because Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg were competing for that award. And with the “Argo” train picking up these awards most of us knew better than to guess his win was the result of a split vote. Then the British Academy Film Awards gave it Best Picture and Director. The train was speeding up and nothing could stop it. The industry was making its point, and they were making it loud.
Now it came down to the Academy, the one awards show in town that liked it but didn’t love it. They hadn’t been casting votes yet and now they were open. What would they do? Would they go their own way, prove to the guilds that they didn’t run them? Or were they going to shake their heads in disappointment and let themselves be bullied? Again, I want to take this moment to remind you that “Argo” is NOT a bad film! Now that it’s part of film history people will be blessed to be watching it for years to come. But what was at stake here, whether people realized it or not, was that the Academy’s independence was on the line. They could have followed the crowd or done their own thing.
When they gave Ang Lee Best Director there was that sense that they were going their own path. Sure, Affleck couldn’t win this award anyway, but “Life of Pi” was a movie the Academy loved very much. They showered it with 11 nominations when most of the guilds were shunning it. At this point it had won four Oscars compared to “Argo’s” two. If “Life of Pi” was given Best Picture it would have been the Academy looking straight at the guilds and (to quote “Argo’s” most popular line) telling them “Argo f**k yourselves!” It was their moment to shine. To prove that they still had a voice in an industry that got carried away with the Ben Affleck pity train. The movie has Best Director in the bad and the film had 11 nominations, so surely they wouldn’t go with “Argo” now…right?
Well, Michelle Obama opened the envelope and said the word we had all been preparing ourselves for: “Argo.” That was it. In moment the Academy cowered out and made themselves irrelevant. That moment proved that regardless how they spaced the voting out, they would always follow the guilds even if they didn’t have passion for the film that was winning. And now the Academy will have some explaining to do. They’ll have to explain why they caved in the endgame of the show. They will have to explain how a movie with so few wins and nominations could have been named Best Picture over “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “Life of Pi” (which , if last night was any indication, was in a position to win).
Now the question remains though: If the Academy lets the guilds tell them what to award, what is the point of an Academy Awards? Why do this circus? How can you claim to be leaders in quality films when you’re too afraid to follow your own heart in the face of lots of peer pressure? And why should people care anymore if the winner goes to whatever the PGA says (fyi, the PGA is the first major guild to give out their awards)? Though we’ll have to see if I’m right, the Academy may have just squashed what little respect they had with the film community. If they are to continue to be relevant, they will need to make plans to distance themselves from the guilds as much as possible. Show people that they reflect on the movies regardless of what the guilds say.
And they need to do it soon, because the clock is ticking…