Everyone loves an underdog, especially the movie-minded folks out in Hollywood (well, minus the ones that invested in 2007’s ill-fated Underdog).
Like the perfectly-constructed dramas Academy voters fawn over year after year, the bumpy journey of Ben Affleck’s Argo — a film that owned, then quickly disappeared from, the awards conversation — may deserve an Oscar of its own. It all depends on the ending: whether the beloved Affleck can come from behind to take home the Academy’s Best Picture award after losing traction in the wake of its release. After Sunday night’s Golden Globes, the actor-turned-director was looking like a prize fighter ready to go all the way:
Affleck picked up the Globe for “Best Director” followed by a “Best Motion Picture, Drama” win for his true story thriller, the unbelievable story of a 1979 mission to rescue Iranian Embassy members under the masquerade of a sci-fi blockbuster production. The win is bittersweet for Affleck, who only days before was snubbed by the Academy Awards in their Best Director category. Argo picked up a nomination for Best Picture, but support for the movie looked minimal without Affleck in the Director top five.
Which also makes the Globes win a surprise. Argo is one of the many “prestige” films, movies one would never find in the first 8 months of the year when Hollywood floods the market with blockbusters, to beat the odds and make big bucks at the box office. Since its Oct. 12 release date, Argo has grossed over $111.6 million, picking up coveted critics awards along the way. Affleck’s third feature was always considered a frontrunner; like two movies perfectly weaved together, Argo kicks off with the heart of a caper comedy before segueing into an intense thriller worthy of greats like Michael Mann and Sydney Pollack. A movie about movies, Argo had all the right parts for a Best Picture contender. The only thing going against it was time.
Since 2000, only four of the Best Picture-winning films have been released before November. A majority of nominees have also been late-year releases — like the “bet $1” strategy in Price Is Right, movie studios’ hope is that releasing their Oscar hopefuls closer to the actual voting deadlines will give them an edge. Argo built up strong buzz when it was first released, but with heavy-hitters like Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, and Les Miserables popping up before the Academy called for votes, Affleck’s gem lost luster. The Social Network ran into the same problem when it was released on Oct. 1, 2010. David Fincher’s riveting drama was the one to beat for months after it debuted. The King’s Speech arrived in December to steal its thunder.
But don’t count Affleck out of the running. The Golden Globes surprise turned heads in Hollywood and with the final Oscars votes still weeks away from being cast — final ballots are mailed to voting members in late January and are due the Tuesday prior to Oscar Sunday — the sympathy garnered from his win could sway the Academy. Having won an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting in 1997, Affleck is an industry darling. He built up a status as a leading man before putting it aside for a directing career (it’s still hard to believe the star of Armageddon was the eye behind The Town). Still, losing sight of his 2012 picture was easy with legends like Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, new favorite David O. Russell, and Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow, two directors who also failed to make the cut, but who likely took votes away from Affleck, Ross Perot-style. The Academy, watching Affleck take home two big awards at the Globes, could recognize their “egregious” mistake and pay respect to the triple-threat the only way they can: with a Best Picture win.
History speaks volumes when it comes to Oscar predictions and the Academy’s inclination on how to vote. If Nate Silver can predict the president with a complex series of algorithms and data, awards prognosticators can do the same with 85 years worth of Academy Award winners. Affleck’s one major road block to taking back the gold is the rarity of that kind of wealth-spreading occurring in the past. Only three films have won Best Picture without having their directors nominated: Wings (1928), Grand Hotel (1932), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989). In the last decade, only Ang Lee was able to break away from the Best Picture/Director double-win, when he took home the prize in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain, over Paul Haggis, director of the Best Picture-winning Crash. On top of that, the Golden Globes aren’t sure thing predictors for the Oscars — their Best Drama category has only named a Best Picture winner twice in the last ten years.
Ben Affleck is fighting a losing battle when it comes to Argo at the Oscars, but it’s one the industry wants him to fight. They rose for a standing ovation when he won the Golden Globes. They respect him. He’s the underdog everyone loves. Like Rocky, he may not win the big prize in the end, but that may not matter as long as he’s up for the fight. There’s always Rocky II.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]