Why ‘Argo’ is still in the driver’s seat for Best Picture

Now that the Presidential election and race for the White House is thankfully behind us (at least for another 4 years that is), even more speculation and analysis can be applied to the race for Oscars and mainly Best Picture! We’re at a critical juncture, in my opinion, as only a very small amount of contenders have yet to be seen, so there’s an almost complete portrait of the year to gaze at. I’ve been looking at it pretty hard lately, and from this angle, it appears that Ben Affleck’s film ‘Argo’ is still sitting in the pole position for Best Picture. There’s no shortage of challengers, but outside of the unseen ones like ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Promised Land’, and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, the main films hoping to unseat Ben’s flick all have a long road ahead, and likely only ‘Lincoln’ stands a shot at taking the title from those already in release. There’s also films like ‘Hitchcock’, ‘Life of Pi’, and ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ that aren’t yet out but have been seen by a decent number of Oscar pundits, and none of them feel like winners to me either. Yes, I’m a big ‘Argo’ fan, but first and foremost I’m an Oscar prognosticator, so this is just my take on how things are shaping up. The race can and likely will change, but right now this is how it looks to me.

Argo vs. every other film already in release this year

Ben Affleck’s movie matches up very favorably with every other movie that’s already hit theaters so far this year, save for ‘Lincoln’. The closest other contenders are ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’, ‘The Master’, and ‘The Sessions’, but they’re all much more concerned with just getting a Best Picture nomination right now, and likely won’t be in line for the win either way. Once upon a time we thought that films like ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ had a chance to be players, but they’re not really being talked about now for nods outside of FYC ads. ‘Argo’ is going to have to contend with Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln biopic, and that’s definitely a tough race, but as Clayton mentioned in the last podcast, ‘Argo’ has the least amount of negatives working against it, so there’s a lot of optimism on their part that they can take on Honest Abe. Now, as the season progresses ‘Lincoln’ could slowly but surely dissolve the lead ‘Argo’ has (and some already see it as the favorite), but right now it’s playing from behind. Of this group though, the only one to really take a truly serious note of is ‘Lincoln’ for the purposes of a Best Picture win.

Argo vs. the contenders screened at festivals but not in release yet

In this realm, Affleck’s third directorial outing is looking at challenges from the likes of ‘Amour’, ‘Hitchcock’, ‘The Impossible’, ‘Killing Them Softly’, ‘Life of Pi’, and ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. Aside from the final two films mentioned, I don’t think anyone is pegging these flicks as threats to win, so that plays into the hands of ‘Argo’ as well. Having seen ‘Amour’, ‘Hitchcock’, and ‘Life of Pi’ (and ranking them in terms of quality in that order as well), I think that ‘Pi’ really is the only one that could be a threat, but it’s harmed by the divisive nature of its message and a screenplay that’s not on the same level as many of the other top tier contenders. It’s been called this year’s ‘Hugo’, and like that film, it’s destined to get a number of nominations and ultimately come up short when it comes to Best Picture. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is the one to watch out for here, since it’s the only likely comedy representation in the category and has the esteemed Audience Award from the Toronto Film Festival working in its favor. I find it hard to believe that voters would choose this David O. Russell film over ‘Argo’ ‘Lincoln’ though, so it’s just a half step down in the race to the top. I’m very confident in its chances at a nomination, but the Best Picture recognition will end there for it.

Argo vs. the unseen players

Here we have ‘Argo’ staring down the barrel of things like ‘Django Unchained’, ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Promised Land’, ‘This is 40’, and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. This is where things get interesting, as ‘Les Miserables’ especially is looked at as the other frontrunner of the race among those not predicting Affleck’s work or Spielberg’s, while ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is a real X factor, as I recently wrote about here. ‘Django Unchained’ has its work cut out for it, plus it’s hard to say if Quentin Tarantino is really a favored son with the Academy or not, with the same being said for Gus Van Sant and ‘Promised Land’, while ‘This is 40’ will struggle for any recognition for Judd Apatow, so ‘Argo’ will only have limited competition here. This is the major competition though, so this is likely where the film will face its true challenge from. Depending on the Academy reception to ‘Lincoln’, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ may have a slightly higher chance of an upset, but right now I’m keeping it a level down in terms of a win. Kathryn Bigelow’s flick is in the running, but Tom Hooper’s ‘Les Miserables’ is the upstart from this grouping.

The likely final confrontation: Argo vs Les Miserables vs Lincoln

This is where we’re probably headed, and it’s the matchup we’ve been talking about for a while now. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ could have something to say, and maybe even ‘Life of Pi’ if my take on it becomes the distinct minority (‘The Master’ as well could raise the stakes here, but to a much smaller degree), but the above three are likely going to fight it out for the Oscar. There will be clear cut factions supporting all three, and they couldn’t be more different. The key for ‘Argo’ and ‘Lincoln’ will be staying power, as both are set for a bunch of nods but will have to fight to remain worthy of the win in the eyes of voters. ‘Les Miserables’ will have to be as good as its fans are hoping, or else this is moot, but if it’s that good, then it’ll really be a big time battle. I could see this doing what ‘The King’s Speech’ did to ‘The Social Network’, but the thing to keep in mind here is Ben Affleck himself. Oscar loves their actors turning into big time filmmakers, so if they’re looking likely to give him Best Director, then that only helps ‘Argo’ for Best Picture. Any of these 3 could take the prize, but I see no reason to back away from my ‘Argo’ prediction right now, even if the key words here are “right now”…

-Obviously, the race is far from over and we have a lot more to say about all of these films, but I think this is a fairly accurate depiction of where we stand right now. I want to know what horse you all are backing now as we enter our final month and a half of 2012. Are you in the ‘Argo’ camp? The ‘Lincoln’ cabinet? Or are you singing the praises of ‘Les Miserables’? Maybe a different film entirely? Give us your take on the current frontrunner and how you think the final weeks of the year will go down. We’re all eyes and ears, so have at it!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments