Despite the hysteria, it may not be appropriate yet to call a time of death on the decades and decades’ worth of precedent that will be shattered when Argo wins Best Picture despite very conspicuously not being nominated for its director, not having even remotely close to the year’s highest nomination tally (it trails behind four other films), and not having even a halfway plausible shot at winning more than two other categories aside from this one. After all, there’s still one tradition working in the movie’s favor. It’s going to win the all-important Oscar for Best Editing, some would say for how exhilaratingly it crosscuts between a grim interrogation at a Mehrabad Airport checkpoint, Walter White barking out commands in D.C., and Alan Arkin and John Goodman being humorously cockblocked from answering their telephone by archetypal union (i.e. guild) workers, whereas others would say for how ruthlessly it edits out any historical perspective that doesn’t turn the Iranian populace into swarthy pod people.
Long after the coup goes down at the Dolby Theatre, and after the Driving Miss Daisy asterisk gets affixed to only the second Best Picture winner since Oscar’s sketchy first few years to win without a director nod, common sense and history may very well insinuate that Lincoln—the Best Picture nominee with the most nominations, the best box-office performance, the most impeccable pedigree, and in general the fewest outspoken detractors—was always the frontrunner and Argo was always the underdog, but in the moment the former unquestionably feels like the spoiler and the latter like the slam dunk. As Oscar’s own artistically scattershot track record and one Academy member’s hysterical ballot defense in this week’s Hollywood Reporter prove, it’s hard for voters not to be pretty myopic about an event that now very literally calibrates their calendars. In that light, shyeah, like there was ever any hope that a movie that position’s Hollywood swagger above every known bastion of both democratic diplomacy and revolutionary resistance wouldn’t go all the way.
Though there’s admittedly a little more to chew on here than in the last couple years’ worth of monolithically boring choices, the iconography of Argo is tailor-fit for Oscar, not just in how many times it flatters the Dream Factory with behind-the-scenes gags that wouldn’t even get a rise at a celebrity roast for Fred Rogers, but right down to the interstitials. (For instance, I was just reminded today by critic Niles Schwartz of the seemingly throwaway scene in which Ben Affleck’s C.I.A. hunk shares a Bell System moment with his mildly estranged son when they bond with each other over the movie being televised to their houses miles apart.) Despite its globetrotting intrigue, Argo is never once in direct political dialogue with any particular orthodoxy that doesn’t involve someone assuring, “We’ll fix it in post.”
That, more than anything, is what stings about its ascendance above both Lincoln—a remarkably controlled and focused biopic inversion that turns one of American history’s loftiest subjects into a microcosm for how the country’s sausage gets made—and, in particular, Zero Dark Thirty. Say what you will about Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s unsavory and perhaps naïve presuppositions or Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s still admittedly hagiographic portraiture, their films allow viewers in on the sort of conversations Argo assuages them of ever having to feel obliged to enter, instead suggesting rousing choruses of “That’s Entertainment!”
Will Win: Argo
Could Win: Lincoln