After its big wins at the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards, “Argo" is in a good place to win Best Picture, despite the snub for director Ben Affleck. Our experts have it ranked #2 behind Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”
Affleck won Best Director at both the Critics Choice and Globes. He well could beat Spielberg at DGA. The last film to win Best Picture without a director nod was “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989) and “Argo” supporters are pointing to that as the precedent for it prevailing.
Yet everyone seems to be ignoring an even bigger question: how many Oscars can “Argo” actually win?
In every other category in which it contends, our experts are predicting another nominee to win. So you have to stop and wonder: can “Argo” be the first film since 1935 to win Best Picture without winning anything else?
In the early days of Oscar, it was a common occurrence for a film to win only Best Picture. The earliest example of this is in the second year of the Academy Awards when Best Picture champ “The Broadway Melody” lost its bids for Best Director (Harry Beaumont) and Best Actress (Bessie Love) to Frank Lloyd (“The Divine Lady”) and Mary Pickford (“Coquette”) respectively.
“Grand Hotel” (1932) holds the distinction of being the only film to win Best Picture without receiving a single nomination in any other category.
“Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935) received eight nominations, including three for Best Actor (Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone), as well as Best Director (Frank Lloyd), Screenplay (Jules Furthman, Talbot Jennings, Carey Wilson), Editing (Margaret Booth), and Score (Nat W. Finston). Yet on Oscar night, it took the big prize but nothing else, losing Actor, Director, Screenplay, and Score to Victor McLaglen, John Ford, Dudley Nichols, and Max Steiner for “The Informer” while Ralph Dawson won the cutting prize for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream."
Times have changed since then. When choosing Best Picture, voters tend to support that film throughout the categories, whether it’s grand total be eleven wins (“Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” (1997), “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003)), or just three (“The Godfather” (1972), “Rocky” (1976), “Crash” (2005)).
The last time a Best Picture winner won just one other award was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1952. That was considered an upset even back then (it’s other win was for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story). Since then, three wins are as low as voters were willing to go when selecting a Best Picture winner.
“Argo” is contending in six other categories: Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio), Editing (William Goldenberg), Score (Alexandre Desplat), Sound Editing (Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn), and South Mixing (John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Jose Antonio Garcia). In every one of these races, there are one or two contenders ahead of the "Argo" nominees.
In the case of Arkin, he’s in fifth place for Supporting Actor, behind Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”), Robert DeNiro (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”). Hoffman won the Critic’s Choice, Waltz won the Golden Globe, and SAG could go either to Jones or De Niro. Arkin previously won this category for “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), but while he’s consistently shown up in the precursors, he’s yet to win anything. All that could change with either BAFTA or SAG.
Terrio is currently ranked #2 for Adapted Screenplay, behind Tony Kushner (“Lincoln”) who has won the lion’s share of precursor prizes. David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) could also give Terrio a run for his money if voters see fit to reward him here instead of in Best Director. The award looks like Kushner’s to lose; the WGA will be telling.
Goldenberg is in competition with himself for Editing, with nominations for “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” (shared with Dylan Tichenor). Currently, “Argo” is ranked #2 behind “Zero Dark Thirty,” but that could change is voters want to give the film one other award. Either way, it seems likely that Gibson will win this year.
Desplat has had four previous bids: (“The Queen” (2006), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008), “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), and “The King’s Speech” (2010). He’s currently ranked third for Score behind five-time champ John Williams (“Lincoln”) and first-time nominee Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”). Like Arkin, Desplat has shown up frequently in the precursors but has gone home empty handed each time.
For Sound Editing, “Argo” is ranked #4 behind “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Skyfall,” and “Life of Pi,” while for Sound Mixing, it’s last behind “Les Miserables,” “Life of Pi,” “Skyfall,” and “Lincoln.” Voters tend to go with either action films or musicals in both Sound categories, making it hard for “Argo” to win.
If “Argo” suddenly becomes the favorite to win Best Picture, will that love carry over into other categories?
It seems unlikely that voters would give “Argo” the top prize without anything else. Yet in one of the most unpredictable Oscar seasons in recent memory, that could prove to be the biggest surprise of all.