The five most important lessons of the 2012 Oscars

And so one of the most unpredictable Oscar seasons in recent memory comes to an end. Every year, the Academy teaches us something new about itself, and 2012 was no different. As we look ahead to the 2013 season, here are the five most important lessons we’ve learned from this year’s ceremony:

For years, the collective wisdom has been that a film cannot win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. After all, no film had pulled that off since “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), and “Grand Hotel” (1932) before that. So for years, several awards juggernauts – “The Prince of Tides” (1991), “A Few Good Men” (1992), “The Fugitive” (1993), “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), “Apollo 13” (1995), “Jerry Maguire” (1996), “As Good as It Gets” (1997), “In the Bedroom” (2001), “Seabiscuit” (2003), “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), “Inception” (2010), and countless others – saw their Best Picture hopes dashed when their directors failed to secure nominations.

The same was assumed to be true of “Argo’s” chances when Ben Affleck didn’t make the cut, but all that changed with an almost unprecedented sweep of the precursors. Chalk it up to goodwill towards Affleck if you will, but its win should serve as a ray of hope for any contender that fails to click with the director’s branch.

Every time Christoph Waltz stars in a film by Quentin Tarantino, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar results. The “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) winner took his second prize in this category for “Django Unchained” a mere three years after his first. Many of our experts doubted it would happen, betting on either Robert De Niro (“Silver Linings Playbook,” odds of 12/5) or Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln,” odds of 13/5). Their caution is understandable: despite Waltz’s victories at BAFTA and the Golden Globes, he wasn’t nominated at SAG, and only one other actor – Marcia Gay Harden for “Pollock” (2000) – has ever won without a mention from the guild.

Yet Waltz, who held third place with odds of 7/2, managed to break through. So if he wants to become the first actor since Walter Brennan to win three Oscars for Supporting Actor, he should stick to Tarantino films. The collaboration has also reaped Oscar gold for Tarantino, who won his second award for Best Original Screenplay (his first was for “Pulp Fiction” in 1994).

With his win for “Life of Pi,” Ang Lee joins an elite group of filmmakers who have won two Oscars for Best Director. But unlike Steven Spielberg, Milos Forman, Clint Eastwood, Elia Kazan, Billy Wilder, David Lean, Leo McCarey, Oliver Stone, Fred Zinnemann, Lewis Milestone, Robert Wise, Frank Lloyd, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Lee has done so without ever having directed a Best Picture winner. As a result, he joins an even more exclusive club that includes only George Stevens and Frank Borzage of directors who have won two Oscars without ever winning Best Picture.

Lee’s first win was for “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), which lost the top prize to “Crash.” Stevens took home the gold for “A Place in the Sun” (1951) and “Giant” (1956), while Borzage won for “Seventh Heaven” (1927) and “Bad Girl” (1931). Lee, with 11 votes and odds of 12/5, was in a tight race with Steven Spielberg, who, with 13 votes and odds of 9/4, was eying his third win in this category for “Lincoln.” Oddly enough, this is the second time Spielberg and Lee have gone head-to-head, and the second time Lee has emerged the victor: Spielberg was nominated for “Munich” (2005) the year Lee won for “Brokeback Mountain.”

In the Animated Feature race, Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” sat comfortably in the frontrunner position with wins from the PGA, the BFCA, and the Annie Awards. Pixar’s “Brave,” on the other hand, which had bested “Ralph” at the Golden Globes and BAFTA, was in third place with odds of 4/1, right behind Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” (odds of 10/3). Yet Pixar proved once again that it’s unwise to bet against them, as they continued their dominance in this category. “Brave” joins “Finding Nemo” (2003), “The Incredibles” (2004), “Ratatouille” (2007), “Wall-E” (2008), “Up” (2009), and “Toy Story 3” (2010) in the winners circle, making “Monsters, Inc” (2001) and “Cars” (2006) the studio’s only two nominees to go home empty-handed. So even with odds of 9/5, Disney still couldn’t pull of its first victory in this category. The studio did, however, triumph in Animated Short with “Paperman,” its first win in that race since “It’s Tough to Be a Bird” (1969).

A shockwave rang through the theater as presenter Mark Wahlberg announced a tie between “Skyfall” (Per Hallberg, Karen M. Baker) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (Paul N.J. Ottosson) in Best Sound Editing. Ties are so infrequent that they’re often discounted from ever happening. The most memorable occurrence was in 1968, when Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand both took home Best Actress prizes for “The Lion in Winter” and “Funny Girl,” respectively.

In the 1931-32 race, Frederic March (“Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) and Wallace Berry (“The Champ”) both won statuettes for Best Actor, but that wasn’t an actual tie: Berry had beaten March by only one vote, and Academy rules at the time dictated that two winners would be honored if they were within three votes of each other (the rule was subsequently changed).

In 1949, the first actual tie occurred in Best Documentary Short between “A Chance to Live” and “So Much for So Little”; in 1986, Best Documentary was split between “Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got” and “Down and Out in America”; and in 1995, the award for Best Live Action Short was bestowed upon “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Trevor.” The win for “Skyfall” in this category, along with Adele’s win for Best Song, also breaks the 50-year curse of James Bond films losing Oscars.

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