The latest development in this year's unusually contentious race for Best Picture at the Academy Awards may be the most surprising yet: Argo — which was all but eliminated from analysts' predictions after Ben Affleck failed to earn a nomination for Best Director — is now considered by some to be the frontrunner for the biggest award on Oscar night after scoring top honors from both the Producers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild over the weekend. Could Argo really win Best Picture?
Yes, says James Verniere at The Boston Herald. Analysts were far too quick to count Argo out of the Best Picture race when Affleck didn't earn a Best Director nod. Like last year's winner, The Artist, Argo is "a film that celebrates Hollywood itself," which is sure to please the voting Academy members, who must submit their ballots by the Tuesday before Oscar night. Argo is also a drama that explores America's relationship with the Middle East, though it's far less troubling than fellow nominee Zero Dark Thirty, offering an audience-friendly variation that comes "with laughs and without the torture." Although only three films have won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination in the Academy Awards' 85-year history, we may need to reevaluate whether a Best Director snub means anything in the modern era, since the Academy now allows for as many as 10 Best Picture nominees, but limits the Best Director race to five. The difference in nominees not only opens up the possibility of more snubs, but also, consequently, more surprises.
But perhaps we shouldn't blow Argo's victories out of proportion. Recent history shows that a SAG win also "doesn't mean much" in the Oscar race, says Hollywire. Plenty of films have won Best Ensemble at the SAG awards and failed to win Best Picture at the Oscars, including Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Inglourious Basterds, and The Help. Argo's Best Ensemble win is particularly odd because even the film's most ardent supporters "don't seem to be championing the strength of its performances" — particularly compared to a film like Silver Linings Playbook, which is the first movie to earn a nomination in all four acting categories at the Oscars in more than 30 years. Argo shouldn't be counted out, but neither should films like Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook, which could easily surge ahead in the coming weeks.
Yes, it's too early to call, says Kyle Buchanan at Vulture, but "momentum helps in an Oscar race, and right now, Argo's got it." This is the "wildest awards season in years," with a Best Picture race that's still very, very close. But one thing's for sure: If Argo really does win, defying Oscar history, it will "create the impression in the future that absolutely anything can happen (even if, as in most years, only one thing ever does)."