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'Argo' F-Yourself, Oscar!

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Monday, Feb 4, 2013
In what many pundits believe is an indictment of the Academy's recent snub of Argo helmer Ben Affleck, the Director's Guild of America has honored the film, and its maker, with its 2013 recognition as the year's best.
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Argo

Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé

(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 12 Oct 2012 (General release); UK theatrical: 7 Nov 2012 (General release); 2012)

In what many pundits believe is an indictment of the Academy’s recent snub of Argo helmer Ben Affleck, the Director’s Guild of America has honored the film, and its maker, with its 2013 recognition as the year’s best. This comes hot on the critical coattails of the film’s win at the Producer’s Guild Awards, as well as with the Screen Actors. All totaled, the based on a true story thriller about the Iran Hostage Crisis has pulled in a stunning set of accolades. It has a pair of Golden Globes (for Picture and Affleck), several pending international nods, and acknowledgement from at least a dozen critic’s groups. While AMPAS has seen fit to bestow seven nominations on the film, the given for its director is nowhere to be found. Instead, Oscar has seen fit to ignore three of the DGA’s nominees (Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, and Tom Hooper) for a telling trio of its own (Michael Haneke, David O. Russell, and Behn Zeitlin).
  
Again, the Academy wields a diabolical double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s very brave to celebrate such arthouse fare as Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour and Russell’s mention remains a leftover from The Silver Linings Playbook’s smash debut at Toronto (and some wavering Weinstein clout). Besides, the DGA is not the end all, be all of directing excellence in any given year. In fact Oscar has disagreed eight previous times with the eventual Guild winner (with this year being number nine) since the award’s inception in 1948. In the earliest cases, the timing for the trophy was a bit off. For example, Joseph L. Mankiewicz won the very first DGA award for this likable Letter to Three Wives. However, due to its late release, it was not deemed eligible until the next year. John Huston would take home that year’s Academy Award for the brilliant Treasure of the Sierra Madre.


It happened again in 1949, when Mankiewicz finally got his little gold statue. That year, the DGA gave All The King’s Men‘s Robert Rossen their revered recognition. Since then, however, it’s been a question of snubs and suspect results. In 1968, Carol Reed of Oliver! (Oscar) beat The Lion in Winter‘s Anthony Harvey (DGA), while in 1972, Francis Ford Coppola saw his work in The Godfather (DGA) bested by Bob Fosse and Cabaret (Oscar). Said disagreements would persist, with Stephen Soderbergh and Traffic winning over Ang Lee and his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000 and Roman Polanski topping Rob Marshall in 2002 when the Academy praised The Piano over the ambition musical adaptation of Chicago. But in now three cases, Oscar has made an even more egregious mistake - failing to even nominate the eventual DGA winner.


The first - and perhaps most notorious time - this happened was back in 1985 when Stephen Spielberg’s highly touted The Color Purple landed 11 nominations…and none for its DGA winning director. As a matter of fact, the film as a whole was snubbed by Oscar, failing to take home a single trophy. The next time a Director’s Guild honoree failed to get the equal AMPAS treatment was in 1995, when Ron Howard failed to earn a slot for his work on Apollo 13. Instead, Braveheart and its creator, Mel Gibson, walked away with Academy glory. The main reason for so few discrepancies is that the voters for both awards are, more or less, the same group. There are some DGA members who are not in the AMPAS clique, and visa versa, but for the most part, the director’s determining their own group’s yearly outcome are the same ones sending in their Oscar ballots.


So why? Why didn’t Affleck get a nod in what was obviously his peer designated time to shine? Well, there will always be some who look at actors turned auteurs and argue that, unlike those who’ve put in the years and paid their dues, these upstarts don’t deserve the industry’s top honor. Of course, that didn’t stop Kevin Costner, Robert Redford, or Gibson from walking away with Oscar gold. Equally impactful may be the notion that, as a previous winner for Good Will Hunting, the Academy feels that Affleck already has all the acknowledge he needs, AMPAS wise. There’s always the possibility that, because of the various voting dynamics, Argo was an also-ran for consideration, with many in the Academy believing that their other five choices were more worthy. Indeed, as effective an argument can be made for Amour, Silver Linings, and Beasts over those avoided - Les Mis, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty.


However, in Argo‘s case, the snub may be a bit more suspect - and therefore, specious. The film centers around a CIA plot to rescue six American Embassy staff members from Iran. In the late ‘70s, after the Shah was deposed, the country’s radicals overran several US strongholds. While dozens of citizens were captured and held (for a startling 444 days), a few managed to make it to the Canadian consulate. Enter our savvy spies, who developed a Hail Mary plan for bringing them home. The idea? Set up a fake film shoot, get one of their best men to act as an industry liaison, and work with a pair of Tinseltown vets to pull off the ruse. Affleck is the lead agent, enlisting John Goodman and Alan Arkin as his phony producers. Grabbing a crappy sci-fi script entitled Argo, it’s off to the Middle East.


Now, there are parts of the film that have been fabricated, and the fracas caused by the Canadians and the supposed national security breach exposed could have something to do with the Affleck slight. There was also a great deal of backlash when the movie became a critical and commercial hit. Nitpickers took the narrative apart while those who thought Goodman’s character - Planet of the Apes’ Oscar winning make-up artist, John Chambers - didn’t get enough play (his story is, indeed, the basis for a whole film in and of itself). Yet it might be the dismissive attitude toward Hollywood that finally dealt the death blow for Argo‘s chances (it can still win Best Picture, though many are banking on Lincoln to walk away with that prize). Throughout the film, Arkin and Goodman are seen mocking the moviemaking business, using the clever catchphrase “Argo Fuck Yourself” as a universal dismissal.


Maybe it’s a combination of everything mentioned before. Perhaps they Academy felt Affleck did better work with such previously efforts as The Town and/or Gone Baby, Gone. There may be a bit of that old “we’ll catch him next time” routine, the possibility of given the Oscar to someone new (the three non-DGA choices are all winless in this category) while a couple of considered warhorses (Lee and Spielberg) look on. Whatever the case, it’s fodder for another few weeks of relevancy debate. If Argo goes on to win the Best Picture nod without a nomination for its director, it won’t be the first time (Driving Miss Daisy did it as recently as 1989). But in a year where anything is possible, it’s also clear that Affleck and his film could make some cinematic history. They would join some intriguing company. That they’re in this position at all remains the biggest ongoing story of the slowly fading 2012 Awards Season. 


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