Can ‘Argo’ Still Win Best Picture Without a Best Director Nomination?

'Argo' Review
Affleck's latest offers terrific true-life entertainment.
When the Oscar nominations were announced on Jan. 10 and Ben Affleck’s name wasn’t called in the category of Best Director, many thought that Argo’s chances of winning Best Picture were basically over; after all, in the Academy’s 84-year history, only three films won Best Picture without a directing nomination — Wings (1927/28); Grand Hotel (1931/32); and, decades later, Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

But then, something strange happened. In the span of a single weekend, Argo, which tells the story of a CIA operative who helped rescue six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis, won two of the most coveted precursor awards: the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe for Best Picture. It followed with victories at the Producers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Since 1995, the year in which SAG added an Ensemble category and the Broadcast Film Critics Association was founded, only five other movies have accomplished this feat — American Beauty, Chicago, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire — each of which went on to win the Best Picture Oscar in their respective year.

This puts Argo in a pretty good position heading into Friday’s Directors Guild of America award, where, at this point, Affleck should be heavily favored to win. (If he does pull it off, statistically Argo would become a lock to win Best Picture; American Beauty, Chicago, The Return of the King, No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire all won the DGA as well.)

It doesn’t hurt that Affleck is well-respected and equally well-liked in the Hollywood community — not to mention the ultimate comeback story.

In 2007, after starring in a series of bombs, he found new life behind the camera with Gone Baby Gone, an unexpected hit that earned money at the box office, rave reviews from critics and an Oscar nomination for its costar, Amy Ryan. He followed Gone Baby Gone with another Oscar-nominated hit, 2010’s The Town, and then, of course, Argo.

Working even better in Argo’s favor are two things that Academy voters often find difficult to resist: 1.) it was directed by an actor, which the Academy loves (see: Robert Redford, Ron Howard, Clint Eastwood and many others); and 2.) it has that deadly — or, rather, winning — combination of being an uplifting, heroic American story with a lot of wink-wink, nudge-nudge jokes about the industry. Audiences can relate to Argo — but more importantly, so can Hollywood.

It would also be a way to make up for Affleck’s snub, in some way; the actor is listed as a producer on the film, and would ultimately win an Oscar should Argo take the top prize, along with George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

Of course, even with statistics on its side, Argo still has some hurdles to jump for it to actually win Best Picture.

For one, it enters the final leg of the race as the fourth-most nominated movie, with seven. While an impressive total, it’s slightly behind Silver Linings Playbook, which has eight nominations, and further behind Lincoln and Life of Pi, which have 12 and 11 nominations, respectively. Although the most-nominated movies don’t always win, Argo’s nomination total, combined with Affleck’s snub, could suggest it wasn’t as beloved by the Academy as one might suggest. (And in which case, which of the remaining six nominations could it potentially win? Editing? Sound Mixing? It’s unclear.)

There’s also the chance that 2012 could simply be 1995 all over again. That year had a similar incident, in which supposed frontrunner Apollo 13 nearly swept the precursors after its director, Ron Howard, was snubbed by the Academy, winning the Directors Guild, Producer Guild and Screen Actors Guild’s top prizes. It eventually lost to Braveheart at the Oscars, which was ironically helmed by another actor-turned-director, Mel Gibson.

But with a little less than a month to go before the Oscars actually air (Feb. 24 on ABC), there’s no telling how things will actually shake out; and in a year in which the Academy has already proven to be anything but predictable (Quvenzhané Wallis, anyone?), it’s safe to say that the Best Picture Oscar could go to any one of the nine nominated movies — even Amour. (Okay, maybe not.)

For now, though, it’s looking more and more like that Argo could actually go all the way.

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Tags: Argo, Ben Affleck