PGA Win: Is 'Argo' Now Oscar Frontrunner?

It’s starting to get serious. This wild ride of an awards season may not be predictable, according to conventional wisdom. But in the end the winner of the Producer Guild’s Best Picture award Saturday night was completely predictable in my opinion. After all, Warner Bros’ Argo features a key role for a Hollywood movie producer who rises to the occasion and helps make a difference in the world, winning the hearts and minds of a group of producers. Imagine that. This is the first guild to weigh in so we have a tentative frontrunner in Argo now for the Academy Awards’ Best Picture. Had producer/director/star Ben Affleck not been snubbed for a Best Director Oscar, the word “tentative” wouldn’t even be used. When I talked to Affleck  in the Beverly Hilton ballroom moments after his picture won, he still seemed to be reeling from the roller coaster ride he’s been on, but clearly happy. (Co-producer Grant Heslov suggested they should call their fellow producer George Clooney in Berlin and tell him the good news.) “When I didn’t get the Best Director nomination after everybody told me I would, I was depressed. But then that same day I won at Critics Choice which was really torturous because everyone kept asking me all night how I felt,” Affleck told me. “Then we win at the Globes.” Argo was also named the year’s Best Picture at the Critics Choice Movie Awards. And today it was also recipient of the Golden Tomato as Rotten Tomatoes’ winner for ‘Best Reviewed Film In Wide Release’ with a 96% positive score. And now it has the PGA under its belt.

It was a fun show marked by some terrific speeches, especially from Norman Lear Achievement In Television winner J.J. Abrams and The Weinstein brothers Harvey and Bob who received the guild’s prestigious Milestone Award. The  new “p.g.a. mark” on film productions was a source of talk and pride – but the PGA’s “mark” on this awards season could be just as significant. This Guild is an Oscar bellwether that has predicted accurately the last 5 straight years and in 2009 sent The Hurt Locker and in 2010 The King’s Speech on their way to eventual Best Picture Oscar triumphs. Or is this a year when the Guilds may not matter as much? The race does not yet appear out of reach for competitors like The Weinstein Company’s Silver Linings Playbook, Fox’s Life Of Pi, or DreamWorks’ LincolnThe latter may be feeling a severe case of frontrunner-itis after many pundits had made it the favorite – thus setting it up to fail. It has yet to score a major precursor victory. And, outside of a sure-thing Best Actor win for Daniel Day-Lewis at tomorrow’s next big acid test, the SAG Awards, it is facing an uphill climb to prevail there for Ensemble Cast which is more likely to go to Silver Linings or Les Miserables or Argo with a cast of about 130 parts. Both Silver Linings and Les Mis in particular have been strongly emphasizing their “ensemble” attributes in advertising during the SAG voting period.

An Oscar strategist for another film immediately emailed me in a bit of a panic after the PGA’s Argo win and wrote, “Oh no. Now what?” Actually with a year as fractured as this has been, and with a full month to go before the Oscar telecast, the race may still have a few more surprises in store. At this morning’s lively PGA producers panel at the Landmark Theatre, I talked to a couple of Academy members who said they expected Argo to win PGA but Lincoln to prevail at the Oscars. Of course, that could still happen even though Lincoln’s momentum has slowed. But Oscar often has his own ideas. And, although not unprecedented, a film whose nomination count is consideraby less than the leaders generally cannot be considered the favorite. Lincoln, leading with 12, Life Of Pi with 11, and Silver Linings and Les Mis with 8 apiece, all beat Argo’s 7. And Argo doesn’t have a directing nomination: no film has won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination since Driving Miss Daisy 23 years ago – and that was an abberation even then.

But something’s in the air. Argo could be emerging as a kind of consensus choice in a year of outstanding films, a beneficiary of a severely split vote. It is significant that the PGA uses the same preferential vote counting system as the Academy so there is a high level of correlation between the two groups. Assuming it comes up short at SAG,  Argo will be tested next Saturday when Ben Affleck is up for a DGA award. A win there could set up a very interesting Oscar night. A surprise win for Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty (which is also in the Best Pic mix and could still be a factor due to strong boxoffice response and continued off-the-entertainment-pages publicity such as Bigelow’s Time cover) or Tom Hooper would do the same thing. Weird year. DGA ballots aren’t due back until Friday so how this PGA victory affects that vote is anyone’s guess at this point.

    1. Life of Pi was terrific film making. However, there was something missing in it’s emotional translation–all that visual stimulation got in the way of a truly satisfying experience and this is why it has not been an authentic contender in the Awards landscape.

      Argo, on the other hand, elevates the audience, takes them on a ride and has them cheering at the end. This is what wins awards in the end.

      This terrific film, coupled with the political implications of Affleck’s snub almost makes this a Best Picture lock.

      What I find fascinating is how did Lincoln manage to lose so much momentum? To be honest, I think it was Clinton’s appearance at the Globes.

      To me, the real race is going to be Actress: with Emmanuelle Riva giving the performance of the year, it will be revealing to see if voters will select an obscure international artist. They did it with Cotillard and I’m hoping they do it again!

      1. Hey Director,

        Excellent post. Especially agree regarding Emmanuelle Riva. She is simply elegant and definitely most worthy.

        The problem with Lincoln is that it is an absolutely perfect dinner setting with a menu of wonderful looking food in wide range and supply…and yet, when all is said and done…no matter how much you greatly appreciate the preparation and execution…the meal was not fully satisfying. There is a bit of emptiness in the feeling. And that is the problem with Spielberg. It’s all there on the screen, but it does not touch the audience enough to be fully satisfying.

        1. Thanks FTCS. Great post!!

          Well, let’s face it: Lincoln really was driven in a powerful, substantial way by the extraordinary core performance of Lewis. Without it, the picture would have never worked. Of course, you could say that about many films but you forgave (or at least I did), the multiple endings, the sentimental scenes and the unorthodox way he handled the death of the protagonist because of him.

      2. “Life of Pi was terrific film making. However, there was something missing in it’s emotional translation–all that visual stimulation got in the way of a truly satisfying experience and this is why it has not been an authentic contender in the Awards landscape.”

        You obviously didn’t finish Life of Pi. Didn’t Pi reveal in the ending that his story was a metaphor for what had happened, or maybe it wasn’t. That was for us to decide. I have to say, I was all for Zero Dark Thirty sweeping in its nominated categories…until I watched Life of Pi. The heart and soul in that movie is so genuine – there is zero contrivance. I’m hopeful it will win because of its broad support across the different branches of the Academy. It would truly be deserving.

        1. Thanks Haggar! I, too, was all for ZDT until I saw Argo and then Silver Linings Playbook.

          Life of Pi, regardless of it’s ending didn’t resonate emotionally with me (and I doubt it will with voters, either). I do believe, however, that it will win technical Oscars–which it deserves.

      1. Hi JohnDoe,

        Yes, I agree. There was something about Life of Pi that removed me from it emotionally–it was almost too restrained. There’s a price to pay for all of that visual magnificence–it keeps the audience from connecting on a visceral emotional level IMO.

        We’ll see.

        1. Director,

          You didn’t connect with Life Of Pi because you have no soul. Some people don’t. That’s ok. They make movies like Argo for you.

    2. Don’t know about LIFE OF PI, but agree completely that ARGO is overrated. I thought the TOWN was much better, and it is great that everyone likes Ben Affleck and feels bad that he didn’t get a best director nod, but c’mon…best picture? Really?

      The only awards show worth watching is the RAZZIES. Speaking of, when are they going to be on TV?

      1. Oh, I completely disagree. The Town was clumsy and scattered. Argo is and will win Best Picture!

  1. I feel like between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty they want to choose Argo because Zero Dark Thirty is too realistic with all those tortures.

    Zero Dark Thirty looks like serious R-rated movie for adults. While Argo is more like PG 13 version that can be safely watched by teens and grannies.

    I feel like this is the main reason why Argo takes everything. Well – at least it’s not ridiculous Les Miserables or overrated Lincoln. I’m Ok with Argo.

  2. How can the PGA give this award to Argo? What was so special about producing Argo, filming it, or releasing it? Did the PGA members see “Life of Pi”? This is Hollywood at its worst.

  3. Silver linings playbook will hopefully prevail at the oscars, along with a deserving Bradley cooper. Affleck will win the DGA and David o Russell will win the Oscar — he did direct two Actors to Oscar ins in the fighter and delivers the most satisfying picture of the year in silver linings playbook.

    1. I didn’t care for Silver Linings Playbook. It was just an average, forgettable, sitcom, and John Hawkes deserved to be nominated over Bradley Cooper. Argo is pleasant comfort food, that Hollywood can feel comfortable to get behind. It is very similar to the Academy giving the Best Picture Oscar to Driving Miss Daisy, over Do The Right Thing.- less the controversy, the better. Argo will not be timeless. Now, these films will be timeless : Beast of The Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Life As Pi, or Zero Dark Thirty.

    2. Chris, I agree completely. SLP is exceptional on all fronts. I do hope that Russell wins the Oscar for directing.

  4. With the exception of Amour I’ve seen the other 8 Oscar nominees for Best Picture. IMHO while I do love Life of PI & great admiration for Argo my pick would be Les Miz. That film too got a Directors snub for Tom Hooper who put together an outstanding full blown musical that works. My wife & I have plans to see that film again today but Argo just didn’t hook me the way Les Miz did.

  5. Zero Dark Thirty is too “realistic with all those tortures”? Almost every 2 bit action film made today is filled with torture scenes. I found the torture in Zero Dark to be completely boring. The film is a ho-hum docudrama that doesn’t say anything. It could have been a PBS special on TV. Nothing groundbreaking. Argo was at least entertaining and didn’t make me look at my watch every 20 minutes like the overrated bland Zero Dark Thirty.

    1. I agree with you about the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty – I’ve seen more upsetting stuff on Law and Order SVU. That said, I disagree with you about the movie itself. Mesmerizing to watch, especially Ms. Chastain.

    2. I personally don’t feel that way about those tortures scenes. But I’m sure those people who give awards do. The problem is when you see thousands of people die in Transformers or Avangers you don’t care. You know that are all CGI and not real. When you see tortures in Zero Dark Thirty you know that this is exactly how it probably happened.

      That why those people are scared of those scenes. Not because they are too graphic or realistic. But because they look real and happened the way they are described in movie.

  6. I think Ben Affleck’s speech should of contained…”Warner Bros, who did you kill to get this award?”
    Interesting evening!

  7. In the heat of the moment too many of us who support one specific film tend to sh** on the other nominated films. It need not be that way. I love Argo, but I have no problem admitting that Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty are well made films. I didn’t like them, nor did the critics (compared to Argo), nor have the PGA now, but well made. It’s just that Argo is too good to be stopped by the yearly Spielbergian film with the usual manipulative music or film that tries to be edgy by advocating torture.

    However, I’d much rather see Lincoln win than SLP. That film has nothing to do in the nominated list. I’m still shocked the bland Bradley Cooper is even nominated. It’s f**** up that he now has as many Oscar nominations as Gary Oldman.

  8. Great for Ben I enjoyed the movie. I was curious maybe it has been mentioned. Who was the real producer assisting the CIA in getting the hostages out of Iran?

    I

  9. I’m not surprised that the Producers Guild gave their biggest award to a film with a heroic Hollywood producer as a main character. Silver Linings will most likely win the Oscar, though (IMO it deserves it).

  10. Well deserved. I think DGA will be interesting if Affleck wins…I doubt it though. This year seems to be a mess.

  11. Life of Pi is a two hours screensaver. Lincoln is boring. ZDT is propaganda. SLP is childish. ARGO deserves to win and will win.

  12. What HAS become clear in the pre-Oscars derby is that voters of all awards groups are human and don’t necessarily vote for the film that they feel is “best.” It’s a lot like the presidential election: when voters have that private moment to make their choice, it comes down to candidates’ likability. Affleck is extremely likable and his snub in the directing category (Oscars) has unquestionably produced a wave of votes for “Argo” in the pre-Oscars award shows. I think the movie is very, very good but in terms of craftsmanship, it can’t measure up to “Lincoln.” I still hope “Silver Linings Playbook” sneaks up and takes Best Picture at the Oscars. I found its humanity very appealing.

  13. PGA has an awful track record (Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, Moulin Rouge, The Aviator, Brokeback Mountain, Little Miss Sunshine).

    If Oscar did not like it enough to get a Director nod it will not give it a BP trophy. This is not 1989 again.

  14. Everyone seems to be saying Zero dark is too realistic. I have news for you- its boring. When I saw it , there was a lot of snoring, texts going, walking to get candy. It came alive in the last 1/2 hour. JC is a good actress , but not in this film. She really does nothing.Don’t be surprised if Southern Wild or Amour wins best actress- because they were the best two. Do I think Argo was the best- not really . Life of Pi- nope.Lincoln- nah .Silver linings- God no. They were all so-so. None better than the others

  15. Argo deserves all the love, attention and awards it’s been receiving. It’s a truly brilliant film but every cynic will point to the hollywood angle to diminish it’s accomplishments. I really don’t see the fuss over life of pi though. Sure it’s pretty, but strip out the cgi and the 3D and you’re left with a pretty boring waste of time. I really don’t see why The Impossible hasn’t gotten more love. Now THAT’S a brilliant film as well.

  16. “Oh no. Now what?” A truly pathetic question. Obviously this anonymous Oscar strategist is a wimp and a dimwit. Argo is going to win Best Picture that’s what.

  17. Argo really is the best film of the year and I hope it prevails at the Oscars. Lincoln also worthy. Silver Linings is only slightly better than average.

  18. Argo was like a 1992 TV movie with a quality cast. Cue the swelling music as the bad guys’ jeeps recedes from view. Yadayadayada.

    Zero Dark Thirty was intensely good, so much more accomplished on so many levels and deserves the win. Amour was amazing. It’s between those two.

  19. Best movies (or at least those I enjoyed the most and surprised me) of 2012 were Klown and Headhunters (and I’m not even sure they were released last year, but were in this country at least)…unfortunately, not many people have seen them :(

    Both, FWIW, are being developed by US studios (Todd Philips for Klown, not sure who is doing Headhunters, though Mark Wahlberg is apparently interested). See them before they mangle the originals!

    Both were on Netflix/Amazon on Demand and I highly recommend them. They are subtitled.

  20. How is Silver Linings Playbook even nominated for Best Picture ? This would have been a forgettable summer release if not for the promotional skills of Harvey Weinstein.
    It’s basically “dangerous” in a sit-com cute way. And a male lead character who jogs with a trash bag on is way too precious for me.

  21. Argo, like Moneyball, is Hollywood producer naval gazing. It’s fine entertainment, but no one will remember it in 5 years, let alone be watching it, as is the case with most of these films. They have no sense of timelessness, no sense beyond the fashion of the moment. Of all the films that are in this group, only Amour and Lincoln are of the caliber of best picture nominees, movies that will be revisited again and again in the decades to come. Life of Pi, technically is wonderful, so it has merit, but Silver Linings and Argo…? Fine movies, yes, but not really about anything, and certainly will age terribly. Is this the best we can do?

    1. “..no one will remember Argo or Moneyball in 5 years let alone be watching it…”
      Seriously? First, Moneyball was a brilliant film. Second, let’s compare Argo to ZeroDarkThirty. In both films, you know the outcome. The difference is, in Argo, you like the characters and root for them right up to the end of the film. In ZDT, by the time Osama bin Laden is killed, you just don’t care. It was a lackluster ending with no joy for our main character, who was just unlikeable and unpleasent from frame one, IMO.

      Personally, I like Les Miserables as best picture despite thinking Tom Hooper is a complete jerk to work for. But, with so many nominees, anyone can win at this point.

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