Actual betting on the Oscars is outlawed in the U.S.. But it is permissible in England – and after today’s British Academy Awards show which just wrapped in London, people would be wise to put some pounds on Argo‘s Best Picture Oscar chances. In what is becoming a familiar sight every weekend, Ben Affleck once again was in the winner’s circle at BAFTA, and along with Best Film he also took Best Director, a prize for which he is famously not nominated at the Oscars even though his movie has 7 nominations – just as it did at BAFTA. So add another strong precursor award to the Argo stockpile that now includes PGA, DGA, SAG, Golden Globes, Critics Choice Movie Awards. Last night, it also added an honor for Chris Terrio’s adaptation at the USC Scripter Awards. (Terrio wasn’t there to accept; instead he was in London for the BAFTAs where he lost to David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook – the only award that film picked up.)
So how reliable is BAFTA as an Oscar predictor? Pretty good in recent years, although spotty sometimes in acting categories. But the two organizations have several hundred of the same members, and last year BAFTA and Oscar matched in everyone of the top 6 categories plus almost all the below-the-line victors as well. (They differed on the 2 screenplay winners, though). BAFTA and Oscar also paired on the same Best Film/Picture winner for the past 5 years straight. (In 2007 the home-grown British production Atonement won over eventual Academy winner, No Country For Old Men, although the Coen Brothers triumphed for Director with both organizations.)
2007 was also when French star Marion Cotillard began her late season run taking Best Actress for La Vie En Rose over favored local Julie Christie for BAFTA and Oscar. Now, with French star Emmanuelle Riva’s win as BAFTA’s Best Actress today, can Amour‘s 85-year-old pull off the same triple play over American favorites Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain? Riva is favored to win the French Oscar equivalent Cesar, and then just 48 hours later will be in Hollywood for the Academy Awards which fall on the same day as her 86th birthday. She did not attend BAFTA, and, according to our Deadline reporters on the scene, there were audible gasps in the audience and among the media when she won. I have a feeling this award is a good omen for her mounting Oscar chances. Were she to win, she would be the oldest ever in any acting category. That sounds like a scenario Academy voters might love.
Coming into the BAFTAs, Lincoln had the most nominations with 10, just as that film leads the Oscar nominees with 12. It had been widely expected to pick up some of these important precursor awards. But other than consistent Best Actor honors for star Daniel Day-Lewis (he won again at BAFTA and seems a cinch for Oscar), it has been virtually blanked this season. London also failed to give a Directing nod to Steven Spielberg. But Affleck got it, the opposite of what happened in Oscar’s directing category. In one of the more surprising twists of the season, Lincoln now has become an underdog – despite having the most nominations and the biggest box office of any of the 9 Best Picture nominees, usually good indicators. Disney/DreamWorks has launched a late massive TV blitz in LA, home to most of the Oscar voters, to coincide with final balloting and drum up some much needed momentum. However, Spielberg could still be the Best Director winner at the Oscars although Life Of Pi’s Ang Lee and Silver Linings Playbook’s David O. Russell are particularly tough competition. Can a sympathy factor suddenly come into play for Spielberg and his passion project? There are still 9 days left to vote.
Similarly the BAFTA results were not good news for Zero Dark Thirty which went 0 for 5. Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal had great success here 3 years ago with The Hurt Locker but not this time in the final vote. And Life Of Pi was expected to do better than winning 2 categories – Cinematography and Special Effects – out of 9 nominations. Instead the British tended to reward their own: 4 wins for Les Miserables including sure-thing Supporting Actress Anne Hathaway as well as Skyfall which beat Les Mis for Outstanding British Film and became the first Bond pic ever to win in that category. Skyfall also took Music Score for long overdue Thomas Newman.
Word before today’s ceremony was that Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained would be very popular with the Brits even though it didn’t make it into the Best Picture running (most likely due to its very late December release date). The film’s winning Original Screenplay for Tarantino and Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz could bode well for its Oscar chances in those two categories as well, especially from what I have been hearing in some recent conversations with Academy voters.
But the real news is once again, a win for Warner Bros. Argo. And the question now becomes just how well will it do on Oscar night. Its strongest category in terms of the odds is, oddly, Best Picture. It probably can be considered a front runner to take Editing as well for William Goldenberg just as it did at BAFTA. Affleck would have been a cinch for Director but, thanks to the Academy’s Directing branch, he’s not nominated. As for both Sound categories, Argo is nominated but Les Miserables and Life Of Pi, and perhaps even Skyfall, seem frontrunners. Alan Arkin has yet to pick up any Supporting wins and Alexandre Desplat’s music score has major competition from Life Of Pi, Skyfall and 5-time winner John Williams’ Lincoln. The Adapted Screenplay faces tough competition as well from Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook. Certainly Argo is not out of the running in any of these races and the momentum building could push it into the winners circle in many of them. But it appears the Academy is on course to spread the wealth even more than usual this year. And if it goes like BAFTA, then Argo could end up winning Best Picture and only two Oscars total. The last time a film won Best Picture and only one other Oscar was 1952, the year the show was first televised. That’s when The Greatest Show On Earth took Best Picture at the end of the telecast after winning only the now-defunct Oscar category of Best Motion Picture Story.
It’s an interesting scenario to contemplate as the race moves across the pond with just two weeks to go in what has turned out to be a fascinating year in the annals of the Academy Awards.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.