There are two ways of looking at the Oscars: 1.) as film fans, aware of the Oscar race and what's considered "best" throughout most of the year, or 2.) as a member of the general public that doesn't pay attention to them but once a year. As much as those of us that keep a close eye on the Oscar race throughout the year would like to believe the rest of the world is just as invested in movies as we are, the fact of the matter is we are in the minority. So, when answering the question I pose in the headline we must realize we're merely reaching a conclusion on a rather small scale, but first let me explain why I even thought of the question in the first place.
Once Argo was announced Best Film at the BAFTA Awards this weekend, along with another Best Director win for Ben Affleck, the fact the Academy hadn't nominated Affleck for Best Director sunk in even deeper. I began to ponder the reality of Argo winning Best Picture at the Oscars while anyone other than Affleck would take home Best Director. The idea of a Best Picture and Best Director split isn't so curious, but a Best Picture win without the director even being nominated seems rather absurd.
At this point in the race, with Argo racking up wins at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, SAG Awards, Producers Guild, Directors Guild and now BAFTAs any award the Academy gives to Argo will appear reactionary. People are already questioning the validity of some of the awards I just mentioned as reactions to Affleck's Best Director snub, even those that had been voted on before the Oscar nominations were announced.
Fact of the matter is, we live in a different world than the last time a film won Best Picture without a director nomination. Back in 1990, Driving Miss Daisy took home the Oscar for Best Picture without Bruce Beresford being in contention for Best Director. Oliver Stone won for Born on the Fourth of July. Of course, back in 1990 we didn't live in a world of Twitter, Facebook and live blogs. Complaints were kept around the water cooler and in small cinephile circles. Now it's months worth of analysis from every corner. How can any decision not be considered reactionary?
Back in 1990 the Oscars were still held in late March. Nowadays that can't happen because people have moved on to other things. Attention spans are shorter and in an attempt to avoid reactionary bias the Academy even moved up the nomination announcement this year, giving voters less time to see all the movies and less time to be influenced by the precursor awards.
So here the Oscars sit. They can't change their nominations to fit into the popular Argo box that's been filled and at this point they would appear to be in a lose-lose situation.
If Argo wins Best Picture there's no doubt many will consider it a reaction to all that's gone on since the nominations were announced a month and a half prior to the ceremony.
The only kind of result come February 24 that could possibly change the narrative would be wins for virtually any film, actor, director, craft category than the front-runners. Should Beasts of the Southern Wild come out the leading award getter or should Michael Haneke's Amour run away with the bulk of the night's awards, only then will the narrative surrounding the Academy change. Otherwise, what do we have to look forward to in the future?
Strangely, there is this idea of "getting it wrong" in the awards race. There's this idea that there actually is a "best" movie out there and "best" performances and direction. The Oscars are no longer looked at as a celebration of the medium, but more as a method of affirmation of taste. Yes! The Academy chose my favorite movie as Best Picture and therefore my taste is confirmed as being "right".
Should the Academy be looked at as "getting it wrong" this year with the Oscars, who's to say what will happen in the future?
Already, next year we're looking at an Oscars that will likely have to be moved into March due to scheduling issues with the Olympics and Super Bowl. Nominations will likely be announced later, precursors will be in place and predicting the winners may be easier than ever before. For the general public this might not make much of a difference, but the narrative in film-loving circles sure will be interesting.
Yes, the Academy has long been looked at as out of touch when it comes to their Oscar winners and nominations, and with so much attention placed on the precursor awards in recent years they look more and more reactionary. Yet, the snubbing of Ben Affleck and the 12 nominations for Lincoln versus only the seven for Argo seems to provide potential numerical evidence for their follies.
Of course, the closer you look at Argo and its glorification of Hollywood it only seems natural Argo would be a major Best Picture contender. In that case, perhaps its not a reactionary method, but more of a narcissistic one. Either way, do you see a win for Argo as something that could damage the Academy's image further or are we simply looking at the latest in an ongoing narrative that will never seem to change?