Affleck and Oscars – The Art of the Campaign

  • Ben Affleck- Art of the CampaignThe big lesson of this year’s awards season: Don’t snub Ben Affleck.

    After Affleck failed to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, many Oscar prognosticators (yes, those are real people) assumed “Argo” had lost all chance for Best Picture glory. After all, no movie since “Driving Miss Daisy” has won a Best Picture Oscar without securing a Best Director nomination.

    The snub incited Internet rage, more so than the snub of director Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty.” Bigelow won just a few years ago for “The Hurt Locker,” but Affleck’s exclusion seemed like an intentional derailment of Hollywood’s feel-good, comeback story of the year.

    “Remember Ben Affleck in all those awful movies?” “Well now he’s a really great director!”

    But you can’t keep a good Affleck down. Many now consider “Argo” to be the frontrunner for Best Picture, and Affleck would earn an Oscar as producer alongside George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

    In recent weeks, “Argo” won the three top prizes at the Golden Globes, Producers Guild and Screen Actors Guild Awards, and many think Affleck will snag the Directors Guild prize this weekend. That’s every Oscar precursor that matters, making “Argo” a safer bet than any action on Super Bowl Sunday.

    If you believe the narrative created by popular media, then these recent victories function as retaliation for Affleck’s Academy snub. In truth, “Argo” has been the Best Picture front runner for months and Affleck’s exclusion simply an anomaly of a preferential voting system where members rank their favorites. Number one votes carry more weight, and if a certain contender is seen as an obvious lock, then a voter might consider ranking lesser known contenders higher on the ballot.

    But whatever. Does it really matter if “Argo” wins Best Picture and Affleck gets his Oscar glory? Even as a longtime Affleck admirer (some could say apologist), I don’t really care if “Argo” takes the top prize.

    Long ago I gave up thinking the Academy Awards truly rewarded the best movies in a given year. The gold usually goes to the best campaign, and that usually boils down to money and sucking up to voters. Affleck continues to promote “Argo” everywhere, and the studio has held numerous screenings and events targeted to voters. The movie is in full-throttle campaign mode.

    Harvey Weinstein makes such campaigning a high art, with last year’s “The Artist” being one of the more laughable entries in his long history of questionable Oscar victories. This year he has “Silver Linings Playbook” in the running, a good movie that grasps flagrantly at greatness. Outside of its acting nominations, it doesn’t really deserve to be in the hunt. “Argo” may be commanding the conversation right now, but you should never ignore Harvey and his Machine.

    “Lincoln” leads the nominations with 12, and if I had a vote, I’d give it to Steven Spielberg’s masterful depiction of one of the most important periods in American history. It might have to settle for Daniel Day-Lewis winning Best Actor (a virtual lock at this point) and probably an Adapted Screenplay win for Tony Kushner. Oh, and unlike Affleck, Spielberg actually got nominated for Best Director, and a win there would be his third after “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

    The rest of the Best Picture nominees have no real shot at winning, though “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Life of Pi” and even the messy “Django Unchained” are diverse and worthy choices. I haven’t seen “Amour” (nobody has), and “Les Miserables” is a ghastly piece of filmmaking that only remains in the conversation because of the talent involved. With its constant use of lengthy, single-take close-ups, “Les Mis” may be the ugliest Best Picture nominees to date. Kudos to Anne Hathaway, though.

    If I had to rank all the Best Picture nominees, I would put “Argo” in the top half of the list. If it wins Best Picture, it will be a fine representative for movies in 2012. But its victory will be the result of a very aggressive campaign in which the media’s “Resurrection of Ben Affleck” storyline played a vital role.

    I just wish it wasn’t so calculated. I’ve always liked Affleck as an actor, even during the “Gigli” years, and his first two directing efforts, “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” are every bit as good as “Argo.” I don’t need the satisfaction, and neither does Affleck. Good movies are good movies, and whether the Oscars “get it right” or not won’t really matter in the long run.

    “Remember Ben Affleck in all those awful movies?” Well now he’s a really great director!”

    The conversation stays the same. Nobody adds, “And the Academy said so!” to the end.


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