Argo is sweeping the various guild awards, and the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards last night were no exception. Ben Affleck, who was snubbed for a Best Director nomination at the Oscars, took home the prize for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Feature Film. Argo is a good movie, and both Affleck and his enormous team have every right to be proud of themselves for taking the industry by storm like this. But the Oscars are most certainly not "over," as some are suggesting.
It sure looks that way though, doesn't it? Ben Affleck's thriller, about an alliance between the CIA and some Hollywood studio types to fake a movie production as cover for extracting American hostages from Iran in 1979, has almost everything going for it. It's sweeping the Guild Awards – a very good sign – and it celebrates the entertainment industry as historically and socially significant, so a Best Picture win would be a mighty pat on the Academy's own back if ever there was one. It doesn't have the most Academy Award nominations this year, usually a healthy prognosticator of Best Picture glory, but that's more of a guideline than a rule. Argo is certainly a contender for Best Picture, and maybe even the prime contender against Steven Spielberg's critically popular, financially successful Lincoln (which actually does have the most nominations this time around).
But this has all happened before, and it did not go well for the new, supposed "favorite."
In the history of the DGA Awards, which date back all the way to 1948, only three directors have won the feature film prize without being nominated at the Oscars. Ben Affleck is the latest. The other two were Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. Spielberg won for 1985's The Color Purple. Howard won for 1995's Apollo 13, which, like Argo, also won the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Award and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for Best Ensemble Cast (that particular voting body's equivalent of "Best Picture"). They seemed like odds-on favorites, until they both lost Best Picture at the Oscars, to Out of Africa and Braveheart, respectively.
To recap: that's 63 years of DGA Award winners, only two to have won without an Oscar nomination, and zero to have picked up top honors at the Academy Awards as a result. If that's a coincidence… then that's one HELL of a coincidence.
But… the playing field has changed. The Oscar buzz machine has been revamped in the last eighteen years, and no longer works the same way it did the last time this inconsistency came up. With media covering the Oscars more than ever before, and word of mouth spreading like wildfire that an Argo upset would be the big story of the season – Oscar loves its stories – Ben Affleck's film could still come out on top, and may still be the favorite to take home the big prize this year at the Oscars. It's just not a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination.