When handicapping the Academy Awards, there are a couple of factors that tend to be more consistently accurate than others. For one, the film that earns the most nominations usually wins the Oscar for Best Picture. Only seven films since 1990's ceremony have won Best Picture without getting the most nominations of any movie in its given year. The other major prognosticator is usually the Producers Guild Award winner, which has the exact same degree of accuracy, with only seven films winning the Best Picture Oscar since 1990 (the year the Producers Guild starting giving out their own awards) without winning the Producers Guild honor as well. This year, one of those rules is going to be proven wrong, since Lincoln has the most Oscar nominations - twelve - and Ben Affleck's Argo won the Producers Guild Award last night instead.
Congratulations go to Ben Affleck and his fellow producers Grant Heslov and George Clooney, since Argo is certainly a fine film, but Oscar-wise the year now seems to be up for grabs. Or is it? No film has won the Academy Award for Best Picture without a corresponding Best Director nomination since, well, 1990 again, when Driving Miss Daisy took hom the big prize without any consideration for the film's director, Bruce Beresford (Oliver Stone won Best Director instead, for Born on the Fourth of July). Will the Academy see Affleck's snub as some of kind crime, and award the very popular Argo - which marries topical politic context with Hollywood insider humor in a film about a CIA agent faking a film production to extricate American hostages from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis - over similarly lauded Lincoln, which has the support of the entire Academy (indicated by its nominations in more categories than Argo), and tells a similar Oscar-baity tale of socially conscious historical drama in a context that makes 19th century politics feel like the same bipartisan wheelings and dealings we see on the news every day contemporarily?
We still suspect that Lincoln's more serious underpinnings and period piece mystique give it the edge in the Best Picture race, but Argo now seems to be Lincoln's primary competition, instead of the feel-good romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook (which also has more nominations than Argo, as does Les Miserables and Life of Pi). We'll see which film has the edge at the Screen Actors Guild Awards - the largest voting body in the Academy - when those honors are presented tonight.
The Academy Awards will be presented on February 24, 2013.