Jan. 14, 2013 at 10:10 AM ET
One thing's for sure: Ben Affleck won't be picking up a best director Academy Award to pair with the Golden Globe he won Sunday night for "Argo." Although the Hollywood Foreign Press Association gave him its top directing prize, the members of the Academy didn't even include Affleck on their list of nominees. (Conventional wisdom is that Steven Spielberg, by far the biggest name on the Academy's list, will take that prize.)
But Affleck's film, "Argo," still could win best picture. Some critics say that's unlikely, that even though best picture and director are completely separate categories, Academy voters will only support a best picture winner whose director they liked enough to also nominate. (Three films have won best picture without a best director nomination. "Driving Miss Daisy" was the last to do so, back in 1989.)
If the no-best-picture-without-a-director-nomination rule holds, Spielberg's "Lincoln" is where your smart money goes. The four other films whose directors were nominated are longshots at best for best picture, much as arthouse-goers might love "Beasts of the Southern Wild" or "Amour."
Many awards watchers went into the Globes expecting a "Lincoln" sweep. Not only did that not happen, the presidential drama won only one award, for Daniel Day-Lewis as best actor. That makes it time to look at the best picture nominees with fresh eyes. Out of nine, there are only three real contenders -- "Lincoln," "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty."
"Zero Dark Thirty" had early momentum and stunning reviews, but has made more headlines recently for its torture controversy (and host Amy Poehler's zinger about director Kathryn Bigelow's ex-husband James Cameron). The lengthy and engrossing film could still pull out a win, but you're more likely to see star Jessica Chastain repeat her Globes win for best actress instead. Sorry, Jennifer Lawrence -- your Globe win for best actress in a motion picture musical or comedy for "Silver Linings Playbook" probably won't be enough to dethrone Chastain.
If you buy into the stereotypes about the Academy voters, "Argo" would seem to have a decent best-picture shot. The Academy clearly likes to reward films about their own industry -- witness moviemaking themed "The Artist" scooping up five Oscars in 2012. And "Argo" shows Hollywood at its best, as two of its own (played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin) craft a fake movie to help a CIA specialist (Affleck) rescue six Americans hiding in Iran. It's quite possible that the Oscars could mimic the Golden Globes this year and reward the film, even without Affleck being nominated.
But then there's "Lincoln." It too features many of the trademarks of films the Academy loves to honor. Epic and sweeping, it's the kind of big-issue picture Spielberg does so well, the sort of movie schools will likely show to history classes for years to come. If the Academy can't resist rewarding Day-Lewis and Spielberg, it's conceivable voters could choose not to spread the wealth around and dub "Lincoln" best picture too.
"Les Miserables" could contend, but it's more likely that Anne Hathaway will take home the best supporting actress award, mimicking her Globe win, and the musical's fans will have to be content with that and perhaps some of the minor awards it's nominated for (it's up for eight). Some critics are rooting for Hugh Jackman's "Les Mis" performance to rise up and knock out Day-Lewis in the best actor category, but that still seems unlikely, all the more so after Day-Lewis' Globes win.
"Django Unchained" seems unlikely to do as well at the Oscars as it did at the Globes. Quentin Tarantino, who seemed genuinely surprised to win the Globe for screenwriting, isn't up for best director. Christoph Waltz claimed the Globe for best supporting actor, and he and "Argo's" Alan Arkin will likely duke it out for that same title Oscar night. But the Academy likes to be seen as Dignified and Serious, and Tarantino's artsy flying blood splatters may not appeal to its voters.
"Life of Pi" earned 11 Oscar nominations, second only to "Lincoln," but no one is giving it much of a shot to score big with the Academy, except in minor categories. (It won for best original score at the Globes.)
Winners aside, the sometimes loopy Globes have established themselves as a surprisingly tough act for big-brother Oscar to follow. It'll be interesting to see if Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane can even come close to matching the overwhelmingly positive reviews Globes hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have collected. Fey and Poehler have a more mainstream fanbase and they aren't the envelope-pushers that the "Family Guy" creator is. And Angelina Jolie will have to show a lot more than leg for anything in the rest of the show to rival the buzz garnered by Cecil B. DeMille award winner Jodie Foster'sconfusing but endearing six-minute speech.