Oscars: 7 Ways to Counter 'Argo's' Surge (Analysis)
With Academy ballots due Feb. 19, "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Lincoln" look to change the best picture conversation as Ben Affleck's Hollywood-flavored thriller, fresh off wins at the Globes, PGA and SAG, looks like a juggernaut.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Argo had a triumphant weekend. The film earned Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov top honors from the Producers Guild on Jan. 26. Then it scored the best film ensemble trophy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards a day later. Coming on the heels of its best drama victory at the Golden Globes, the wins make Argo the overwhelming favorite for the best picture Oscar. But don't give up hope, all you others. There are still ways to snatch victory from defeat, and here's how:
1. Zero Dark Thirty
Forget the torture debate and reframe the argument: Zero is set in a male-dominated world but centers on a woman -- and what a woman! Remind audiences this is one of the few truly great roles for actresses and that the film is the only best picture nominee that tells its story strictly from a woman's point of view. Zero is directed by a woman (Kathryn Bigelow) and is about a woman (played by Jessica Chastain) who, like the director, has had to fight for every drop of success. Now get an independent statesman (think Colin Powell) to applaud that -- and confirm the movie's underlying plot.
So you wowed us by recruiting Bill Clinton to present Lincoln at the Globes -- but that also solidified Steven Spielberg's film as the establishment movie of the year. Now you should remind us that this story about the fight to abolish slavery is anti-establishment, too. Make Abe's battles seem like a mirror of today's by tying his fight to President Obama's. Bring out the underdogs -- gays, African-Americans, illegal immigrants. Link their struggles to the 16th president's, as Obama did during his inaugural address.
3. Silver Linings Playbook
Remember, actors make up 1,178 of the Academy's 6,014 active members, or nearly 20 percent. Time to get them on board by hinting, "Your careers depend on movies like this." Don't forget, David O. Russell's Playbook is the first picture since 1981's Reds whose ensemble -- headed by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver -- got nominated in all four acting categories. And unlike Argo, this movie has real roles for women. Fail to support it, and the studios will keep making male-heavy CGI flicks.
4. Life of Pi
Everyone loves Ang Lee's picture, but its post-nominations campaign never really has gained traction. Time to learn from the master himself, Harvey Weinstein. If Harvey could get Uggie's paw prints cemented at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, then what about Pi's tiger, Richard Parker -- even if the beast is digital? And if Harvey could get Charlie Chaplin's granddaughters to endorse The Artist, then get a bunch of religious leaders to endorse your film. Think outside the box; remember how the movie's hero got his math-based name. Get the National Association of Mathematicians to bestow a Mathematical Movie of the Year Award.
5. Les Miserables
It's all-singing, all-talking, all-dancing -- just like the great musicals from Hollywood's golden era. So connect Tom Hooper's Broadway adaptation to that glorious tradition. Get Leslie Caron and Debbie Reynolds out there reminding voters that this is the first film to revive the musical genre successfully since Chicago won best picture in 2003. A vote for Les Mis is a vote for what Hollywood used to do best.
OK, so a foreign flick is a long shot. But Austrian maestro Michael Haneke's film earned five Oscar nominations. Now hammer home its relevance to the movie's core audience: older people. Send 85-year-old star Emmanuelle Riva to the Motion Picture & Television Country House to court the codgers. (If nothing else, that might help the French octogenarian win best actress.) More seriously, set the movie within the larger context of the debate over healthcare and aging, an issue of growing importance now that boomers are getting older.
7. And the rest …
Django Unchained. Beasts of the Southern Wild. You might have been ignored by SAG and overlooked at the PGA Awards, but don't give up. Get your foot soldiers out there at Soho House and the Polo Lounge and start a whisper campaign, telling everyone just what's wrong with your rivals. Lincoln -- that boring PBS-type drama? Les Mis -- please, they've been singing live since talkies began. Amour -- what a downer. Argo -- eh, have you spoken to any Canadians lately?