As he sat watching the pre-dawn announcement in his Pacific Palisades home, Affleck saw which he directed, produced and starred in, collect seven nominations, including best picture. But when Oscar host Seth MacFarlane read the names for the director honor, Affleck’s name was incongruously absent.
Ever since that snub on Jan. 10, Affleck and his CIA thriller have surged beyond anyone’s expectations, including Affleck’s, winning virtually every award for which it was even considered a long shot.
Now handicappers say “Argo” is the front-runner for best picture at the Feb. 24 Academy Awards. It’s a startling reversal of fortune that took place in the last two weeks, a result observers say of Affleck’s command of modern awards campaigning and a reaction to the Oscar’s unexpected rebuke.
Over the weekend, “Argo” knocked off its main rivals and in two of the season’s most prominent awards ceremonies, winning the top honors from the Producers Guild of America on Saturday and the Screen Actors Guild on Sunday.
Two weeks ago, “Argo” won the Golden Globe for dramatic picture and director. Affleck is eligible for the top prize in Saturday’s Directors Guild of America awards and many feel there’s so much momentum for the film that Affleck could very well win.
If Oscar campaigns are in many ways similar to political ones, then Affleck’s surge is reminiscent of George W. Bush‘s 2000 presidential campaign, when he famously lost New Hampshire by a nearly 20% margin to Sen. John McCain but nevertheless took the Republican nomination and the White House. But unlike Bush, who following his New Hampshire setback attacked McCain relentlessly, Affleck has risen to the top not through negative campaigning but by becoming even more self-deprecating, approachable and gracious.
The night he was snubbed for the directing Oscar, for example, Affleck and “Argo” won the directing and best picture prizes from the Broadcast Film Critics Assn., a group largely composed of online bloggers and obscure movie reviewers. No matter how marginal the organization, Affleck appeared genuinely appreciative of its attention.
At the same time “Lincoln,” which once looked like the heavy favorite not only for the top honors at the Golden Globes and DGA and SAG awards but also at the Oscars, has campaigned in a very different — and outside of multiple honors for star Daniel Day-Lewis, ineffective — manner.
“‘Lincoln’ is all about defying odds, climbing uphill and overcoming challenges,” DreamWorks Co-Chairman/CEO Stacey Snider said of the film that took 12 years to make and was passed over by several studios.
But in hewing to that script, the “Lincoln” effort has struck some as aloof and superior — especially when Spielberg’s office recruited former President Bill Clinton to tout the film at the Golden Globes.
The disparity in the “Argo” and “Lincoln” tactics was on stark display at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where Affleck and Day-Lewis were honored with separate tributes on consecutive evenings.