state of the race


It's less than a week until Oscar Sunday and the 85th Academy Awards. Over the course of the past 85 years the Oscars have become the preeminent awards gala and esteemed honor. Most other honors are relegated to being called "the Oscars of ____________" (the Grammys are the Oscars of music, the Nobel Peace Prize is the Oscar of life, etc.).
Since the Sundance Film Festival of January 2012 there's been a great deal of speculation and talk and argument and discussion over what is deserving of the top award. So, here's the state of things as wee go into the last day of voting (all votes are due by tomorrow), tallying, and guessing.
The movies on everyone's lips last January were the Sundance movies The Surrogate and Beasts of the Southern Wild. John Hawkes' performance in The Surrogate (later re-titled The Sessions) was deemed as the frontrunner at that point and kept up some steam for most of the year. Beasts of the Southern Wild was the first true frontrunner for a lot of categories as it quickly became the movie to see. The anticipation paid off with great reviews and a great run at Cannes. Out of the two, Beasts definitely fared better as it racked up a number of nominations, including Best Picture. The Sessions, however, didn't prove as lucky. Hawkes performance was overlooked and Helen Hunt is the sole representative of the movie for Oscar night.
As the year progressed, other movies made their way to the top of the list. The Avengers was a box office smash and many people began proclaiming it to be the superhero movie to finally nab a Best Picture spot. It was a little top-heavy in its accolades, though, and deservedly only made it into the technical categories, much to the dismay of fanboys.
By summer, some of the most anticipated movies were on their way to the screens, and they didn't necessarily live up to the hype. The Dark Knight Rises, expected to amount to the esteem of The Dark Knight, couldn't quite live up to expectations and was plagued by the Aurora shooting. While the performances and style were both way above that of The Avengers, it didn't feel quite as much of the surprises that were The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger's performance. There were also some surprising art-house releases. Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom became his highest grossing movie and a critical/commercial favorite. It would also prove to be a hit on it's home release to DVD and streaming.
The fall was when the real fun started. With movies like Silver Linings Playbook and Argo hitting theaters, the true race began as almost every week we saw the release of another Oscar hopeful. Critic's analysis and box office number helped some of these to cement some momentum into the race. Argo was a surprise box office success story, but many questioned if it was too "mainstream", while others said it gave director/star Ben Affleck more clout than any of his previous works. Jennifer Lawrence, who had already scored a box office giant with The Hunger Games earlier in the year, gained some traction in the Best Actress race for Silver Linings Playbook. Then, when reports were released about the standing ovations that the highly-anticipated Les Miserables received after preliminary screenings, the film seemed like the one to beat. When Spielberg's Lincoln was released, Daniel Day-Lewis' Abe was the talk of the town and the movie itself was tossed, briefly, into the top spots of lists.
That quickly changed in December when Zero Dark Thirty and Jessica Chastain were pushed to the top, all while Beasts of the Southern Wild still ruminated around in everyone's heads.
Critic's awards started being handed out in early December with back-and-forth Les Miserables/Zero Dark Thirty accolades making the rounds.
Shortly after Zero Dark Thirty and Chastain seemed the ones to beat, a crazy twist happened. Argo started making some surprise wins here and there. Affleck's name was being thrown around. A new frontrunner was making some traction.
In previous years we've seen last minute switches happen, like when The King's Speech seemed to steal all of The Social Network's momentum at the last minute. But, this race feels different. There hasn't been a true frontrunner in most of the categories (minus Day-Lewis and his Best Actor surefire win) and, even now, there still doesn't seem to be one.
Argo would be the smartest choice, since it's walked away with the Critics Choice Award, Golden Globe Award, SAG Award, and a ton of guild awards. Last night's Writer's Guild Awards (the last of the guilds to pass out accolades) somewhat cemented Argo's success. But, the biggest question comes from the fact that Affleck failed to earn a director nomination. It's rough for a movie to win Best Picture without at least a Best Director nod. Many people have speculated that Argo's success is in retaliation for the Academy's clear misstep in not nominating Affleck. However, the nominations come from member's votes, so it's really their own fault.
Affleck has also been a true sport throughout the whole thing. It's been interesting. Despite continuing to win awards, each time Argo is called, it seems like a refreshing, unexpected win. Even going into Sunday, if it walks away as the victor, it'll still seem like a surprise.
In what many are calling the most exciting/frustrating race in recent years, this Sunday will prove a fun night of guessing. Argo seems like the safe bet for the Best Picture win, though the Weinstein's have been heavily promoting Silver Linings Playbook (which is also deserving), and Life of Pi could pull out a complete, left-field surprise. The director race seems like a lock between Speilberg and Pi's Ang Lee. Daniel Day-Lewis has already secured his 3rd Oscar win for Best Actor. Best Actress seemed like a toss up between Lawrence and Chastain, with Lawrence taking the lead, but in the past week and a half Amour's Emmanuelle Riva has gotten a lot of mention. Being the oldest Best Actress nominee in history could give her some edge as this is probably her last chance at the award and her performance is riveting. The Supporting categories are also toss ups, with no clear frontrunner. Robert De Niro has some stellar scenes in Silver Linings Playbook, but so does Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Like Day-Lewis, Anne Hathaway has pretty much solidified herself as a winner. The screenplay categories are almost as unsure as there are a few frontrunners in the categories full of well-deserving nominees.
2012 was a great year for movies, full of exciting stories and some really good performances. Sadly, not all make it into the final cut. Like Affleck's failed mention in Best Director (a movie that will surely be talked about for years and years), I think the state of the race is hard to settle on. In 2009, when the Academy added more nominees, it didn't quite seem to work, as some movies that weren't quite deserving of the honor to call themselves Best Picture nominees made the cut, we've finally gathered a mix of critical and commercial successes, audience favorites, and awards-worthy projects to fill the slate of nominees.
Watch the Oscar this Sunday, February 24, live on ABC at 8PM/et. 

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