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Ben Affleck, right, didn’t get a best-director Oscar nomination, but “Argo” is a strong contender for best picture. Affleck is shown with co-stars John Goodman, left, and Alan Arkin.

Claire Folger, Warner Bros.

'Argo' clouds the Oscar picture

  • Article by: STEVEN ZEITCHIK and GLENN WHIPP
  • Los Angeles Times
  • January 16, 2013 - 3:09 PM

At a party the day before the Golden Globes, Harvey Weinstein walked up to Steven Spielberg collaborator Kathleen Kennedy and said he'd lay off campaigning on behalf of "Silver Linings Playbook," his Oscar competitor to Spielberg's "Lincoln," if Kennedy would cast Weinstein in the new "Star Wars" film she is producing. Kennedy quickly agreed.

The pair were (likely) joking. But they were serious about the stakes, which were upped on Sunday night when "Argo" swooped in and won the best picture (drama) and director awards at the Globes, leaving "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings" with just one acting prize apiece.

The development creates what many Hollywood pundits agree is at least a three-way race in the fast-moving contest for the best-picture Oscar.

With almost six weeks until the Academy Awards are handed out on Feb. 24, "Lincoln," starring Daniel Day-Lewis, remains a front-runner. Its 12 Oscar nominations topped all other movies.

But Ben Affleck's "Argo" is now back in the mix. The filmmaker was snubbed for a directing Oscar nomination last week -- an ominous sign for its best-picture prospects, given that it's been 23 years since a movie won best picture without its director being nominated.

Yet the film about events surrounding the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis picked up the top prize at the Critics' Choice Awards on Thursday and then laurels at the Globes, where there was hearty cheering for Affleck and his film. Some pundits now believe the directing snub could create a sympathy vote of sorts.

Hovering in the background is David O. Russell's mental-illness dramedy "Silver Linings," which last week became the first film in more than 30 years to draw Oscar nominations for best picture, director, screenplay and all four acting categories. Weinstein famously outmaneuvered a Spielberg drama with a lighter film once before: The mogul's "Shakespeare in Love" upset "Saving Private Ryan" at the 1999 Academy Awards.

Fading, but not entirely out of the best-picture race is "Zero Dark Thirty," a movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden that won early critics awards but has caught heat in Washington over its portrayal of torture. Its director, Kathryn Bigelow, was passed over for an Oscar nomination as well.

To win best picture, each contender now will embrace a distinct strategy before the 12-day Oscar voting period begins Feb. 8.

Wooing SAG voters

Affleck will try to capitalize on the Globes moment by wooing voters for the Screen Actors Guild awards and Directors Guild of America awards -- SAG will hand out its prizes Jan. 27, and the DGA follows a week later. Accolades from those groups could help convince the academy membership that the film merits high-profile recognition.

After taking a playful jab at the academy Thursday at the Critics' Choice Awards that suggested the Oscar snub was bothering him -- he began his acceptance speech by saying "I would like to thank the academy" and then sarcastically added, "This is the one that counts" -- Affleck is now playing the gracious card.

"I'm an enormous admirer of the academy," Affleck said Sunday night, insisting the director snub was not on his mind.

Meanwhile, the team behind "Lincoln" is trying its own gambit: emphasizing the film's heft.

Star Daniel Day-Lewis, notoriously shy with the media, came backstage after winning the Golden Globe for actor in a drama and gave one of the longest and most energetic post-award press conferences of the night, turning philosophical about the man he was representing.

"I couldn't help wondering whether, even if [Lincoln] hadn't have been assassinated, maybe he wouldn't have survived very long," Day-Lewis said. "It felt to me that he spent himself in the service of that country at that moment in time. Who knows if he would have ever been able to oversee Reconstruction, but I think the history of the next hundred years would have been very substantially different had he been able to do that."

Big-name endorsements

And then there was Sunday night's most unexpected guest: Bill Clinton. To the casual viewer, the appearance of the 42nd president on stage at the Golden Globes was a nice bonus, a substantive counterpoint to the red-carpet hoopla. But it was also a strategic move on the part of Spielberg, long a serious fundraiser for Democrats: Clinton is thought to be well-liked by large swaths of the academy membership, and his endorsement seemed designed to underscore "Lincoln's" gravitas.

In some ways, Spielberg and the team handling the campaign for studios DreamWorks and Disney were taking a page from the campaign playbook of Weinstein, who often has recruited big names to endorse his films.

The Globes did further cement Day-Lewis' front-runner status for the lead actor Oscar and Anne Hathaway's candidacy for the supporting-actress Academy Award for her turn in "Les Miserables."

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