Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 02-25-13

Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva

Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva

John Goodman and Alan Arkin

John Goodman and Alan Arkin

“Lincoln” L-001131R Daniel Day Lewis stars as President Abraham Lincoln in this scene from director Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” from DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox. Ph: David James, SMPSP ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“Lincoln” L-001131R Daniel Day Lewis stars as President Abraham Lincoln in this scene from director Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” from DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox. Ph: David James, SMPSP ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Oscar outcome: It’s all over, but the shouting – and there’s plenty of that as Hollywood recovers from one of the most controversial Oscar seasons ever.

With Warner Bros. and GK Films’ thriller “Argo” having now added Oscar’s best picture trophy to its long list of earlier wins, it’s become the film that directed itself.

When “Argo” director Ben Affleck won the Director’s Guild of America award, Hollywood handicappers would have automatically expected him to also win the best directing Oscar. Only since times since 1948 had the DGA winner not gone on to Oscar success. This year, however, became the seventh mismatch because Affleck was snubbed by the Academy’s director’s branch and, therefore, wasn’t in the race.

Although that didn’t seem like a good thing at the time, it actually was a lucky break for “Argo” because the resulting controversy probably prompted other awards givers to embrace the film and Affleck.

After winning the Critics Choice, Golden Globe (drama), Producers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America (Affleck), Screen Actors Guild (ensemble cast), British Academy BAFTA and French Academy Cesar (best foreign language film), it would certainly have been embarrassing for Oscar voters to turn their backs on “Argo.”

Who else could they have voted for without making it look like they just didn”t want to celebrate the same movie every other major awards group had already honored? Earlier in the awards season, the frontrunner was DreamWorks, Fox, Reliance Pictures, Participant Media and Disney’s biographical drama “Lincoln” and its Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg. It looked like the kind of big important historical film that the Academy thinks of when they’re thinking “best picture.” But “Lincoln’s” heat cooled dramatically as other best picture nominees competed aggressively for Academy voters’ love while “Lincoln” marketers followed Spielberg’s lead and chose to let their movie speak for itself.

By the time Academy members were voting, “Lincoln” was the 800 pound elephant in the Oscar room that had lost every one of the other big awards races. If “Lincoln” had split those races with “Argo,” it would have been a viable best picture alternative to “Argo,” but that just wasn’t the case. In the end, the strongest alternative choice was 20th Century Fox and director Ang Lee’s adventure drama “Life of Pi,” whose 11 noms were just one shy of “Lincoln’s” dozen. If “Argo” hadn’t won, “Pi” would have had the best chance of taking home the gold.

With “Argo” winning best picture, Spielberg cooling off and Affleck not in the directing race, Lee emerged as the most likely to win best directing – which is exactly what happened. What Lee had going for him was that Yann Martel’s novel “Life of Pi” was widely regarded as being unfilmable. For Lee to have brought it to the screen was seen as a great accomplishment, especially since critics loved it – giving it an 88 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It was plain as day that Daniel Day-Lewis would win best actor after prevailing in all four of the major acting races leading up to the Oscars – the Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes (Drama), Screen Actors Guild and the British Academy’s BAFTAs. It certainly didn’t hurt that Day-Lewis was already a well regarded two-time best actor Oscar winner – for “My Left Foot” in 1990 and for “There Will Be Blood” in 2008. He now goes into the record books as Oscar’s only three time best actor winner.

On the other hand, “Amour’s” Emmanuelle Riva’s losing in the best actress race was a surprise to many Hollywood handicappers. After Riva won the British Academy’s best actress BAFTA earlier this month, she took on new heat with Oscarologists who saw her as the new frontrunner for the best actress Oscar. They expected her to benefit from a sentimental Academy vote reflecting her being the oldest Oscar acting nominee ever – celebrating her 86th birthday Sunday at the 85th annual Academy Awards. She’s actually one year older than Oscar!

It would have been a fitting tribute to Riva, whose career began in the mid-1950s and has included nearly 80 films and television productions. Riva’s best known for starring in Alain Resnais’ 1959 classic “Hiroshima, mon amour,” for which she received a best actress BAFTA nomination.

Instead, what insiders call “the babe factor” prevailed and Academy members, who are mostly middle aged (or older) males, voted for 22 year old Jennifer Lawrence for The Weinstein Company’s “Silver Linings Playbook.” Lawrence had won the SAG supporting actress award and until Riva’s BAFTA victory was being talked about as the likely Oscar winner.

Earlier in the season there were high hopes for Jessica Chastain for supporting actress for her performance in Columbia and Annapurna Pictures’ thriller “Zero Dark Thirty,” but the controversy plaguing that film for its depiction of torture as an effective CIA tool in hunting down Osama Bin-Laden hurt Chastain’s chances and also knocked Kathryn Bigelow out of Oscar’s best directing race.

Academy members also avoided a sentimental vote in the supporting actor race, opting for Christoph Waltz for The Weinstein Company and Columbia Pictures’ “Django Unchained” instead of 69 year old veteran actor Robert De Niro, who was nominated for “Silver.”

De Niro and Oscar had enjoyed a long history that would have made for a sentimental moment onstage. He was a supporting actor nominee in 1975 for “The Godfather, Part I” and won – although he wasn’t there to accept, so director Francis Ford Coppola accepted for him. De Niro hasn’t won since then, but has had five best actor noms – in 1977 for “Taxi Driver,” in 1979 for “The Deer Hunter,” in 1981 for “Raging Bull,” in 1991 for “Awakenings” and in 1992 for “Cape Fear.”

However, this year’s best supporting actor race was highly competitive and difficult to predict. Tommy Lee Jones’ SAG victory for “Lincoln” had some insiders expecting him to prevail at the Oscars because actors are the Academy’s biggest voting branch. Jones had won supporting actor in 1994 for “The Fugitive.”

Unfortunately for Jones, he had strong competition from Christoph Waltz for “Django,” who out-performed him in the season’s other key awards contests. Although Waltz wasn’t a SAG nominee, he won three other prime supporting actor awards – the BAFTA, Critics Choice and Golden Globes. Waltz’s visibility as a winner throughout the awards season gave him the edge with Oscar.

Earlier in the season Jones was considered the most likely winner because it looked like “Lincoln” would win best picture and could enjoy an Oscar sweep. “Lincoln’s” much diminished best picture prospects late in the race probably hurt Jones.

There also was no “Lincoln” love for Sally Field for supporting actress. But this was a race where Anne Hathaway, the winner, had been the presumptive winner since the start for Universal Pictures, Relativity Media and Working Title Films’ romantic musical drama “Les Miserables.” It was clear that Hathaway and “Les Mis” wouldn’t miss after winning the BAFTA, Critics Choice, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild races.

Chris Terrio’s adapted screenplay win for “Argo” was expected given his Writers Guild of America victory and “Argo’s” strong best picture showing throughout the season. Without an opportunity to vote for Affleck for best director, Academy members did the next best thing by applauding “Argo’s” screenplay.

The original screenplay race was more complicated. “Zero” writer Mark Boal, an Oscar winner in 2010 for Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” was favored to win this early in the season, but after the controversy over the film exploded in mid-December his prospects seemed less likely. Although Boal won the WGA award for original screenplay, the Oscar went instead to Quentin Tarantino for “Django,” which hadn’t been eligible to be in the WGA race.

Although Sony Pictures Classics’ “Amour” didn’t win for best picture, actress, directing or original screenplay, it still enjoyed a great night with its win for best foreign language film as the official entry of Austria.

“Amour’s” road to the Oscars began in Cannes last May when it won the Palme d’Or. It wound up with an impressive five Oscar noms, including one of the nine for best picture and it won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award for best foreign language film. “Amour” also swept the European Film Awards, winning best picture, director (Haneke), actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and actor (Jean-Louis Trintignant).

While controversy helped “Argo,” it clearly hurt “Zero’s” Oscar prospects. But even though “Zero” missed out on Oscar gold, it enjoyed lots of boxoffice gold thanks to its five Oscar noms.

When the Oscar noms were announced Jan. 10, “Zero” was playing in 60 theatres and had a healthy cume of $5.5 million from its limited run. The next day Columbia with perfect timing went wide to 2,937 theatres, capitalizing on “Zero’s” best picture nod. Its gross through Sunday (2/24) was $91.6 million, a gain of $86.1 million between the noms and the Oscars.

It’s easy to forget, by the way, that early in December prior to the controversy “Zero” was regarded as a best picture and director front runner. It won the New York Film Critics’ vote Dec. 3 for best picture, director and cinematography. It won the National Board of Review vote Dec. 5 for best film, director and actress (Chastain). And it won the Boston Film Critics’ vote Dec. 9 for best picture, director and film editing.

Then it ran into trouble. If U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain hadn’t attacked “Zero” in their Dec. 19 public letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman and CEO Michael Lynton, the movie might have gone the distance with Oscar. But the ensuing controversy worked against “Zero.”

Sony, however, handled the political controversy very well. While it lost the Oscar battle, it won at the boxoffice by grossing more money with “Zero” than any of the other best picture nominees took in between the Jan. 10 noms and the Oscars.

Bottom line: The 2012 Oscars are history, but the 2013 race gets underway May 15 at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. After that it’s off to festivals in Venice, Deauville, Telluride, Toronto and New York as Hollywood launches the films it hopes will compete in next year’s Oscar race.