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13th February 2013

The race for Oscar glory

Dylan Wiggan chronicles this year’s battle for Oscars’ top prize: Best Picture

By this time next week the 2012-2013 Awards season will finally be over. After months of campaigning, ups and downs, back-biting and (I’m guessing) bribes, the top prize of Best Picture will be handed out at the Oscars. But how did we get here?

The competition truly started back in October with Ben Affleck’s Argo being one of the best reviewed films of the year. With a period setting, inspiring real life story and Hollywood satire (always an academy favourite) Argo was an early front runner. But, like The Social Network a few years ago, had it peaked too soon?

November brought the US release of the Steven Spielberg‘s biopic Lincoln. Switching back to his more serious Schindler’s List mode, Spielberg delivered a taut and engaging portrait of the revered leader. Even with Spielberg’s name attached this talky, political drama was not expected to be a breakout hit. So the films $170+ million was a big surprise. With box office muscle, and with Spielberg and lead Day-Lewis in top form, a new Oscar favourite emerged.

Also released in November was Silver Linings Playbook. Essentially a romantic comedy, this is not what would traditionally be considered an awards contender. Director David O. Russell, however, raises this film above average rom-com faire, producing moving performances from of his cast. The presence of Harvey Weinstein (Oscar campaigning extraordinaire) as producer also meant that this film should not be dismissed. But upon its limited release there was little fanfare and plans to expand were shelved. It seemed Playbook would be an ‘also-ran’ in this race.

Christmas came with the usual slew of big releases including Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Expectations were high for this film and based on early word it seemed it met the hype. Unfortunately though, controversies around the film’s politics dominated discussion, sidelining the issue of whether the film is actually any good or not, damaging its Oscar hopes.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables opened in American theatres on Christmas day to rave reviews. Both exceeded expectations with big grosses, meaning the race for Best Picture headed into 2013 delicately poised.

Early January finally brought Oscar nominations, the Best Picture race was cut to Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Lincoln led the overall nomination pack with 12, reasserting its front-runner status. Django, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Misérables and Argo all failed to secure Best Director nods to match their Best Picture ones, a bad omen, and looked all but out of the race. Also outsiders Amour, Life of Pi and Beasts of the Southern Wild, though nominated, did not appear likely to win.

The Golden Globes came next and finally gave Argo some good news as it won Best Motion Picture Drama, a blow for Lincoln.

Following its Oscar Noms and a Globe win for lead Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook finally opened wide to big box office. Despite being out since November in limited release Playbook was only now becoming a major hit and was back in people’s thoughts at just the right time, making it look a real contender.

But Argo kept winning. The Producers, Screen Actors and Directors guilds all gave their respective top honours to Argo. And finally just last week Argo won big again at the BAFTAs.

In the movie business timing is everything and barring some unforeseen trip-up on the home straight, it seems Argo has got that perfect, and will walk home with cinema’s biggest prize next Sunday.

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