Last night the Directors Guild of America gave Ben Affleck its award for best director of a film for his work on “Argo”. So what does the DGA know that the directors’ branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (the Oscars) doesn’t know? As it turns out, a lot. Let me count the ways:
1. “Argo” is terrific.
For a long time, “Argo” was the film to beat. It won Best Picture at the Telluride Film Festival back in September and was considered to be the movie that would prevail come Academy Awards time. Roger Ebert also predicted that it would win the Best Picture Oscar around that time, long before a dozen Academy qualifiers like “Zero Dark Thirty” or “Les Miserables” had even opened (http://ti.me/SPB4Z9). It was an audacious call, but Ebert knew greatness when he saw it. And he knew what kind of movies win Oscar’s biggest prize - smart, moving, involving ones like “Argo”.
“Zero Dark Thirty” stole some of the thunder when it debuted in December, with somewhat similar subject material, but “Argo” still made over 100 Ten Best Lists, including mine. (http://exm.nr/Wjgwpk) No surprise as it got a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96% when it first came out and the American Film Institute picked it as the film of the year. The consensus view has always been that it’s a great movie. And all its recognition through awards season, from the Golden Globes to SAG to the PGA and now the DGA, is a reminder of that undeniable opinion.
2. “Argo” is a director’s movie.
There are many superb aspects to the film, but first and foremost it is a director’s movie. And Ben Affleck is the man who brought the tightly wound script, the inspired performers and all the top-notch production values together to make this outstanding thriller. In an auteur’s world, Affleck has last word. And his work speaks volumes.
3. Actors help get movies made.
The fact that Affleck also was going to headline “Argo” as an actor probably got it greenlit as much as anything. Big stars help studios cough up the cash because a name above the marquee helps them feel assured of ROI. And it doesn’t hurt to have people like Affleck and George Clooney partnering to produce films like “Argo”. The Hollywood community knows what it takes to get a film made, and big actors throwing their clout around can always help. That kind of thing does not go unappreciated in Tinsel Town.
4. Ben Affleck is one of the good guys.
His over-exposed J-Lo tabloid years almost a decade behind him now, Affleck is loved by the community, audiences and critics alike. He’s also one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. During commercial breaks at this months awards shows, he is up greeting friends and colleagues alike, going from table to table, showing his love for the business. A little networking always helps in Hollywood. And on a personal note, I can tell you first hand that Affleck is a wonderfully personable fella. A decade ago, as a creative director in advertising, I worked with him. We were working on a Blockbuster commercial together, promoting his “Project Greenlight” TV show and he couldn’t have been more cordial, witty or self-deprecating. He was the coolest guy in the room but never acted like anyone other than a team player. What’s not to love with a guy like that?
5. Ben Affleck is a helluva director.
Perhaps the Academy didn’t notice. Perhaps they’re jealous or petty. Perhaps they wish they got to come home to Jennifer Garner each night. Whatever the reason, they screwed up big time by not nominating him for an Oscar. If they think “Argo” was a fluke, they haven’t been paying attention. For some time now Affleck has proven himself to be a terrific helmer of movies. Haven’t they seen “Gone Baby Gone” or “The Town”? Affleck’s three films showed what a assured hand he has in directing actors, filming on location, creating tension with crack editing, and putting together the best talent above the line and below it to make truly superb films.
In some regards, the director’s branch of the Academy may very well have done Affleck a favor. By not nominating him, whether by their forgetfulness or envy, the Academy’s directors have managed to put his snubbing front and center this awards season. And that may be helping give him that little extra push with others to make up for the branch’s egregious oversight.
The Oscars are still weeks away and a lot can happen in that time. Harvey Weinstein could push through a campaign that makes “Silver Linings Playbook” a major contender again. There could be a “Lincoln” surge as people realize that they’ve been ignoring it all season long when balloting for Best Picture. Heck, the older contingency of the Academy could create a groundswell for “Amour”. But right now it looks like the Best Picture Oscar is going to “Argo”. And while he won’t get a Best Director Oscar, Affleck would win one for producing the movie. And in lieu of his snubbing, that may be his ‘consolation prize’. Helluva prize that.