This time, the “Argo” story in Variety is truly about a big picture.
Connecting three decades of history while erasing a quarter-century of Oscar protocol, Ben Affleck’s “Argo” survived — and indeed, thrived — following its exclusion from the director nominations at the 85th annual Academy Awards, winning best picture at Sunday’s ceremony at the Dolby Theatre.
Unlike the fake take set in the pages of this newspaper more than 30 years ago, this one’s for real, “Argo” becoming the first Oscar best picture without a director nomination since 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy.”
“I know what you’re thinking — three sexiest producers alive,” joked producer Grant Heslov, standing alongside Affleck and George Clooney in accepting the award.
“I never thought I’d be back here,” added Affleck, whose previous Oscar came 15 years ago for co-writing “Good Will Hunting.” “I’m back because of so many people who extended their help to me when there was no benefit to them. It doesn’t matter that you get knocked down in life — all that matters is you’ve got to get up.”
With Chris Terrio’s award for adapted screenplay and William Goldenberg’s for editing, “Argo” ended up with three Oscars, the fewest for a best-picture champ since 2005’s “Crash.” (The last grand-prize winner to win fewer Oscars was 1952’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” with two.)
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“Argo” also became the first best picture since 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” and second since 1977’s “Annie Hall” not to at least tie for the most Oscars in its winning year.
“Life of Pi” came away with the fullest hands, winning four Oscars including best director for Ang Lee.
Nevertheless, “Argo” proved as dominant in the picture race as any film in recent years, becoming the first since 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” and second since 1999’s “American Beauty” to win top feature prizes from the Directors Guild, Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild (cast), Writers Guild (adapted screenplay), BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
The night was historical for more than just “Argo,” or for First Lady Michelle Obama live from the White House joining Jack Nicholson in presenting the best picture award.
Daniel Day-Lewis became the first thesp to win his third Oscar for a lead performance, taking what was arguably the night’s most predictable honor for “Lincoln” (whose Rick Carter and Jim Erickson also won for production design).
“I really don’t know how any of this happened — I do know I’ve received so much more than my fair share of good fortune in my life,” said Day-Lewis, who then turned comedian, addressing award presenter Meryl Streep, who won lead actress a year ago for “The Iron Lady.” “It’s a strange thing because three years ago, before we decided to do a straight swap, I had actually been committed to play Margaret Thatcher.”
Day-Lewis matched Streep and Jack Nicholson for the most career acting Oscars, though the latter two each have a supporting role mixed in.
At age 22 and 193 days, Jennifer Lawrence became the second-youngest lead actress winner ever, sliding in a month more junior than Janet Gaynor and a year older than Marlee Matlin. Among others, Lawrence topped youngest-ever lead-actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (the 9-year-old star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and oldest-ever Emmanuelle Riva, who celebrated her 86th birthday on Oscar Sunday.
“Thank you to the Academy, and thank you to the women this year — you were so magnificent and so inspiring,” Lawrence said.
Christoph Waltz of “Django Unchained” won another competitive race, one for supporting actor that included Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones. Waltz had won at the Golden Globes and BAFTA, but lost at the Screen Actors Guild Awards to Jones.
Waltz dedicated much of his acceptance speech to Quentin Tarantino, who would later go on to win the original screenplay Oscar, nosing out a field that featured “Amour,” “Flight,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”
“My unlimited gratitude goes to Dr. King Schultz — that is, his creator and the creator of his awe-inspiring world, Quentin Tarantino,” said Waltz. “We participated in the hero’s journey, the hero here being Quentin.”
And as many expected, Anne Hathaway earned the supporting actress Oscar for “Les Miserables.”
“It came true,” Hathaway said wistfully upon receiving the award. “Here’s hoping in the future that the misfortunes of Fantine will only appear in stories and never more in real life.”
“Les Miserables” won two other Oscars out of its eight nominations: makeup (Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell) and sound mixing (Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes).
Oscars also went to two other projects that won virtually every award in their category leading up to the Oscars, Michael Haneke’s “Amour” (representing Austria) in foreign-language film and Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching for Sugar Man” in documentary feature.
“Thank you to my wife — she was (also) a member of the crew,” Haneke said. “She has been supporting me (for) 30 years, and she is the center of my life.”
“Amour” had been nominated for five Oscars, the most of any foreign-language film since 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” but came up empty in the other four.
“Searching” director Bendjelloul thanked the film’s subject, Rodriguez, calling him “one of the greatest singers ever.”
One feature category that retained suspense to the very end was animation, with the Oscar going to Disney/Pixar’s “Brave,” accepted by a kilt-wearing director Mark Andrews and the helmer he replaced on the project, Brenda Chapman. The victory came as a mild upset — though “Brave” won at BAFTA and the Golden Globes, “Ralph” had taken the top prize at the Producers Guild Awards and the Annies.
“The thing that I loved about Brenda’s story was the thing that everybody loved about Brenda’s story,” Andrews said backstage, “and I wanted to honor that when I came on board for my part of it.”
Added Chapman: “Which I feel very much he did.”
Studio cousin “Paperman” (directed by John Kahrs) which screened in theaters before “Wreck-It,” won the animated short kudo. “Curfew,” written and directed by and starring Shawn Christensen, triumphed in live-action short, while “Inocente” from Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine scored the documentary short honor.
The first honor for “Life of Pi” went to Claudio Miranda for cinematography (“Skyfall” cinematographer Roger Deakins now has 10 nominations without an Oscar), followed barely a minute later by a visual effects prize for Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott. Later, Mychael Danna of “Pi” earned the original score Oscar.
“The irony is not lost on any of us up here that in a film whose central premise is to ask the audience what they believe is real or not real, most of what you see is, well, it’s fake,” said Westenhofer. “Sometimes it takes a risk to make something special, and ‘Life of Pi’ was a risk worth taking.”
Lee then won the director honor, marking the second time in his career (following “Brokeback Mountain”) that he has done so without his film winning best picture.
Sound editing produced a rare tie (“No B.S.,” according to presenter Mark Wahlberg): Paul N.J. Ottosson for “Zero Dark Thirty” — that film’s only kudo — and Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson for “Skyfall.” The tie was the first at the Oscars since a 1994 deadlock in the live-action short race between “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Trevor.”
“Skyfall” gave the James Bond franchise, whose 50th anniversary was celebrated during the kudocast, its third all-time Oscar and first since 1965’s “Thunderball” won for visual effects. Soon after, “Skyfall” won its second Oscar for the title song by Adele and Paul Epworth.
In costume design, Jacqueline Durran of “Anna Karenina” topped a field that included the late Eiko Ishioka (“Mirror Mirror”). It was Durran’s first Oscar after two previous noms.
Ishioka was among those included in the “In Memoriam” segment, introduced by Clooney, which also offered salutes to a group including Ernest Borgnine, Ralph McQuarrie, Jack Klugman, Celeste Holm, Adam Yauch, Michael Clarke Duncan, Charles Durning, Carlo Rambaldi, Erland Josephson, Richard Robbins, Stephen Frankfurt, Harris Savides, Tonino Guerra, J. Michael Riva, Ulu Grosbard, Herbert Lom, Bruce Surtees, Andrew Sarris, George A. Bowers, Tony Scott, Theodore Soderberg, Lois W. Smith, Geoffrey G. Ammer, Neil Travis, Mike Hopkins, John D. Lowry, Hal David, Nora Ephron, Charles Rosen, Jake Eberts, Mike Kohut, Frank Pierson, Richard Zanuck and Marvin Hamlisch.
But ultimately, the night will be remembered for “Argo,” whose triumph for best picture came at the expense of other films that at various moments this past year were touted as potential Oscar best pictures.
First screened for critics in late November, “Zero Dark Thirty” exploded out of the gate with prizes from the New York Film Critics Circle and National Board of Review in early December. But as early as Nov. 26, allegations (denied by scripter Mark Boal) began to circle the film regarding whether it improperly drew upon classified material.
By mid-December, concerns that the film endorsed torture erupted into a full-blown controversy that wasn’t really mitigated for another month, until an op-ed by director Kathryn Bigelow published after the Oscar nominations, by which time she, like Affleck, had been left out of the running.
One might have assumed “Lincoln” stood to benefit from the derailment of “Zero” in the picture race, and indeed, the Steven Spielberg film looked every bit the champion on Oscar nominations day, when it grabbed the most with 12, including the director nom that Affleck, Bigelow and Tom Hooper of “Les Miserables,” among others, lacked.
But there were warning signs. The film did poorly with the numerous critics groups, winning only in Dallas-Fort Worth, while Spielberg won for director not at all and, in the U.K.’s version of what happened with Affleck, didn’t even merit a nomination from BAFTA.
And when Affleck’s Oscar omission became a cause celebre (in part because controversy had marginalized Bigelow’s hopes), it seemed to only redouble hope for “Argo” rather than doom the pic. Wins for Affleck and his film at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards that night and at the Golden Globes 72 hours later only made what transpired with the Oscar noms seem more of an injustice, and separated the film from such other top nominees as “Zero,” “Pi” and “Les Miserables.”
By the time Affleck and “Argo” had gone on their guild winning streak and become frontrunners worthy of their own backlash, “Lincoln” was hit with its own controversy — right smack in the final Oscar balloting period — over its depiction of how Connecticut Congressmen voted on the 13th Amendment. “Argo” itself was scrutinized over its adherence to historical fact, but that period came way back in the fall, and in the end, the worst you could say about it was that it if it finessed the truth, it wasn’t alone.
Terrio was most appreciative of the experience of working on Argo, addressing Affleck in particular.
“Fifteen years ago, you were up here with the first film you got made, and now I’m up here because of you,” Terrio said. “It’s a gift I can never repay.”
Complete list of winners:
Christoph Waltz – “Django Unchained”
“Life of Pi” – Claudio Miranda
“Life of Pi” – Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott
“Anna Karenina” – Jacqueline Durran
“Les Misérables” – Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell
Live Action Short Film:
“Curfew” – Shawn Christensen
Documentary Short Subject:
“Inocente” – Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
“Searching for Sugar Man” – Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn
Foreign Language Feature:
“Amour,” Michael Haneke
“Les Misérables” – Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes
“Zero Dark Thirty” – Paul N.J. Ottosson
Anne Hathaway – “Les Miserables”
“Argo” – William Goldenberg
“Lincoln” – Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson
Mychael Danna, “Life of Pi”
Adele and Paul Epworth – “Skyfall”
Chris Terrio, “Argo”
Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”
Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”