Oscar’s burning questions: Could ‘Argo’ win best picture but little else?

Also, where did all the support for 'Lincoln' go?

The burning question for this year’s Academy Awards has changed.

It had been “How can ‘Argo’ win best picture without a director nomination for Ben Affleck?”; now it’s “Where did all that early Oscar support for ‘Lincoln’ come from — and how much of it is left?”

As Affleck and “Argo” march from one honor to the next — sweeping key prizes at the Critics’ Choice Awards, Golden Globes, Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild and, as of Saturday, the Directors Guild — Steven Spielberg and “Lincoln” have increasingly taken on the slackjawed sorrow of those thunderstruck congressmen on the losing side of the 13th Amendment.

“It’s been an incredible year for movies,” Spielberg said at the DGAs as he was presented with his nominees medallion, before the night’s results were announced. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally wish it was a less incredible year.”

Of course, supporters of other films still cling to their cases for best picture. “Silver Linings Playbook” is an edgy yet heartwarming pic seemingly in the Academy’s sweet spot, and it remains the first in three decades with nominations in four acting categories. “Zero Dark Thirty,” a darling of critics groups, is finally seeing the controversy surrounding its depiction of torture diminish, and “Life of Pi” will forever seem the quiet storm to be reckoned with.

The Academy could still go its own way — with the 12 nominations for “Lincoln,” the most of any film, it kind of already has, and at minimum, the film is likely to come away with multiple individual honors. Academy voting on the Oscars doesn’t begin until Friday and lasts until Feb. 19.

But with balloteers in Hollywood’s guild power centers indicating their support is elsewhere (admittedly, this includes people from the TV world), “Lincoln” and its fellow rivals to “Argo” essentially need a heap of votes from filmmaking’s below-the-liners: cinematographers, editors, hairstylists and others.

Having more overall noms than “Argo” is consoling to the “Lincoln” team, but at this point a best-picture victory for any other film would be a stunner. Yet “Argo” has changed the conversation. It’s like an NCAA men’s basketball team that staggered during the regular season but is running the table during March Madness, led by a coach with the magic touch. Valvano, meet Affleck.

But I lied: There’s still a burning question about “Argo”: not how many Oscars the film may win but how few.

However big a force it has become in the best picture competish, “Argo” is still faced with tough challenges in every other Oscar category. Even should Academy voters crown it with the final award of the night Feb. 24, “Argo” could end up with the fewest victories of any Oscar champion in quite some time.

For example, “Argo” will get shut out of at least 17 out of 24 categories, including that pesky director one, making Affleck the seventh director to win at the DGAs without winning at the Oscars.

That leaves, in addition to best picture, the following possibilities: supporting actor (Alan Arkin), adapted screenplay (Chris Terrio), film editing (William Goldenberg), original score (Alexandre Desplat), sound editing (Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn) and sound mixing (John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Jose Antonio Garcia).

Arkin is in a powerhouse category in which he’s vying against Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones and Christoph Waltz. Terrio has to top the scripts from “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Then there’s the quartet of below-the-line awards. The best picture momentum for “Argo” could provide lift in these categories, but it hardly seems assured that the film will win all four, especially in this widely acknowledged rich year of film in which there might be sentiment to try to spread the wealth.

So where does that leave us? “Argo” could go seven for seven. Or, it could find a place on this list of best picture winners:

• Last to win four Oscars: “The Departed” (2006)

• Last to win three Oscars: “Crash” (2005)

• Last to win two Oscars: “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952)

• Last to win one Oscar: “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935)

Just think about this scenario for the night, even if only for wicked amusement. One film wins an Oscar here, another wins another there, and suddenly in the final moments of the ceremony, “Argo” is looking for the biggest Oscar — and its first.