NEW YORK – Now that “Argo” has won both the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, there’s one question everyone keeps asking.
Why on earth did Ben Affleck fail to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Directing?
His tale of the “Canadian Caper” was both a critical and commercial success. It currently holds a 96 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest rating among this year’s nine Best Picture nominees.
“Argo” earned seven Oscar bids in key categories like acting, screen writing, film editing and score.
Its current domestic box office tally is over $110 million and counting, an impressive feat for a political thriller.
Affleck is up for the Directors Guild of America top honor and seems like a good bet to triumph.
In other words, his omission just doesn’t make any sense.
But there’s one question which no one seems to be raising, a question which may hold the answer to this year’s most puzzling awards mystery.
Did Affleck’s abdominals cost him the Oscar?
Yes, it sounds ridiculous. (In fact, it probably is ridiculous.) But allow me to try to explain.
The nominations for the Academy Awards in every category except for Best Picture are determined by individual branches. Actors nominated for acting. Writers nominate for writing. Musicians nominate for song and score. Etc.
The Academy’s directing branch, which as a group made a decision to exclude the “Argo” supervisor, is notoriously unpredictable. Over the years they have allowed for several notable snubs, including Steven Spielberg for “Jaws” and “The Color Purple,” Martin Scorsese for “Taxi Driver,” Barbra Streisand for “Yentl” and “The Prince of Tides,” Bruce Beresford for “Driving Miss Daisy,” Ron Howard for “Apollo 13,” Cameron Crowe for “Jerry Maguire,” and Baz Luhrmann for “Moulin Rouge.”
This year the Academy directors might have looked at Affleck’s work and found one serious flaw.
Was he too narcissistic?
After all, why did he cast himself in the lead role of Tony Mendez, someone part-Mexican, considerably shorter, and probably slightly less handsome than the Adonis-like Affleck? Would a fully committed director have not put aside acting ambitions in order tell a true story as accurately as possible? Why didn’t he cast a Hispanic or partially Hispanic actor instead?
And then there’s the question of the actor’s abs. In case you didn’t notice, or haven't seen the movie, there’s a scene in “Argo” in which Affleck appears shirtless, his six-pack as tight as a twenty-year-old’s. I’m sure that there were no complaints from audiences, but perhaps the highbrow Academy directors thought that it was just a bit too much. The real Tony Mendez probably wasn’t built like that. (And I’m all certain that no one in the Academy’s directing branch is built like that.)
Sure, other big-name actors have won Oscars for directing in films in which they cast themselves.Warren Beatty was honored for 1981’s “Reds” – he played American communist John Reed, a part which many would argue that he was perfect for. Kevin Costner took home the trophy for 1990’s “Dances with Wolves.” He portrayed a fictional US lieutenant in a western, a role which appeared to be quite fitting for him. Mel Gibson won for 1995’s “Braveheart.” As 13th century Scotsman William Wallace, he didn’t face visual comparisons to the legendary warrior.
However, note that “Funny Girl” Oscar winner Barbra Streisand was denied a directing nod for “The Prince of Tides” even as that film earned seven nominations. Many attributed the snub to her excessive self-glamorization, especially those distracting fingernails.
So maybe Ben's abs suffered the same fate as Babs?
I must emphasize that “Argo” was my number one film of 2012, out of the 200-plus films that I saw. I was certain that Affleck would be nominated for Best Director, and I considered him the early favorite to take home the prize.
If the Academy’s directing branch punished him for his acting aspirations and fine physique, then it’s a real shame. Forget for a moment who helmed “Argo” and think of its near-perfection in every aspect. Remember the two hours you spent completely captivated, and the enthusiastic applause you probably heard at the end. Intelligent movie-goers are rarely treated to experiences like that.
While Affleck’s directing Oscar hopes (at least for “Argo”) are clearly over, the picture could still prevail next month.
Winning Best Picture without a corresponding directing nomination? That’s about as likely as rescuing American fugitives in a hostile country by fake-producing a film.
“Argo” has already given us one happy ending. It just might do it again.