Oscar analysis: Bad day for 'Argo,' 'Les Mis' and 'Zero Dark Thirty'

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Best Director

Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Here’s where a lot of pundits hit the skids and flew off the road. Few, if any, correctly predicted Zeitlin’s nomination — and you have to assume that after so much praise, and Directors Guild Award nominations, Argo‘s Ben Affleck and Zero Dark Thirty‘s Kathryn Bigelow are in the market for new television sets after hurling coffee mugs at theirs this morning. (At least, that’s what I would have done in their place.)

Les Miserables‘ Tom Hooper …? Even though he also had a DGA nod, he was the one contender who seemed most vulnerable. The lack of directing nominations for those three films downgrades their likelihood of getting Best Picture wins.

The directing front-runner now: Spielberg for Lincoln. Although … I would say Lee is a close second. The Academy clearly loves Life of Pi, which followed Lincoln‘s 12 nominations with 11 — despite having no acting nominees. Pi is considered one hell of a directorial achievement, and with Brokeback Mountain, Lee has a history of winning Best Director even if Best Picture goes elsewhere.

Prize Fighter Score: Not too bad, considering the curveballs here — three for five. Spielberg was obvious — anyone could have gotten that. But I also correctly had Lee, even though some pundits were saying he was out. And I’m glad I chose Haneke instead of Quentin Tarantino or Hooper, which was a tough decision. Like many, I was surprised by Russell and would’ve said you were crazy yesterday if you’d suggested Zeitlin was in the race.

Lesson Learned: The directing branch has a history of skewing a little art-house with its nominations, and that really came through this time. Filmmakers know how challenging it is to get a film made, especially with limited resources. That’s why the admired Lee, for pulling off a project that three other major directors had abandoned, and probably why they went with Zeitlin, who made a surreal, elegant fantasy fable with an ultra-low, do-it-yourself budget.

Next Page: The Best Animated Feature category …

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