Editor's note: Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which critics from Indiewire’s Criticwire network discuss new releases with Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. In this installment, Kohn trades e-mails with Indiewire senior editor and resident Oscar prognosticator Peter Knegt (their previous conversation is here).
EK: Well, Peter, we're less than a month from the Oscars, which ordinarily means we've exhausted the subject. But this season has continued to surprise us...I think. With the recent PGA and SAG triumphs for "Argo," Ben Affleck's crowdpleasing espionage tale has once again jumped to the top of many prognosticators' lists after slipping several months ago. To your credit, you never gave up on "Argo" back when people like me assumed that the crowded fall movie season would drown it out. That was almost true: "Argo" isn't a frontrunner in any category except Best Picture. Many other movies have been heralded for the quality of their performances (who doesn't marvel at that Quevanzane-Emmanuelle-Jessica-Jennifer quartet) and the caliber of their direction (from "Lincoln" to "Beasts of the Southern Wild," the directing nominees have enough dazzling visual language to make "Argo" look like a comparatively small screen endeavor). "Zero Dark" was thought to be the smarter movie about American intelligence. Even Quentin Tarantino delivered a grander statement on American history. "Life of Pi" aimed for the cosmic. So it appeared "Argo" just couldn't compete...but it turns out the opposite was true.
What do you think happened here? Did "Argo" actually lose -- and then regain -- its prominence in awards season? Or has it maintained a frontrunner status that was previously obscured by an unusually dense fall release slate? Or have we been missing crucial pieces in the equation all along and "Beasts" is about to sweep everything? If that happens, I assume Robert Redford will leap onto the stage and accept each award on behalf of the Sundance Institute.
PK: It's definitely turned into a bizarro version of awards season this year. I think "Argo" actually lost and regained prominence a few times over now, as did "Lincoln," "Silver Linings," "Life of Pi" and "Zero Dark Thirty." There were even a few days when "Les Miserables" seemed poised to sweep.
But yes, "Argo" definitely seems like an unlikely frontrunner now. The lack of a best director nomination for Affleck seems like it may have given the film a sentimental boost that makes it poised to become the first film since "Driving Miss Daisy" to win best picture without that nomination. Or not. There are still over four weeks left. Voting hasn't even started. But if Affleck wins the DGA this weekend, it's going to be hard to predict anything else winning best picture.
And I do think it has one other Oscar to look forward to -- best film editing. But you're right, beyond those two it's going to be tough for "Argo" to win much. Even winning best picture and just one other Oscar is rare. The last time a film did so was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1952. And the only film to win just best picture was 1932's "Grand Hotel"
Yet this is clearly a year for bucking historical trends, which far more interesting than the opposite situation. It's been nice to come off a little break from the mayhem in the gap between the nominations and the awards. Having the former so early this year let Sundance actually be all about Sundance for once, and now we can easily back into a few more weeks of Oscar chatter.
Speaking of Sundance, we both just got back and between us probably saw most of the buzz films that screened there. Which clearly begs the question that I'll let you answer it first: What was this year's "Beasts of the Southern Wild"? Or was there one?