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The Oscars in Detail

Even as last night’s Governor’s Ball was winding down Ben Affleck was still off in a corner of the room celebrating his Argo’s most unlikely best picture victory in becoming only the second film in 80 years to win the top prize without even a nomination for its director. Affleck’s roller coaster ride has been remarkable this season and as he told me earlier this weekend, and tonight after the best pic triumph, it has been filled with hills and valleys, but it all came together at the Dolby Theatre when first lady Michelle Obama (from the White House) opened the envelope and announced his film as the winner.

When he was left off the list of directing nominees on January 10th he said he was really depressed, but that same night he won the Critics Choice movie award as director and best picture, then the Golden Globe three days later, the PGA, SAG, DGA, WGA and BAFTA honors to name a few. Suddenly Argo was the one to beat. Affleck’s emotional acceptance was heartfelt and perfectly described the personal journey of this actor turned first-rate director. And his acknowledgement of Steven Spielberg from the stage was a nice touch. He won, with Matt Damon, for best original screenplay in 1997 for Good Will Hunting but this was different as Affleck told me, and he was going to savor this moment as long as he could before moving on into the night. It was the same for Argo’s winning screenwriter, Chris Terrio, who also was hanging late at the Govs Ball even though he had to catch a flight back to his New York home where he is currently writing a new script based on the Greengrass story.  As he was just  exiting the ball at the Hollywood and Highland Grand Ballroom he told me someone gave him advice that he should just try to enjoy this moment first. He seemed to have a hard time soaking it in but he was going to give it at least this one night before getting back to work.

Argo, after virtually a clean sweep of awards season since the directing snub (which in retrospect could not have hurt), won a respectable three Oscars (also for editing and adapted screenplay) tying Les Miserables for that number of Oscars, but the big winner of the night (if you can call it that) was 20th’s risky box-office success, LIfe Of Pi, which nabbed four statuettes including a biggie, best director for Ang Lee. Had Affleck been nominated he likely would have won since best picture and director usually go hand in hand, but for whatever reason in a year with an embarrassment of riches it somehow seems totally appropriate that there was a split and Lee was given this award. If anything Life Of Pi was a directorial achievement like no other and this Oscar was acknowledgement of that. In fact right after Affleck was snubbed I predicted Lee would take it, and in the last couple of weeks it was apparent a tide was building for him among Academy voters. It became one of the easiest calls of the night despite the fact that many pundits were calling it for Lincoln’s Steven Spielberg.  At the Govs Ball Lee , who has won two previous Oscars (for best foreign language film for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon  and director for Brokeback Mountain), told me this one means as much or probably more because of the extreme challenges Pi provided. He was clearly thrilled with it and I told him he becomes the first director since George Stevens in the 50′s with A Place In The Sun (1951) and Giant (1956) to win two best director Oscars for two films that did not win best picture, a rare occurrence.

But there were no sweeps. The Academy seemed smartly determined to spread the wealth this year and spread  they did with at least one Oscar going to eight of nine best picture nominees (only Beasts Of The Southern Wild was blanked). To me that statistic just reinforces what a great year it was for film. “The Academy did what I hoped they would do and really voted for what they thought was simply the best individual achievement in each category. They really did their homework this year,” Academy President Hawk Koch told me at the Ball.  He also seemed really proud about pulling off the Obama coup and gave me a detailed account of how (with the help of Harvey Weinstein) they were able to do it.  If the Globes got a former president to present in Bill Clinton, the Oscars staged a history-making move with having the First Lady rip open the envelope to announce best picture. Koch also told me he thought the Oscar show itself was the “best one ever” although I found others in the room, including one very prominent board member, who might not quite share that level of enthusiasm…

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