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Countdown to Oscars

Monday, February 25, 2013
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Which Festivals And Precursor Awards Mattered Most In The Oscars’ Outcome?

By Joey Magidson
Film Contributor

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It’s all over, folks. After almost a year of preparation (and yes, I’ve already started working on early predictions for next year), the Oscar ceremony is now in our rear view mirror. Argo has been crowned Best Picture, Daniel Day-Lewis has his record-setting third Best Actor statue, host Seth MacFarlane managed to wed his trademark humor with the more buttoned down tastes of the Academy, and nearly every film nominated took home something. Hell, we even got a surprise video recording from First Lady Michelle Obama and our first tie in any category since 1968! It was a good evening for just about everyone.

The Academy really spread the love around this year. No film won more than four statues (that was Life of Pi), and Argo wound up with only three Oscars overall. We’ll forever argue over if Ben Affleck would have gotten the film a fourth had he been actually in the Best Director field, but that’s just speculation in the end. A dozen different features (not counting the Documentary winner Searching for Sugar Man) wound up with Academy Awards, and many of those 12 managed to scoop up more than one prize. In fact, the only major contender to walk home empty handed was Beasts of the Southern Wild. There’s always something that you can take issue with in terms of the results, but the results were pleasing overall — at least as far as I can tell.

The question I wanted to look at with 50/50 hindsight today was which film festivals and precursor awards wound up mattering the most. As has always been the case, festivals and precursors factored into the Oscar race in a big way. The Best Picture winner was one of the flicks that had a debut at a fest, as is the norm, while it also dominated the precursors. That’s also somewhat commonplace, but considering the chaos that was awards season, it wound up being pretty interesting to witness.

The festivals that mattered most were the New York Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival. A few months ago, I wrote a piece (found here) on which festivals the major nominees came from, and the big winners indeed came from those aforementioned fests. There were winners that came from other fests like the Cannes Film Festival (Amour) and the Sundance Film Festival (Searching for Sugar Man), but by and large the winners came from New York, Telluride and Toronto.

Toronto wound up having the best record in terms of how many films debuted, with Argo (even though it technically had a surprise screening at Telluride first) showing up there and going on to win Best Picture, alongside a pair of other wins. We also had Anna Karenina and Silver Linings Playbook win one each, so five victories in total came from Toronto.

Life of Pi and Lincoln took home multiple statues after New York debuts, with the former the Opening Night film and the latter a secret screening toward the end. A half-dozen Oscars overall came from NYFF, which is a lot more than usual and actually led the field for fests. It just goes to show you: The biggest contenders don’t always come from the giant meat market festivals.

Certain winners skipped the festival route altogether. Django Unchained, Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty didn’t bother with a festival bow, while Skyfall had a quick surprise Los Angeles Film Festival screening shortly before its theatrical release. The biggest victors of Oscar night chose to focus on festivals, but these Academy Award winners took a different paths and managed to do just fine on their own, resulting in a total of eight Oscar wins.

What of the precursors, you say? We all know that they make or break an Oscar hopeful, and this year was no exception. The Critics Groups had their say, but they don’t have Academy members in their ranks, so it really came down to the BAFTA’s, Golden Globes and Guild Awards. BAFTA and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association chose to divvy up their awards but ultimately gave their big prizes to Argo.

The precursors with the most impact on the awards were the major guilds. They always hold the most sway, but this time around they locked in Argo for a win and essentially brought it back from the dead. Affleck’s film swept the guilds, giving it an upper hand that it never relinquished. As I noted in a piece last week (found here), this win was brought to you far more because of guild support than any other factor, let alone guilt over the Affleck snub. Not seeing him in the Best Director lineup had an effect, but the precursor support was ultimately what did it.

This was another year during which we wound up seeing Toronto host an Oscar contender that went on to do extremely well with the guild precursors and head straight toward Academy Awards glory. We had a lot more twists and turns getting there than we normally do, but the result was ultimately the same as the norm. Argo used a well-worn path to victory, even if it made everyone sweat a bit along the way.

With this Oscar ceremony now a part of the historical record, we’ll be able to use this information as a tool in future awards prognostication. It was a nice mix of traditional results with some extra tension thrown in for good measure. I know I had a blast covering this season, even without the added bonus of my favorite film of 2012 taking home the Best Picture trophy.

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