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Are rules really made to be broken? It looks like the old cliché may be true.
One of the most reliable "rules" throughout awards history has been that a film cannot win the best picture Oscar if it hasn't even been nominated for the best director Oscar. The logic of this rule has long gone unquestioned because, well, there hasn't been a reason to question it: only three films ever -- and only one in the last 80 years, Driving Miss Daisy (1989) -- have defied it.
But when one pauses to consider that the best director Oscar nominees are determined by only six percent of the Academy's entire membership (the directors branch), whereas the winner of the best picture Oscar is determined by not only that six percent but the other 94 percent, as well, one realizes that there may, in fact, be reason to question the solidity of the rule in the first place.
Awards pundits like me have been given plenty of reason to pause and consider this rule, of late, because the Warner Bros. film Argo, a best picture nominee directed by a man who was not nominated for best director, Ben Affleck, has plowed through an awards season that many expected would be dominated by the more traditional Academy film in the race, DreamWorks' Lincoln, the director of which (Steven Spielberg) did receive an Oscar nomination.
Earlier this month, on the night of Jan. 10 (Affleck's Oscar snub was revealed that morning), the Broadcast Film Critics Association -- of which, full disclosure, I am a voting member -- awarded its best picture and best director Critics' Choice prizes to Argo and Affleck, respectively. This was the first sign that some members of the greater Hollywood community felt very differently about the film than the Academy's directors branch.
Less than a week later, on Jan. 13, another, even higher-profile body of entertainment journalists, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, followed suit, presenting its Golden Globe awards for best picture (drama) to Argo and best director to Affleck. However, due to the group's long-documented history of kowtowing to A-list movie stars far more than the Academy -- particularly when they try their hand at directing -- these results were, understandably, downplayed by many, myself among them.
People seeking real insight into the mindset of the Academy were urged by many, including me, to wait until Jan. 26, when the Producers Guild of America would become the first of the many guilds to present its awards. This is because journalists are not represented in the Academy, making their preferences largely irrelevant, but people who make or have made films, like the members of those guilds, are, making their tastes far more predictive.