Monday, January 28, 2013

Why do the Oscars hate Ben Affleck?

That was the plaintive question posed by a reader over the weekend. I'm not sure you can say that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences voters HATE him, because he already has an Oscar: He shared the best original screenplay award 15 years ago with Matt Damon, for "Good Will Hunting." And he's one of three producers on "Argo," so he's nominated again -- but he's inexplicably missing from the best director category.

You do have to wonder why. His direction of "Gone Baby Gone" was nomination-worthy in 2007 but regarded as a fluke, because he'd never directed before. And the damningly ambiguous phrase, "He must have had help" followed its success, as it did with "Good Will Hunting." His solid work on "The Town" proved he belonged in the director's chair, and "Argo" tops both.

Other groups seem to like his work on "Argo:" He won the Golden Globe for best direction and collected prizes from the Southeastern Film Critics Association (in which I vote), Broadcast Film Critics Association and various smaller groups. He's nominated for the Director's Guild of America Award, which gets handed out Saturday.

Yet he's not on the Oscar list, which includes likely choices -- Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, even David O. Russell -- and mavericks Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin, both first-timers. So why not Affleck?

For one thing, the voting pool is small. Except for best picture, Academy members nominate only in their own job category: composers nominate composers, writers do writers, directors select directors. Fewer than 400 Oscar voters are directors, so even a tiny difference of opinion can keep someone off the list. Affleck might have missed by one vote.

Second, the Oscars are a popularity contest more than an exaltation of art. Countless reasons can be found to leave somebody out: He's done something politically incorrect, he's disliked, he's too young, he's too inexperienced, blah blah blah.

I remember asking a cinematographer years ago why the great Gordon Willis never won an Oscar (except an honorary one later in life) and wasn't even nominated for the first two "Godfather" films, "All the President's Men" or "Manhattan." "I've heard he's a -----," was the answer. (It rhymed with "click.")

I'm not saying anyone thinks that of Affleck. (Or that Willis was one. I never met him.) But such personal reactions can lead to inclusion or exclusion at the Academy Awards, however unfair that may be.


Anonymous said...

I read a theory that it was just that too many voters figured he was a 'safe bet' and didn't vote for him. Or, it could just be because "Gigli" is just that unforgivable.

Anonymous said...

The simple answer? Gigli