F.A.Q.: How did ‘Argo’ become impossible not to vote for?

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Ben Affleck in 'Argo.' ()
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A conversation with Entertainment Weekly writer and Daniel Day-Lewis superfan Sara Vilkomerson about the Oscars.

Josh: Does Lincoln deserve the accolades? Wasn't Daniel Day-Lewis just phoning it in?

Sara: Josh. You know how I feel about Daniel Day-Lewis: He never phones it in! He makes canoes or shoes or, in this case, texts while in character. I actually think what he did inhabiting the character of Lincoln was astounding. He changed the entire timbre of his voice which is sort of crazy and I forgot it was D.D.L. about 30 minutes in. His performance was my favorite thing about that movie. (I'd also like to state here for the record that I am not EW's Oscarologist: that would be my co-worker Anthony Breznican.)

But Lincoln: it's sort of tailor-made for awards, don't you think? You have Steven Spielberg, DDL, and a script by Tony Kushner. It's. A. Lot.

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Josh: And yet apparently the oddsmakers greatly favor Argo. Is that also a matter of checking a bunch of Oscar-voter boxes, or is there something else at play here?

Sara: Well there's definitely been a lot of momentum for Argo. Personally, I think it will win Best Picture. You can compare Oscar campaigns to political ones ... and doesn't it happen in politics too when sometimes in the 4th quarter there's a sudden swell? I threw a sports analogy in there just to really confuse things.

Josh: No, I appreciate it. You're trying to reduce things to a level I can understand, and you're almost succeeding. But OK, Argo: Why is it such a strong favorite? If Lincoln has Spielberg and Kushner and D.D.L. and a not-so-secretly super-relevant historical topic, what does Argo have, as far as the voters are concerned?

Sara: For starters, Argo is a good movie. It's well crafted, well acted, and it's a movie about Hollywood. It's a movie in which Hollywood LITERALLY saves lives! And Hollywood traditionally loves movies about itself: see last year's winner, The Artist.

Josh: Ah!

Sara: Also, I think Ben Affleck getting shut out of Best Director during the nominations really caused people to support him and rally for the film. So that's given Argo a sort of underdog quality that also allows voters to feel righteous while voting for it. Also also: I think that Ben Affleck has really proved his worth as a director—this is the third good movie in a row he has done (after Gone Baby Gone and The Town) and voters might feel like they want to reward that. Wow, turns out I had a lot to say about Argo.

Josh: I presume this would also be rewarding the topic matter, if Argo wins. There's the life-saving, of course, but also that Argo is explaining something about the world to its audience, and that that's a worthy endeavor. Or?

Sara: It's all these things. I think it all factors in.

Josh: Can you explain Harvey Weinstein's showing here? How many times can anyone call it a surprising comeback when his projects get nominated?

Sara: I think anyone who ever counts Harvey out is foolish. And I don't think anyone is this year: he's won best picture the last two years in a row. Plus, I really really really love Silver Linings Playbook. Out of all the best picture nominees, it's the movie I bet I'll rewatch the most in the future.

Josh: Say more! Why?

Sara: It's a movie that is smart and funny and weird and makes me happy. I couldn't admire Zero Dark Thirty any more than I do. If I were voting at the Oscars—and let's face it, I should be—I'd vote for ZDT for best picture for sure. But if I was home on a rainy sunday and wanted to watch a movie from 2012 again? I'd choose Silver Linings Playbook.

Josh: a. Yes of course you should. b. Do you think the Oscars would be more or less valuable if movies were judged that way, on how much the voters actually enjoyed watching them, rather than on how Important they perceive them to be?

Sara: It's an excellent question. And it's the whole "serious" thing vs "commercial"—ie Summer Blockbusters versus Tweedy Fall (as I believe we always said in the Observer back in the day). But also, my favorite movie of 2012—Your Sister's Sister—wasn't nominated for best picture and last year my favorite movie, Beginners, wasn't either. You learn to expect these things during Oscar time.

Remember how mad people were when Crash won over Brokeback Mountain? Nothing like that will happen this year.

Josh: Why is that?

Sara: I think out of the possible winners— and really I think it's just between Argo, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook—most everyone will be satisfied.

Josh: Do you see any significance in that fact that so little attention is being paid this year to blockbusters?

Sara: This is always the way it goes, I think. Blockbusters just tend to get snubbed. In more recent years, particularly, because I think Academy voters rely on screeners— (as my editor who just popped in here reminded me) which means when you watch a movie at home it's easier to see a Little Miss Sunshine at home more than a The Dark Knight.

Josh: The voters at the moment seem to be willing to go for small indie movies but uninterested not ones made by Wes Anderson. Why?

Sara: Oh I don't know...he got nominated for Original Screenplay, which is pretty good. He sort of has the Woody Allen slot, where people want to reward his movie somehow. Though that said, I don't know if he will win (and I really like Moonrise Kingdom, too)

Josh: That's a great concept, the Woody Allen slot. Who else has occupied that slot?

Sara: I just made that up, so let me think about this.

Josh: Please.

Sara: OK, Perfect example: Noah Baumbach in 2005 for The Squid and the Whale.

Josh: Other than Jessica Chastain it seemed like all the best-acress nominees were in movies that weren't huge, commercially. I figure the optimistic interpretation of that is that their performances were so strong that they didn't need an unignorable vehicle to get the voters' attention. Is this actually that, a great Moment in Actressing? Or do the awards just sometimes line up that way?

Sara: I think it's the latter—though I believe Silver Linings Playbook has crossed over the 100 million dollar mark. But I'm happy when it's a good year for women, which this year it was.

The Impossible, by the way—which I don't think a lot of people have seen—is incredible for all the actors, but wow, Naomi Watts. She's amazing.

Josh: Do you have any against-the-odds predictions?

Sara: Hmmmmm.

I think David O. Russell could win best director. And I'm not just saying that because I really like him and had a nice interview with him and that his next movie takes place in my father's hometown of Camden, N.J. Though that helps.