In Argo's case, most of the Oscar buzz is justified. It's a riveting film, both well-acted and a great story. Plus it's inspired by true events, which the Academy just looooves. I do think the Best Actor buzz for Affleck may be a bit premature, however; I'm sure visions of Oscar glory danced in his head when he decided to take the juicy lead role of CIA operative Tony Mendez for himself. But, while his performance was undeniably solid, I'm just not sure it's Oscar-worthy, particularly with the stiff competition he'll likely face from Oscar vets like Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) and Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock).
Argo may be transparent Oscar bait, but at least it's good. That's more than I can say for obvious Oscar suitors like Flight and The Master. I know I may be in the minority regarding the former, but the Robert Zemeckis flick starring Denzel Washington as an alcoholic/heroic pilot falls a little flat. The plot drags at times, and the romantic subplot with the beautiful heroin addict (Kelly Reilly) just doesn't ring true. Plus, the ending is a tad on the preachy side.
That said, Washington's performance is excellent. While Flight may not successfully bait a Best Picture nod, it just might secure Washington another run at the Best Actor trophy. Similarly, even though The Master was largely a disappointment overall, it may still score some acting nominations for Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams or Philip Seymour Hoffman. So perhaps all would not be lost for the rambling, flawed flick by There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson.
Of course, when it comes to courting Oscar, quality isn't always the deciding factor. It's a political game, as Kevin Smith once vividly illustrated for us. That's why some of the year's best movies, like Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild, may not even be on the Academy's radar. That would be a shame if it is the case, since both indie flicks could certainly benefit from a post-Oscar boost.
Before I overthink things too much, let's get into the dirty details. Here's my list of this year's most transparent Oscar bait -- so far.
Best Picture 1. Lincoln. This has Oscar bait written all over it. It's a period piece about real people, and stars Oscar darlings Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field. Plus it's directed by Steven Spielberg, who can do no wrong in the Academy's eyes.
2. Argo. Now that Ben Affleck is a bona fide "serious" filmmaker, it's time for some Oscar love. Argo just might be the vehicle to do it for him. It's his first flick that sports major Oscar bait traits: it's based on a true story, and it's set in another time. It probably doesn't hurt that he threw in critic faves John Goodman and Alan Arkin for good measure. One thing that might derail Argo's journey to a Best Picture nom is the recent high-profile argument that it's racist. But I'd still put money on it. 3. Les Miserables. This one boasts more Oscar bait hallmarks than you can shake a stick at. Period piece? Check. Musical? Check. Adaptation of a beloved tale? Check. Critically acclaimed cast? Check (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway). Academy-approved director? Check (Tom Hooper, The King's Speech). I'll be shocked if Les Mis doesn't rack up at least a few Oscar noms, if not Best Picture.
Best Actor 1. Denzel Washington in Flight. Washington is at his best when he's unhinged, as his Oscar-winning performance in Training Day proved. He undoubtedly had Oscar on his mind when he took on the role of alcoholic pilot Whip Whitaker in Flight. It's a juicy, morally ambiguous character, which is why Washington reportedly agreed to a major pay cut to take it on. While Flight falls short overall, Washington's riveting performance makes it watchable. Not sure if that'll be enough to court an Oscar nomination, though.
2. Ben Affleck in Argo. Affleck's acting ability has been widely mocked over the years (cough, cough, Gigli, cough, cough, Jersey Girl). Wouldn't snagging a Best Actor trophy be the best revenge? His performance in Argo is decent, but it's not exactly Oscar-caliber. But, who knows? Argo's popularity among critics and audiences alike just might help Affleck land himself an acting nod.
3. Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables. He sings. He dances. He's an undeniably good actor. And yet Jackman still doesn't have an Oscar. His turn as Jean Valjean just might fix that. We'd be shocked if the thought didn't cross his mind when he took the role.
Best Actress/Supporting Actress 1. Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina. Knightley was no doubt hoping for another Oscar nomination when she took on the role of disturbed patient Sabina Spielrein in last year's A Dangerous Method. Unfortunately, her over-the-top performance earned more mockery than accolades. Anna Karenina just might turn things around for her this year, though. Knightley plays the 19th century socialite in the big screen adaptation of Tolstoy's classic. The Academy has a soft spot for epic period pieces inspired by literary classics, which Knightley would be well-aware of (she was previously nominated for her role in Pride & Prejudice). 2. Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables. She cut her hair and lost weight to play Fantine. You know when an actress alters her physical appearance for a role, she means business. She also sings, so she's probably hoping the Academy will take note of her multiple talents. The Academy is a sucker for singing and physical transformations, so Hathaway's Oscar baiting just might be successful.
3. Helen Hunt in The Sessions. Hunt doesn't mess around. Oscar bait or bust! After almost a decade out of the spotlight, she resurfaces as a sex surrogate in The Sessions. It's a charming indie flick about a taboo topic, which the Academy will eat up. What really makes this a lock for Hunt, though, is that she gets naked. An older, well-respected actress doffing her clothes for a role won't go unnoticed when awards season rolls around! Hunt clearly knows what she's doing: she already has an Oscar under her belt for As Good as it Gets.
Who do you think is a shoo-in to win an Academy Award in 2013?
The Sessions Trailer