Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck, seen here at the SAG Awards, has won pretty much every gong going for his film Argo, but could still lose out come Oscar night. (Reuters)

After conquering the Golden Globes, Baftas, and Producers Guild of America awards, Argo has emerged as the unstoppable frontrunner in the race to land the best picture prize at the 85th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on February 24.

It has all the ingredients of a winner. It's an entertaining thriller that covers serious political issues surrounding US foreign policy in the Middle East. It's also a comeback story for Ben Affleck, proving his artistic skills as both actor and director after the 'Bennifer' nightmare of a decade ago. Perhaps most importantly, the film is quirky and light-hearted (unlike the relentlessly serious Zero Dark Thirty), poking harmless fun at the CIA and Hollywood.

But despite Affleck's already bulging trophy cabinet, there's still a chance the film could miss out on the industry's big prize. The IB Times UK looks at the obstacles which could make Argo fall at the final hurdle.

No Best Director

Affleck not being nominated for best director is the major stumbling block for Argo's chances of being crowned best picture. The director is seen as the chief artist responsible for creating a film, and throughout history the academy nominations for the two awards have almost always gone hand in hand.

The statistics aren't promising. Out of the 84 previous Academy Awards, only three times has a film gone on to win best picture without its director being nominated.

To put that into further context, the first two times this happened was in the earliest days of the Oscars, when Wings (1929) and Grand Hotel (1932) won without respective directors William A. Wellman and Edmund Goulding making the nominations.

The third, and last time, the anomaly occurred was 23 years ago when Bruce Beresford's lack of a director nomination didn't stop Driving Miss Daisy infamously scooping best picture at the 1990 Oscars.

Despite successes at other awards ceremonies, it would still be pretty historic if Argo won at the Oscars. For the past six years the winner of best picture has also seen its director rewarded, meaning that it would not be a surprise for Steven Spielberg and Lincoln to do the double on the night.

Gigli

Affleck's shocking snub suggests that Academy voters have perhaps not fully forgiven him for the 'Bennifer' years, when his incessantly-covered high-profile romance with Jennifer Lopez led to them both starring in the much-derided Gigli.

The film cataclysmically bombed at the box office, grossing just $7m from a budget of $76m, and is regarded by many as one of the worst films of all time, holding a seven per cent approval rating on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

If one trend can be dissected from this year's nominations, it is that academy voters have tried extra hard to be seen as making more serious and artistic choices. Foreign language film Amour and independent art house flick Beasts of the Southern Wild both received surprising nominations for best picture, director and actress.

In recent years the best picture winners have been increasingly progressive. The Hurt Locker became the first winner directed by a woman (Kathyrn Bigelow) in 2009, whilst last year's winner The Artist was not only a silent film but a French production.

In light of this, picking a patriotic film such as Argo with box office star Affleck at the helm appears a lightweight and conservative choice out of step with recent winners.

Controversy

There are also small murmurs of discontent over the controversial and historically inaccurate aspects of the film, such as the marginalised role of Canada in the rescue operation and the negative stereotypical portrayal of Iranians.

Whilst this is nowhere near the same level of scorn Zero Dark Thirty received for what some believe was the suggestion torture led to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden, its Team America-esque narrative of the CIA and embassy workers posing as actors in order to escape from the hostile Middle East is hardly the most celebratory of American stories.

If it is time for the Oscar to go to a whole-hearted flag-waving American feature, it would most likely be Lincoln.

Its two and a half hour tale of revered US President Abraham Lincoln's successful abolition of slavery through the passage of the 13th Amendment makes Argo's Iranian great escape seem fluffy and lightweight in comparison.

It's true that Spielberg has lost out to more comedic fare before, most notably when Shakespeare in Love triumphed over Saving Private Ryan to win best picture in 1998. But this time, with the obvious bipartisan parallels to President Obama's struggles with the US House of Representatives, voters might just plump for the picture with one eye on the history books rather than the tabloid headlines.

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