Toronto Film Festival, Argo

Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Here's a name you may not have expected to hear this awards season: Mel Gibson.

As Ben Affleck's Argo, fresh off its big wins at the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild awards, seemingly closes in on the Best Picture Oscar that not long ago seemed unlikely, Gibson becomes a key historical figure, his legacy both showing how, yes, Argo is the new lock, and how, no, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln isn't out of it yet. 

In the winter of 1996, Ron Howard's Apollo 13 won the top film prize from the Screen Actors Guild. A week later, Howard took home the Directors Guild of America Award; Apollo 13 scored the Producers Guild Award.

"The Oscar Countdown Continues for Apollo 13," the newspaper headline trumpeted.

Then came the Academy Awards—and then came Gibson.

The actor-turned-filmmaker led Braveheart to five Oscars, including Apollo 13's presumed Best Picture honor.

To date, Braveheart is the only movie in awards-season history that has won Best Picture after losing all three key guild honors. (Appropriately, this particular history begins in 1996, when SAG bestowed its first ensemble-cast award.)

In our current awards season, it's tempting, if you're on Team Lincoln, to see Affleck as Howard, and Argo as Apollo 13, especially since Affleck, like Howard, was not nominated for the Best Director Oscar. (No, it's probably not tempting to see Spielberg as Gibson.)

But the Gibson lesson can also be flipped: If—big if—Affleck can win at Saturday's Directors Guild Awards, then history is strongly on Argo's side. Movies that sweep the three guild awards always, always, always win the Best Picture Academy Award. (Almost.) 

If Affleck loses on Saturday, presumably to Spielberg, then the Gibson example is out the door, and Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed enter.

In 2007, Little Miss Sunshine won top Producers Guild and SAG awards, before losing to The Departed's Martin Scorsese at the DGA Awards. At the Oscars, The Departed prevailed as Best Picture.

As things stand now, with the DGA results still unknown, Argo could be anything: It could be Apollo 13, it could be Little Miss Sunshine, it could even be Chicago, which swept the guild awards, and won Best Picture minus an accompanying Best Director statuette. Of course, unlike Affleck (or Howard or Sunshine's Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris), Chicago's Rob Marshall was at least nominated for Best Director, and there's the thing: What Affleck and Argo is trying to do is about as rare as what Gibson and Braveheart did.

And here's another thing: Backstage at the SAG Awards, Lincoln's Daniel Day-Lewis, who is the lock of all locks this awards season (or so conventional wisdom tells us), was reminded that he soon could be the first man to win three Best Actor Academy Awards.

Said Day-Lewis, almost shyly, "I could also not [be]."

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