27 Feb THE BEST PICTURE PROJECT – ‘Argo’ (2012)
In 2013, the 85th Academy Awards ceremony was held at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Honouring the films released between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2012, the awards were held on February 24. The ceremony was hosted by actor and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.
With her win for Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, at age 22, Jennifer Lawrence became the second-youngest performer to win this category. The film became the 14th in Oscars history to receive nominations in all four acting categories. With his win for Best Actor for Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis became the first actor to win this category three times. He also became the sixth performer to win at least three acting Oscars and the first performer to win for a performance in a Steven Spielberg-directed film.
At just 9-years-old, Quvenzhané Wallis became the youngest ever nominee for Best Actress for her performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Wallis was also the youngest female acting nominee in Oscars history. With her nomination for Best Actress for Amour, at age 85, Emmanuelle Riva was the oldest ever nominee for Best Actress. The age gap between the two nominees is the largest age difference between two competing actors in Oscar history.
With their nominations for Best Supporting Actor, Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) were all former winners. This marked the first time in Oscars history an acting category featured all previous winners. With his win, Waltz became the sixth performer to win this category twice.
Leading the way this year with 12 nominations was Steven Spielberg’s epic biopic Lincoln, followed by Ang Lee’s dazzling adventure Life of Pi with 11. The latter would win the most awards this year, taking home four Academy Awards including Best Director for Lee. But the night ultimately belonged to Ben Affleck’s gripping thriller Argo, which took out three awards for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. With Affleck being snubbed of a Best Director nomination, Argo became only the fourth film in history to win Best Picture without a directing nomination. As a co-producer of the film, George Clooney became the third person to win Academy Awards for both acting and producing.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Based on Tony Mendez’s 2009 book The Master of Disguise, Argo is the true story of a daring and outrageous plan to save a group of American diplomats trapped in Iran. On Nov. 4, 1979, militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, taking 66 American hostages. Amid the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge with the Canadian ambassador. Knowing that it’s just a matter of time before the refugees are found and likely executed, the U.S. government calls on extractor Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to rescue them. Mendez’s plan is to pose as a Hollywood producer scouting locations in Iran and train the refugees to act as his “film” crew.
Why did it win?
One of the craziest Oscar seasons in recent memory. Frontrunners came and went with every passing week. This particular race changed directions so many times, it was genuinely difficult to keep up. And then, at the end of the day, the race was decided by one particular baffling snub by the Academy. Yes, when you break it down, the main reason Argo won Best Picture was because Ben Affleck missed out on a Best Director nomination. Sure, there’s plenty more to it than just that, but that one snub changed the course of this Oscar race, gifting Argo a narrative which made it unstoppable.
Early on in the race, it looked like we could be seeing a complete repeat of 2009, with another brilliant Kathryn Bigelow war-related film finding itself the frontrunner. Zero Dark Thirty was the gritty and confronting retelling of the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, and it was receiving the same thunderous acclaim as Bigelow’s Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker. After becoming the first female director to win an Academy Award, it looked like Bigelow might extend that piece of history with another victory. Zero Dark Thirty started cleaning up at the precursor awards, winning Best Picture with the critics’ groups of Boston, Chicago, New York, Vancouver, and Washington D.C. When the National Board of Review named it their Best Film, it looked like the race was already over.
But a smear-campaign reared its ugly head, and suddenly, Zero Dark Thirty was becoming a “controversial” choice. The film was criticised as being “pro-torture” by highlighting how torturing Middle Eastern prisoners essentially led to the discovery of Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Suddenly, the film became known as “torture porn” and many labelled it as propaganda. Journalists condemned the film. Veterans denounced it. U.S. Senator John McCain said the film left him feeling sick, despite his political party being the ones responsible for instigating torture as an interrogation tactic of prisoners. The film was tarnished beyond all repair. In the liberal world of Hollywood, this kind of controversy did not sit well. While the film continued to be nominated for further awards, it started to lose them. When Zero Dark Thirty missed out on the all-important SAG Ensemble nomination, its Oscar campaign for Best Picture was done.
Many thought the awards focus would shift over to Steven Spielberg’s latest sweeping drama Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis was already a lock to take Best Actor for the third time. It ticked all the usual boxes for what constituted a Best Picture winner. It was a biopic about a much-loved historical figure. It was a period film. Its scope was epic. Its running time was long. And it was likely to receive a tonne of nominations. But it was not free of controversy either. Lincoln was criticised for historical inaccuracies, with some claiming it overexaggerated certain elements of the President’s life and failed to acknowledge the role black people played in the abolition of slavery. Plus Spielberg had swept the Oscars once before with Schindler’s List. Few wanted to see him do it all again – a problem he’s still facing to this day.
As for the other contenders to potentially steal the race, Life of Pi seemed another likely choice, especially after the Academy’s shameful treatment of Ang Lee’s last contender Brokeback Mountain. But while its technical marvels were likely to be acknowledged, the narrative’s fantastical elements didn’t scream Best Picture in the 21st century. In this new age of the Oscars, true contenders needed to be grounded in reality, so it was out. Les Misérables was far too divisive, in that, unlike Chicago, it was a musical in the purest sense, with very little dialogue spoken. If you weren’t a fan of musicals, this film was likely to be rather torturous to endure. Silver Linings Playbook could have been a contender, but it was considered a little light for Best Picture, and comedies didn’t play well with the Academy. Plus the film was receiving some backlash over its portrayal of mental illness and the potential “anti-psychiatry” subtext of its plot, so it was out too.
Instead, the awards season focus turned to the safe-choice and the crowd-pleaser which was Ben Affleck’s thrilling and entertaining Argo. While the film was also filled with historical inaccuracies, it didn’t seem to matter because it only made the story that much more accessible and inspiring. It screamed American pride and made audiences feel good. The Academy loves a film related to the film industry itself, and this one featured a narrative which portrayed how the film industry essentially saved the lives of six Americans. And it just so happened to be directed by a man who had completely turned his career around.
The Oscars love a comeback, and Affleck’s career resurrection was the stuff of Hollywood dreams. After winning an Academy Award in 1997 for Best Original Screenplay with best mate Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting, Affleck became a huge movie star. But after a series of terrible films, and a highly-publicised relationship with Jennifer Lopez, Affleck was nothing more than tabloid fodder. Choosing to step behind the camera as director proved to be the turning point in his career Affleck so desperately needed. With two criticially-acclaimed films in Gone Baby Gone and The Town under his belt, Affleck was now an esteemed director. When Argo took off as a serious awards contender, it became the comeback story of the year.
Despite failing to win Best Picture with any of the major critics groups, Argo was named Best Picture by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and Affleck was awarded Best Director. When it repeated these awards at the Golden Globes, it was hailed the new frontrunner. But then came the Oscar nominations, and Affleck’s name was shockingly missing from the Best Director line-up. So was Kathryn Bigelow’s, but the campaign of Zero Dark Thirty was so overloaded with mud by this point, it didn’t really matter. Normally, this would be the end of a film’s Best Picture campaign. Only three films had won Best Picture without a directing nomination, so this should have spelled the end for Argo. But quite the opposite happened.
The backlash to Affleck’s Best Director snub only seemed to push Argo as the Best Picture choice even further. The calls to reverse this snub by giving his film the top prize grew louder and louder. Affleck was one of the film’s producers, therefore if his film won Best Picture, he would still receive an Academy Award. It was the ultimate sympathy card moment. Affleck was so universally adored by those in the industry, people couldn’t help but feel for him. When Argo swept the guild awards, taking the DGA (which really made the Academy look even more foolish), PGA, WGA, and SAG Ensemble awards, plus Best Film and Director at the BAFTAs, it became the unstoppable frontrunner. The film’s success with the public and critics was also a key factor.
On a modest budget of $44 million, Argo would earn $136 million at the U.S. box-office and a further $96 million internationally to bring its worldwide total to an impressive $232 million. The film also received widespread acclaim from critics. The Washington Post called the film “serious and substantive, an ingeniously written and executed drama,” the Chicago Sun-Times hailed it as “spellbinding and surprisingly funny,” while Rolling Stone raved that Affleck had “crafted one of the best movies of the year.”
The Best Picture victory of Argo was a cocktail of perfect elements and perfect timing. Had Affleck not been snubbed for that Best Director nomination, who knows how this race would have played out. Likewise if the film’s main competition wasn’t hit with controversy and backlash. When there’s a year filled with dangerous choices, the safe option becomes the only option. Argo was simply a film you couldn’t help but love, and that’s often the easiest path to take in securing a Best Picture prize.
Did it deserve to win?
Another crowd-pleaser takes Best Picture. Another safe choice is deemed the best film of the year. I really wish we could turn back time and make sure Academy members remember to vote for Ben Affleck for Best Director. That snub really did change the whole course of this year’s race, and it always makes me ponder whether Argo still would have won if Affleck was nominated. In all honesty, it probably still would have. Argo is too damn enjoyable and too damn entertaining to ignore. It may not have been the year’s finest film, but it’s still a damn sensational piece of cinema.
A taut and captivating thriller, Argo is gripping and engaging, with intense suspense and tension which genuinely keeps you on the edge of your seat, particularly in its nail-biting finale. Yes, that finale was a total Hollywood fabrication, but we’re working in “based on a true story” territory, and Affleck takes plenty of artistic license with the real-life events which inspired his film. But who the hell cares when the end result is so utterly thrilling? This bending-of-the-truth ending was essential to the film’s tight narrative, and it creates such a sublime reaction from its audience.
A spy thriller at heart, the film defies the usual conventions of shootouts and explosions, leaving its suspense to lay in the ever-present sense of immediate danger of these poor souls being discovered and the convoluted “bad idea” of their rescue falling apart. Affleck directs the absolute hell out of this film, and that’s why his snub was such a hard pill to swallow. The film moves at such a crackling pace, you never once notice its two-hour long running time. Argo is enthralling from start to finish, and what Affleck crafts is a masterful work of entertainment cinema. He injects some much-needed humour, via the glorious performances of John Goodman and Alan Arkin, at just the right moments. Affleck knows how to make a great film, and his directorial style is filled with so much flair and skill.
Everything just works so perfectly in Argo. The writing is sensational. The acting is superb. The editing is utterly perfect. The late 1970s production and costume design is spot on. And Affleck’s direction is a triumph. It’s a movie to cheer for and get behind. You cannot help but just sit back and enjoy Argo. It really is one hell of a good movie. Not great, like Lincoln, but not everything can be a masterpiece. And not every Best Picture winner has to be revelatory or groundbreaking. Many times, it’s simply the one movie everyone loves. It’s not the worst crime in the world when a film like this wins. It was undoubtedly frustrating to see something like Lincoln receive 12 nominations and walk away with a paltry two awards. But it happens. And will continue to happen.
At the end of the day, Argo is not one of the great Best Picture winners of all time. Not even close. It’s a simple film, at heart, but one that is expertly crafted and highly enjoyable. Argo is a film you can watch again and again, and that’s not something you can say about a lot of Best Picture winners. The film ultimately won Best Picture because of a strange, calamitous awards season which pushed it to the front by default. The film took advantage of that Ben Affleck snub, and raced to victory. Fine. Let it have its moment in the sun. It deserved some love, and I suppose it deserved to win Best Picture. And if you don’t agree, Argo fuck yourself.