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I can hardly believe it. I actually pulled it off!

Argo (Best Picture, 2012)

I know it’s an old conversation by now, but I just have to ask: WHAT WAS THE ACADEMY THINKING, NOT NOMINATING BEN AFFLECK FOR DIRECTING THIS FILM.  Yeesh.  I still don’t understand it.  I also don’t understand why there weren’t more acting nominations, though I suppose that can be difficult in a film that is basically Ben Affleck + ensemble.  Though Affleck wasn’t nominated for acting, so…

Incidentally, it seems appropriate that my iTunes has decided to play the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony while I write this – the stress and anxiety of the opening seems apt.

But back to ARGO.  I haven’t seen any of the other films nominated for Best Picture from last year, so I can’t really compare them, but it was pretty evident going into the Oscar ceremony that it was going to come down to a three-way fight between ARGO, ZERO DARK THIRTY, and LINCOLN.  A win for any of those was entirely plausible with solid precedents to back up the logic.

Like I said, I haven’t seen ZERO DARK THIRTY or LINCOLN (yet), so I can’t really compare, but from what I’ve read, I think ARGO was the right choice.  LINCOLN would have been a safe choice and as such, no matter how brilliant the film, its win would have been something of a disappointment in the light of its competitors.  ZERO DARK THIRTY is at the other end of the spectrum, so very raw and edgy that I can’t help but wonder if its critical acclaim has been exaggerated by the sheer shock felt by the viewers.

One thing that struck me about ARGO was the brilliant incorporation of primary source materials in the shape of original telecasts by news outlets and broadcasts via radio.  Affleck also chose to manipulate the footage he filmed to create the grainy look we associate with 1970s and 1980s film and television media.

Another thing, and I say this as someone who really does not handle suspense all that well, was how the two-hour film slowly and steadily ratchets up the anxiety level of the audience.  By the halfway mark, I could feel my heart beating faster.  Even though I knew how it would end, having read reviews in preparation for Oscar season this year, I was stressed out and barely able to contain my twitchiness.  If I’d been watching alone, I’d have fast-forwarded, and I think in doing so I’d have missed a lot of the film’s technical mastery.

It is in many ways a spare sort of movie, not having much in the way of score or even extended monologues (mostly it’s rapid-fire multi-person conversations/shouting matches).  You get the sense that Affleck’s character, CIA Agent Tony Mendez, speaks only when he must.  His natural state seems to be one of silence and even melancholy – he drinks too much, too.

Even though obviously some facts of the story were changed to tighten the film and help it pass all the checkpoints on the way to the actual filming process (and Affleck and others involved have acknowledged and explained these alterations), I think ARGO is an interesting note for me to end on, as a historian.  20th century history is not my thing, but this “Canadian Caper” is further evidence that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.  It seems nobody believed this would work until it actually HAD worked.  And isn’t that the way it always goes?

Next Up: TBA.  And to be continued, next year, when we have a winner for 2013!