Inside the Best Picture Nominees: A deep dive into 'Argo'

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Image Credit: Keith Bernstein

Name: Argo

Release date: Oct. 12, 2012

DVD release date: Feb. 19, 2013

Run time: 2 hours, 20 mins.

Box office: Opening weekend: $19.5 million; Total domestic box office: $118.2 million

Rotten Tomatoes score: 96 percent

Argo movie math: Munich + Get Shorty + Ocean’s Eleven – onscreen George Clooney

Tweetable description: CIA agent helps 6 Americans pose as film crew to safely exit Iran during hostage crisis. Spoiler? Won’t matter. Still tense. #ArgoFYourself

What Owen said: “This is the kind of filmmaking that elevates suspense to a perception — of how a single frothing spasm of confrontation changed the relationship between America and the increasingly radicalized Muslim world. Having proved, with The Town (2010), that he’s a crackerjack director, Affleck now ups his game, applying a wizardly finesse to one of the darkest chapters of recent American history. More than three decades after the fact, he lets you touch these tensions, and one reason the live wire still shocks is that the tensions haven’t gone away. That said, Affleck knows all too well that in the years after 9/11, Hollywood movies that have taken on the topical, the relevant, often wind up generating little heat at the box office and causing barely a ripple in the culture. Argo has the chance to cause a major ripple, because Affleck transforms its stranger-than-fiction hook into mainstream thriller poetry.”

What Lisa said: “It’s a hell of a story on its own, one with the added value of being true, mostly. But working from a tight, bright script by Chris Terrio, director Ben Affleck — dig his no-kidding talent as a filmmaker! — heightens and teases and shades the story until it works marvelously as a tense caper. And as an unlikely Hollywood comedy. And as a vivid period drama — a period of plaid jackets and porny mustaches — not so long ago, or far away.”

Number of Oscar nods: Seven. In addition to Best Picture, it’s also got nominated for Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio), Editing (William Goldenberg), Sound Editing (Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn), Sound Mixing (John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García), and Original Score (Alexandre Desplat).

Movie’s Oscar history: It runs deep. While snubbed for a directing nom this year, Affleck, of course, won an Oscar for writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon, and Clooney, who has had nominations for writing, directing, and acting (including a Supporting Actor win for Syriana), scores his first nod as a producer. This is Arkin’s fourth nomination (he’s got a Supporting Actor trophy for Little Miss Sunshine), as well as editor Goldenberg’s fourth nomination. He’s actually competing against himself this year, having received nods for both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Sound editors Aadahl and Van der Ryn were both nominated last year for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Van der Ryn had three noms before that. This is sound mixer García’s first nod, but it’s Reitz’s and Rudloff’s fifth (including one and two wins, respectively). This is also scorer Desplat’s fifth nomination.

What is has won thus far: It took Best Picture at the Golden Globes, but more importantly, since the last five picks by the Producers Guild have gone on to win the Oscar, from them, too.

Why it should win: Owen and Lisa say it pretty well: The SAG-award winning ensemble cast, led by Affleck as CIA agent Tony Mendez, were given pitch-perfect dialogue and direction that had to balance the comedy of making a fake movie a fake hit with the life-and-death drama of a hostage crisis. You were on the edge of your seat even though you knew the outcome, and it’s a relevant, smart, fun story that deserved to be told.

Why it shouldn’t win: Hollywood couldn’t take credit for its part in this operation until it was declassified in 1997, and written about in Wired in 2007 — so awarding Argo the Best Picture Oscar could appear a bit self-congratulatory (especially in the year after The Artist‘s win). To be fair, we kinda knew the ending to Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty as well. And if we wanted to nitpick, some of those close calls that created the climatic tension never actually happened, and there was that little issue of the film not giving enough credit to Canada and its ambassador, Ken Taylor (played by Victor Garber), who housed the six Americans, for the rescue. (Affleck tweaked the film’s postscript after the Toronto Film Festival, to acknowledge that the CIA “complemented” Canadian efforts.)

Vegas Odds: 5/9

Best Line: Anything that comes out of Arkin’s and Goodman’s mouth. But “Argo f— yourself” is the most succinct.

Worst Line: “If you’re gonna do a $20 million Star Wars ripoff…” (Just on principle.)


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