The nominations: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing
The film: Tehran, 1979: Iranian militants storm the U.S. Embassy and take a number of government workers hostage in retaliation against America’s sheltering of their recently deposed Shah. Unbeknownst to the Iranians, six Americans manage to escape unnoticed during the turmoil and take refuge inside the home of the Canadian ambassador. Desperate to keep their citizens alive, the State Department starts making plans to exfiltrate the six. CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is brought in to consult on the proposed ideas, but readily and easily points out the futility of all the ideas on the table. That night while watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes over the phone with his son, Mendez has an epiphany: the cover is that the six will become a Canadian film crew out on a location scout for a new sci-fi movie.
Mendez and his supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) get approval for their plan and contact make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who has worked with the CIA in the past. Chambers puts Mendez in contact with producer Lester Siegel (nominee Alan Arkin). Together the three procure the script of science-fantasy-adventure “Argo,” set up an office and create elaborate publicity as to strengthen credibility for the false identities of the six in hiding.
Pretending to be the film’s producer, Mendez flies to Iran and links up with the Canadian ambassador and the six escapees. Providing them all with intricately planned identities and fake passports. Before they leave, Mendez takes the group out on a “scouting” visit to the local bazaar to further boost the credibility, which they barely manage to get through. But just before the flight out, Mendez in contacted and informed that the mission is cancelled and that the military plans to rescue all of the hostages. Battling his conscience, Mendez has to decide whether to follow his orders or to go ahead with his original plan, knowing that not going through with it could mean likely capture and possible horrible deaths for the six lives he now has in his hands.
The odds: Not since 2007 has the race for Best Picture been filled end to end with such tremendous and all-around title worthy films, all nine of this year’s movies are impactful and amazing for different though equally meaningful reasons. After the U.S. Embassy attacks in Benghazi, Argo instantly became 2012’s zeitgeist film, hitting all the major chords of cultural relevance. Although its competitor Zero Dark Thirty incurs just as much significance for the portrayal of its events, Argo managed an overall edge as it covers all of its bases, that is it didn’t forget that humor exists within a frightening atmosphere as well as angst and fear. With Alan Arkin’s nomination for Best Supporting Actor being a marked indicator as appreciation for those lighter aspects of the film, Argo already appears to have a leg up on the competition. But that’s only the smaller part of its success. This movie’s greatness stems from Ben Affleck. Period. With his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone starring his younger brother Casey Affleck he proved he had a distinct point of view…but that could easily have been a fluke. Then came the atrociously titled The Town, another exercise in smart and sharp filmmaking, garnering an Oscar nomination for Jeremy Renner…but that could just have been a coincidence. With Argo, Affleck’s most visionary work and artistically unassuming visual narrative to date, the former blockbuster heartthrob turned bona fide highbrow director has concretely proven mettle as a thoughtful filmmaker full of gravitas, self-awareness, and candor. After years slogging through epic highs and embarrassing lows in Hollywood, he has taken all of his knowledge and channeled it into this intellectual stimulating and universally accessible timeless piece of visual artistry. But therein is the irony: Argo was not nominated for Best Directing. Of all the people who were thought to have been snubbed Affleck seems to turn up at the top of everyone’s lists. The truth is that after AMPAS amended its Best Picture category to include up to though not necessarily ten nominees while leaving the directing category at five nominees, simple math precludes the possibility of the generally synonymous Best Picture and Best Director winners, making those traditional paired awards more and more mutually exclusive. The good news for Argo is that people are so united in arms against the believed injustice towards the brilliant mind behind the film, they’ve been voting in droves at every other award function (it won Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes as well as Best Cast from the Screen Actors Guild), giving the film a constantly gathering momentum on a B-line towards that handsome gold statue and title at the Oscar finish line, which are clearly in sight…though not guaranteed.