Well fellow cinephiles, this could be 2006 all over again. Has it been seven years since (that train wreck of a movie) Crash beat out the elegant favorite Brokeback Mountain? Each week up until about mid-January the Oscar race for Best Picture flip-flopped from movie to movie. Before Les Miserables even hit the screen, it was hailed as the movie to beat and then everyone went to see it on Christmas and walked out of the theatre confused and pretty sure they could sing better than Russell Crowe. Now Argo, the Ben Affleck-director-political-suspense-thriller-based-on-a-true story is the front-runner that’s here to stay. In a race where the other eight nominated films have the honest qualities of a true winner, it could all end up in the hands of Argo. Here are a few potential reasons why Argo might end up taking home that little golden dude:
1. Because it’s a bro’s bro. “So, have you seen Argo yet?” the frat dude says as he leans into her at the bar, his breath smelling of Red Bull and disdain. As if! Zero Dark Thirty has quite the package: suspense, action, foreign intrigue, even torture, but what it’s lacking is, of course, a strong male lead like Ben Affleck. It’s a shame the strength and competence of Jessica Chastain’s character Maya cannot compete with Affleck’s Tony Mendez, otherwise ZDT would be a shoe-in for the boys of Alpha Beta.
2. Because it’s like The DaVinci Code the book version. Disclaimer: I have never read The DaVinci Code nor have I seen the movie. However, I have paged through the book and what I do know is that it is compiled of very short, easy-to-read chapters that leave the reader wanting more. It is unlikely a film like Amour can hold a candle. In Amour, we glide through Georges and Anne’s home listlessly unearthing layers of wood and light: lives lived and love had. Argo is the pleasure principle in its finest form, like a great pop song or the Kardashians (I still think Kourtney and Khloe have yet to really take Miami); you want bubblegum and it delivers.
3. Because it’s Hollywood talking about Hollywood. The Artist took the award last year and deservedly so. The Academy might be on a streak. In Argo, Affleck has made a movie within a movie. It’s all very meta but done in a very conventional manner. Instead of showing us what Hollywood can do, we are given Argo, a movie showing us what Hollywood already does. Life of Pi would be the perfect example of what it’s like to take cinema to an ultra-cinematic level. The shots are breathtaking: aerial views that isolate the ship from our main character and a horizon where it is impossible to distinguish where the sky ends and the water begins. Life of Pi is a truly lavish cinematic experience. The closest we get in Argo is when scenes from the movie are set side-by-side with actual archival footage as though Affleck is saying: Look at how perfectly I recreated this, not a hair out of place!
4. Because it’s already nabbed the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. The past four years the BAFTA has predicted the winner but the past four years there have been arguably clear winners. The Golden Globes are notorious for surprises and lucky for last year’s The Descendants, the Globes split their best films into comedy and drama categories. But let’s jump back to another one of the biggest snubs of Oscar history, Forrest Gump winning over Pulp Fiction. Tom Hanks and Ben Affleck are basically the same person, handsome and likeable. Quentin did not win with Pulp Fiction and will not win for Django Unchained: too much witty dialogue, too much violence, too much outstanding acting.
5. Because Ben Affleck somehow turned into The Little Engine That Could. We all remember when he and Matt Damon jumped on the stage way back in 1997 and thanked Southie or whatever. It was cute and we were happy and they were Hollywood nobodies that became Hollywood somebodies at that very moment. But that was like thirteen years ago and now Affleck has been denied a Best Director nomination and the world is in mourning. (I will not mention Kathryn Bigelow here.) Turn to Beasts of the Southern Wild, note the modest budget, the non-actor actors, the no-name filmmakers, the huge courage.
6. Because it tackles a declassified government secret and that’s exciting. What a caper! One of the most exciting things about Argo is that while you’re watching it, you feel like you’re privy to this huge secret that the rest of world (in the movie) doesn’t know about. It was a secret and now it’s talked about but only after government permission. That’s not going to bode well for Silver Linings Playbook where they deal with the still very taboo topic of mental illness in a charming and funny way. And not since Annie Hall has a true and nervous comedy won Best Picture and it has since become epic, in a subtle and graceful way. Perhaps they are hoping the same for Argo, but like epic in more of a humdrum sort of way.
7. Because it makes you proud to be an American. “This is the best bad idea we have, sir,” Tony Mendez tells his superior in Argo. To disguise the hostages as filmmakers scouting locations for an upcoming sci-fi flick might just be crazy enough to work. It’s an out-of-the-box scheme that leaves you feeling happy you live in a country whose government allows for such creativity. The past two years have been somewhat Euro-centric with The King’s Speech and The Artist taking home the top prize, it’s about time the Academy picks a good-ole-fashioned stars-and-stripes-waving piece of our history. But what about Lincoln you ask? Perhaps it is too well known a story or perhaps the plan is to dole out awards to Daniel Day Lewis, Stephen Spielberg, and Tony Kushner, leaving room for Argo, cozy American Argo.
8. Because its flame is still burning hot. There’s no denying Argo’s momentum. Les Miserables was just as hot to trot (they’re singing live! Anne Hathaway is brilliant!) in December but fizzled out by January. It’s a classic case of backlash and then backlash to the backlash and so on and so forth. Meanwhile Argo quietly held its ground. No one has had very many issues with the actual content of the film, where movies like ZDT and Django made the news on a daily basis. Perhaps controversy will get you attention but won’t win you awards.
Look, Argo is the huge favorite and I’ve accepted that. I’m not saying I will denounce the Oscars or award shows if Argo wins. I mean, I’ll probably throw my hands in the air and give a big eye roll while shoving hummus into my mouth. But I suppose what’s oddly great about the Oscars is that no one was expecting Crash to win in 2006, and it did.