I fed the beast again today. That would be the one that lures $20 bills out of my shallow pockets each week during Hollywood’s awards season.
I had to see for myself how a movie nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture could not garner a nod for the film’s director. In this case, it is the affable Ben Affleck, who played the lead role at the same time he directed Argo. This is a film that Rotten Tomatoes certifies “Fresh” at 96%, while a comparable 94% of audiences loves it.
I always believe the measure of a movie based on a true story is whether or not it transcends the “problem” of almost everyone knowing how it ends. Argo obliterated that issue by making the action so brisk and the suspense so realistic, I caught myself holding my breath and squeezing the sap out of the arms of the seat all the way to the end.
Argo is the story of a Carter-era Iran Hostage Crisis sidebar. It is not about the horrendous 444 days (November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981) that 52 Americans spent as hostages after a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American Embassy in Tehran in support of the Iranian Revolution. The were also demanding the return by the U.S. of their deposed Shah, who sought and was given asylum in America.
No, this is the story of six people in that embassy who managed to escape the building. They find under-cover sanctuary in Canada’s embassy and CIA operative Tony Mendez master-minded a covert scheme that involves creating a phony Hollywood film to extricate the six from their almost certain death.
I’m not saying Affleck should have been nominated for his acting in this one, although he did a fine job. This is one of those films with an ensemble cast that spreads the star power evenly, making a standout performance almost impossible.
But directing? This movie is intricate, tight, and authentic looking (including the ridiculous bowl-cut hair styles for men of the stylistically forgettable 1970s). There are street scenes that telegraph the claustrophobic crush of humanity moving around the Grand Bazaar of Tehran. There are close-in camera shots, angry mobs, wild-eyed soldiers chasing a jumbo jet down an airport runway. And the movie never slows down long enough for anyone to risk leaving the theater.
Ben Affleck was robbed. Maybe he is being slyly punished for the time he spent as a member of "Bennifer," that nauseating time he spent dating the questionably talented Jennifer Lopez. Maybe the academy had a hard time, as I did, keeping their eyes off the mop of hair he sports as Mendez. Was it real or was it a wig? Those kinds of details should never be that distracting.
It’s hard to say what goes on in the minds of “those Hollywood types.” I happen to be well-acquainted with one of them and sometimes he baffles me, too.