Best Picture of 2012: Argo

ArgoPoster

 

Violence, generally speaking, is the easiest method of dealing with a problem. Humanity has developed an unimaginable number of ways to end lives and thus end various problems associated with those lives. The obvious dilemma with fixing problems with violence stems from that pesky thing known, almost universally, as a conscience. To end a problem quickly using a method of death runs a very high risk of incurring collateral damage; innocent people getting killed along with a primary target. Taking in these, very rudimentary, ethics based observations, we can see how solving difficult situations non-violently can be grounds for some of the greatest puzzles that mankind can face. In the 2012 Academy Award winning best picture Argo, we get a dramatized glimpse into one of the most daring and harebrained rescue schemes ever to grace the big screen or the history books; in essence, an incredibly intriguing and suspenseful movie that deals with a hostile situations in a creative and non-violent way.

Argo takes place within the scope of the Iranian hostage crisis that began in 1979 and lasted an astonishing 444 days. A militant mob attacked the American embassy in Iran and held those inside hostage. There were, however, six Americans that managed to escape before the embassy fell. Ben Affleck stars, co-produces and directs this film. He plays the pivotal roll of Tony Mendez, the CIA operative responsible for coming up with the escape plan that the movie centers around. This plan requires the CIA to enlist the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (played by the always entertaining John Goodman) in helping them create a fictitious movie studio, produce a fake movie, and create false identities for the six stranded Americans. Loosely, the plan is to create six false Canadian identities with strong enough backgrounds to hold up under questioning. Mendez is supposed to fly in to Iran and teach these six people their new identities front to back, and then fly them out of under the guise of being a Canadian film crew scouting exotic locations. A peaceful solution to a violent puzzle.

The movie attempts to describe a historical event that only became declassified in the late 90s. As a film it succeeds in every aspect that it attempts to tackle; the drama in it is incredibly suspenseful, all the character share a strong chemistry, particularly John Goodman and Alan Arkin (Arkin plays Lester Siegel), the costumes and sets are believable and there is never a slow moment. In reality the only thing the movie really faltered on was the historical accuracy of it. While we may never know exactly what happened to the last detail, certain critics complained that Affleck knowingly downsized the involvement of the Canadian government in this film, while at the same time presenting on screen danger that really wasn’t there. These criticisms are shrugged off and chalked up to creative license.

To quickly mention the chemistry between the actors as I did in the last paragraph and just leave it would not be doing this movie any justice. The fact that Alan Arkin was the only nomination this movie garnered for an actor or actress was shocking. Every character in this film not only looked and played their part exceptionally well, but they interacted with each other in a fluid manner that, when combined with the narrative and seamless editing, made it far too easy to lose yourself in the story.

Argo won two other Oscars Sunday night. Winning the award for best adapted screen play as well as best video editing; it became the first movie since 1989 to win best picture and not be nominated for best director. While the omission is certainly glaring, we can instead focus for a moment on it’s award winning editing.  Making use of actual archival footage and matching the sets to an astonishing degree lends to the authentic feel of the film. As I stated before, the historical inaccuracies of the film are not few, but unless you’re very familiar with the history surrounding the situation, you would be hard pressed to see them. Switching between the CIA head quarters to the Canadian Prime Minster’s house in Iran to various Hollywood sets is fluent and natural. The chase scenes and the cinematic potency of the film heightens the suspense and drama to an almost uncomfortable level in which one can hardly wait to see what happens next. A feat that certainly requires an excellent grasp on the art of film editing.

There exist in this world great problem solvers; gifted individuals that can look beyond the easy, yet messy, method of violent solutions and can come up with ideas that seem preposterous to the point of the absurd. Yet given the chance they can succeed. Argo isn’t just a historically based caper, it’s a tribute to the problem solvers of the world. It’s an artifact that shows that sometimes there are long ways around problems that are well worth taking.

 

Favorite Films of 2012

As we begin a new year we are quickly approaching the Academy Awards, a time when Hollywood gives itself a big pat on the back for a job well done. It is for this reason that I’ve asked a few friends of mine to pick their favorite movie of the year. So, with no more delay I present to youmy friends andguest bloggers for the day.

Whit Stroup

The Hobbit

 

My favorite film of the year is The Hobbit. First off I have to hand it to the team whose now spent two decades bringing some of the greatest works in literature to fans of Tolkien and moviegoers alike. Even if you don’t like Peter Jackson or Tolkien you have to admire that kind of dedication and work ethic. I have always been a big fan of large scale movies. While The Dark Knight Rises was also large in scale, The Hobbit wins out for the reason’s that follow.

There are many reasons why I loved the movie but here are a few reasons to consider. I love the characters and set designs for The Hobbit. The great thing about fantasy films such as The Hobbit is that they have to design everything in the movie from the ground up. They put a tremendous effort into making Middle Earth believable. The set’s were great and the costumes were full of detail. The beautiful landscapes were icing on top. Also there were a lot of memorable Characters in The Hobbit. The dwarves were a solid supporting cast. They were comical and they were mischievous but ultimately they were brave warriors on a mission. I have to say though, Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo or Andy Serkis as Gollum is as good as it gets in the business. Finally I love that they stayed true to the feel of the Hobbit. They could have made the film with the same winning style as LOTR but instead did something a little controversial. It was a little more light hearted and fun than what some critics may have been expecting. Ultimately The Hobbit was loyal to the book and it stands on it’s own feet apart from LOTR. I’m definitely looking forward to the next two.

Whit Stroup was y college roommate and good friend. We worked together on multiple film projects while in School and shared an affinity for film.

Ryan Partlow

Marvel’s The Avengers
 

I always have problem picking the best of anything. I think that is because “my” bests always change with my mood and frame of mind, but this year picking the best movie was very simple : “Marvel’s The Avengers“. Disney/Marvel did the impossible creating an amazing movie based of Marvel’s “B” grade heroes. It looks like the folks over at Disney found the key to making super hero movies: hire people that love them. Hiring Joss Whedon was an inspired move, sure he was given the cast and the basic starting point of the movie, and I am sure he was told how the movie kind of had to end up so they could plan the next phase of movies, but everything in between was all Joss Whedon magic. It wasn’t as “talky” as other Whedon vehicles, but the dialog was always spot on, and the action was perfectly framed and amazing to watch. It just doesn’t get better then that for a comic book geek like myself.

Side note: if you are a comic book geek like me and did not watch Dredd 3D, I will not talk to you until you own the Blu-Ray because that movie demands a sequel.

A recently developed past time of mine is watching incredible movies with Ryan Partlow. After moving to Washington state he has become a good friend. And seriously… buy Dredd.

Paul Boyne

Moonrise Kingdom

My favorite movie of the year (always with an asterisk: I still need to see Anna Karenina, Looper, Zero Dark Thirty and others) is Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson’s beautifully precise filmmaking dovetails with great performances (Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schartzman are especially great with very little screen time) and a sweet, melancholy story. In a year crowded with ambitious films, this may be an unassuming choice, but no other movie worked as consistently for me. Set to Benjamin Britten’s music–a brilliant soundtrack, thematically–the movie presents its island community as an orchestra, each instrument in dire need of tuning. I haven’t liked every movie Anderson has made, but this feels like his masterpiece to me.
 
During college, Paul  nurtured my appreciation for film and film history by watching a verity of films with me; including some of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. our friendship and shared interest in film has caused us both to enter the world of blogging. Read more of Paul’s work at Infinite Crescendo.

Nicholas Ahern

The Grey
 

I sat on my couch for three hours last night, pondering the philosophical concepts of The Grey. I didn’t remember the blood, the jump scenes, the scenery, the music or the acting; though all of that is outstanding. But, The Grey is not about the wolves, or even about Liam Neeson. It is first and foremost a story about God, and where He is when suffering bares it’s fangs. The film is not necessarily interested in answering the provocative questions it presents, nor should it, but it presents them in the midst of transcendent emotion and complex spirituality.
The ending is akin to The Sopranos, and it will divide audiences. I personally felt it ended on a pitch-perfect note, both ambiguous and gripping. It allows it’s themes to fully remain intact without succumbing to cliche, and frankly, it is refreshing to see a film end a film on it’s own terms, rather than on the expectations of it’s audience.
The twist that is revealed will not rock your world, but the climactic build up to it had tears in my eyes. It forces us to look beyond the present state of chaos and focus on what gives life meaning. And does that meaning involving more than just an instinct for survival?

Nicholas Ahern and I grew up as friends in the same Home School group in southern California. His interest in writing has been prevalent the entire time I have known him. Read more of Nick’s work at Split Frame Of Reference and follow him on Twitter @NickAhern

Praus Nichols

Looper

Time travel movies always tend to run into the same exact snag: how does the behavior of the eventual time traveler(s), protagonist or not, affect the eventual timeline and outcome(s?) of the story we have just been immersed in. It’s not an original thought to conclude this dilemma ultimately boils down to the argument of an inevitable destiny/fate as opposed to free will that causes an unpredictable result.

Let’s be honest. We’ve all taken part in far-too-lengthy discussions about how time travel would/should work. Maybe you’re in the Kate and Leopold school of thought: time is a pretzel, and your actions in the past or future only result in the fulfillment of what was already predestined. There’s the Back to the Future approach: actions in the past cause alternate timelines to offshoot into various futures; an idea that MIB III hinted at with their adorably innocent alien Griffin character. Or then you could delve into the mystically confusing convolutions of films like Donnie Darko and so forth.

What I’m ultimately getting at is that time travel films have made me tired. At some point, it just gets exhausting to argue about the potential merits and flaws of time travel. Which is why I enjoyed Looper quite a bit, and it succeeded in keeping me surprisingly engaged. The scene which eventually sealed the deal in my approval for this film takes place in the cafe where Bruce Willis speaks with his past self (an awkwardly square-jawed JGL). That Willis’ character ends up sighing and saying “it’s complicated” in response to JGL’s repeated inquiries and counter-arguments felt like he stole the words right out of my mouth.

Oh. Other high and low lights: Amusing torture/note-passing from past to future selves. Emily Blunt’s frightening biceps. The second time I’ve felt like punching a child in a movie. And a fairly predictable ending spurred by the “No…love will cause ME to sacrifice more!” motivation. So yeah.
It’s confusing. We should accept that, sometimes.

Praus Nichols and I became good friends while attending The Master’s College together. He has been interested in movies and sports for as long as I’ve known him and offers plenty of insight on any topic he chooses to talk about. Follow him on Twitter @PrausNichols