Best Picture of 2012: Argo

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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.

 

Beyond the Sea

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Kevin Spacey is (or rather was, in 2004) far too old to play a young Bobby Darin, the musical artist who is perhaps best known for his hit “Splish Splash”. This is a fact that Spacey himself admits within the scope of his semi-biographical film. In an early scene we see Darin being informed he’s far too old to play himself in his film biography, but this doesn’t dissuade him from doing so; the same way that Spacey placed himself in the lead roll for a film about a man living primarily in his 20s while he himself was in his 40s. Beyond the Sea is a musical centering around the life and career of one of the greatest night club singers of all time: Bobby Darin. Directed, co-written and starring Kevin Spacey, we’re given a polished up glimpse into the sordid affairs of a national icon. We see what drove him, the struggles he was forced to overcome, his ego and his health problems that plagued him his entire life. I’m not completely familiar with the life story of Bobby Darin, but a quick internet search can shed light to the facts pertaining to this movie. Rather, I would like to focus on the aspect of why this movie is worth your time.

Despite the massive discrepancy in age between how old Darin is supposed to be in the film and how old Spacey is in actuality we’re given a performance that is completely packed with emotion. And it isn’t just Spacey that gives a powerful performance, John Goodman plays “Boom Boom”, Darin’s agent and Kate Bosworth plays an excellent Sandra Dee. Darin has such a huge ego throughout the course that when set next to Sandra Dee’s strong will the emotions just naturally flow through both actors, oozing out of the screen and into the consciousness of the audience. Shortly after Darin fails to procure an Oscar, one of the most entertaining, and best acted arguments I’ve seen in recent memory erupts from the screen; the scene involves Darin threatening to leave his wife, Sandra Dee. in response she becomes enraged at the idea that HE would leave HER. She refuses to allow him to leave before she does. As they hurl verbal insults at each other they both race to fill their suit cases and take their own cars in an attempt to be the one doing the actual leaving. The solid performances put in by the entire supporting cast is simultaneously convincing and entertaining, allowing for a good mixture of comedy and drama.

The world that these incredibly talented actors are set in is, quite simply, beautiful. The premise of the movie is that a biographical film ins being made about Bobby Darin spanning over three decades, the seams between reality and fiction are blurred so much that it becomes incredibly easy to forget that the elaborate dance numbers and sets are all part of the facade, to the point that it’s hard to tell if it ever was a facade and not just the reality that the film is based in. The dance numbers are stunning as well, taken strait out of an old time Hollywood flick in which every cast member must not only act, but sing and dance as well. This is, after all, a biography about Bobby Darin, there has to be music, a beat that pulses through the entirety of the film. That pulse is felt and heard through the entire movie, sure it slows when Bobby seems to have lost himself, but it inevitably beats stronger as he finds himself. Darin belonged on the stage, that was something that everyone around him knew, but that he sometimes forgot. The music he created parades through the course of the movie non-stop, it compliments the phenomenal acting, the beautiful set pieces and elaborate dance numbers to the point that you can’t separate one aspect of this movie from the other.

The slump in this movie happens roughly three quarters through the film, at which point the vibrant and vivacious Darin succumbs to bouts of depression and sets off to find himself. It’s not that this isn’t an important aspect of the movie, it’s just the drastic change in pace that seems somewhat jolting. The slower pace only lasts for a short time, almost as a way for Darrin to take care of a few things before approaching the final act of the film. And what a final act it is. Beyond the Sea is a celebration of life, as ugly and devastating as it sometimes can be.