At Large

‘Argo’ gets the Oscar nod


Of course now it’s easy to say that I “knew” “Argo” would win the Best Picture Oscar in Monday’s awards. But in truth, I wasn’t so sure. Of course, “Argo” had already won in the Golden Globes and in other awards ceremonies, but I was thinking that maybe the Academy Awards voters would go for a movie with more “gravitas.”

One such film would of course be “Lincoln,” which details the last few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life, highlighted by his struggle to get the American Congress to approve the 13th amendment which would once and for all declare slavery illegal in American soil.

There was also “Zero Dark Thirty,” which I have yet to see, but got a lot of media buzz shortly after it was released. But in the wake of revelations that it had upset quite a number of officials for “insinuating” that US troops routinely used torture to extract information, and justifying the use of illegal torture techniques by connecting these to the eventual killing of Osama bin Laden, the buzz softened somewhat, and talk was rife that “Zero Dark Thirty” would be snubbed so as not to further upset the Obama government.

If history and current events could not cut it with Academy Awards members, then perhaps religion and spirituality could. “Life of Pi” was moving and profound, and the cinematography, combining CGI’d beasts and phantasmagoric landscapes and seascapes seemed serious enough to merit an Oscar nod.

Likewise tackling the big issues was “Amour,” about the relationship between a couple coping with the onslaught of Alzheimer’s, but the film’s victory as best foreign-language film seemed a portent of its “Best Picture” loss. But if profundity was a requirement, then “Beasts of the Southern Wild” could have snagged the honor, given its “indie” roots and winning the hearts of lovers of small films starring spunky, unknowns. I have seen the film, onboard a plane, but maybe something was wrong with the sound system because I could hardly make out any of the dialog. I wasn’t rooting for it, to be honest.

* * *

I have yet to see “Silver Linings Playbook,” and most reviews I’ve read have been good-natured and wishing it the best in the Oscars race. But maybe Jennifer Lawrence’s win (she was the clear favorite) for Best Actress was deemed enough of a consolation prize.

Quentin Tarantino’s directorial and writing effort “Django Unchained” was surprisingly enjoyable, if one could only suspend one’s disbelief at the bloody, vicious, violent goings-on. In contrast to “Lincoln,” though, it gives a rather odd, screwy view of the history of slavery in the United States, which isn’t exactly material for satire or fantasy.

And then there’s “Les Misérables,” which I found so moving and emotionally involving when I first saw it, despite snippy attacks from members of the family about Russell Crowe’s execrable singing. Critics have since been merciless about the movie’s failings, especially at the lack of the requisite grandeur that the stage version possessed, but maybe that’s also a function of too much familiarity with the original material.

* * *

And so we have “Argo” for Best Picture. There were already whispers about its being a “best film” contender, even if, at first viewing it seemed bereft of the aforementioned gravitas and seemed much too entertaining—even funny!— beside the likes of “Lincoln,” “Les Miz” or “Pi.”

I was very happy that the movie won the award for film editing, because I thought that was the filmmakers’ main accomplishment—cutting from the edge-of-your-seat scenes of the American hostages in Iran, to the light, flighty world of Hollywood and its ersatz producers—without detracting either suspense or humor in this odd combination.

I also felt a twinge of sympathy for Ben Affleck, who won his first Oscar 15 years ago (with best friend Matt Damon who has been a far more successful actor) for their writing on “Good Will Hunting.” But since then, his acting career has floundered, and has only lately surprised everyone with his success as a director/producer (and actor, too, on “Argo”). He sounded amazingly conciliatory and kind, and after paying tribute to his wife Jennifer Garner, handed out a few piquant pieces of advice. “You have to work harder than you think you possibly can,” he said, fighting back tears. “You can’t hold grudges—it’s hard, but you can’t hold grudges. And it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life; that’s going to happen. All that matters is you got to get up.”

* * *

Call him the rolly-polly of American movies, then. Just as Bill Clinton earned the title of rolly-polly of American politics, Affleck has demonstrated his gift for immediately (well, not so immediately) bouncing back from every career and personal misstep, from “Gigli” to his engagement to Jennifer Lopez, which became a media magnet and earned for him half of the title of “Bennifer.”

Redemption has always been a compelling theme, especially in the movies. And though “Argo” was about snatching a group of American diplomats from the jaws of Iranian revolutionaries, it was also about Affleck’s redemption from the dregs of Hollywood notoriety.

There’s a moral in there somewhere, perhaps about choosing an alternative career or keeping one’s options eternally open, or just learning how to keep a low profile in the wake of a disaster and timing one’s comeback just right.

It’s a lesson everyone can learn from, and a feel-good moral in a season of espionage, tragedy, madness, and satire—at least in the fantasy world of Hollywood movies. See you at the next Oscars coverage!

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