Monday, October 12, 2015

Nothing But the Best: "Argo" (2012)

Scene from Argo
Welcome to the series Nothing But the Best in which I chronicle all of the Academy Award Best Picture winners as they celebrate their anniversaries. Instead of going in chronological order, this series will be presented on each film's anniversary and will feature personal opinions as well as facts regarding its legacy and behind the scenes information. The goal is to create an in depth essay for each film while looking not only how the medium progressed, but how the film is integral to pop culture. In some cases, it will be easy. Others not so much. Without further ado, let's start the show.

Background Information

Release Date: October 12, 2012
Director:  Ben Affleck
Written By: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Tony Mendez (based on "The Master of Disguise"), Joshua Bearman (based on "The Great Escape") 
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Running Time: 120 minutes

Oscar Wins: 3
-Best Picture
-Best Adapted Screenplay
-Best Editing

Oscar Nominations: 4
-Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin)
-Best Original Score
-Best Sound Mixing
-Best Sound Editing

Other Best Picture Nominees

-Beasts of the Southern Wild
-Django Unchained
-Les Miserables
-Life of Pi
-Silver Linings Playbook
-Zero Dark Thirty

And the winner is...

If there's only one rule that The Academy has, it's the belief that the arts can change the world. While this could mean something as basic as entertain, it was proven in history that film was able to save Iranian hostages, as depicted in director Ben Affleck's Argo. It is a film rich with nostalgia and controversial accuracy that depicts Hollywood as its own Superman. It's a film that feels important because it wants to be important. Thankfully, everything around it is a solid production that doesn't use its themes as a crutch, but as a launchpad for something far more exhilarating. It's fictionalized history at its best, and arguably a good account of what Hollywood wants to think of itself nowadays.

Unlike the film depicted on screen, there isn't a lot of history of how Argo came to be. It was the third film that Affleck had directed, and the first to both not take place in Boston, Massachusetts, and the first that he didn't have help with on the script. Writer Chris Terrio also believed that he wrote the role more for George Clooney as protagonist Tony Mendez. Even then, there was controversy around casting Affleck as the lead. In real life, Mendez was half-Mexican, half-European. Actors like Edward James Olmos would go on to say that Affleck didn't understand his character. Even with all of this said, the real life Mendez and his family were given cameo roles as background extras when Affleck is riding a bus. 

Alan Arkin was the first person cast in the film. While he was a composite character, he based most of his mannerisms on producer Jack L. Warner, who died prior to the events in Argo. Likewise, John Goodman played John Chambers, who won an Honorary Oscar for his work on the make-up of The Planet of the Apes. This makes Goodman the only actor in history to depict an Oscar winner in a Best Picture winner. Among the film's more accurate moments, Affleck pursued the band Led Zeppelin to use "When the Levee Breaks" in the film. They would only allow him if he fixed the placement of the needle on the record. The song was at the end of the record and the needle was at the start. Affleck fixed it. Meanwhile, there's various other inaccuracies, including the fact that Mendez wasn't in Iran for more than a day and a half.

He also shot the film to be time appropriate. He recorded the film on regular film before cropping it in half and blowing it up 200% to add a graininess to it. While the film takes place in Iran, it never was filmed there. The opening scene in which angry protesters are outside of the headquarters was actually filmed at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. None of the footage was authentic and Affleck gave 8mm cameras to various actors in order to add authenticity. He also added a prologue to the film explaining various events in order to keep the film from opening on angry Iranians out of context. Similarly, other interiors were shot with unprecedented permission by the C.I.A.. Additional scenes were shot in the Los Angeles Times building and at Zsa Zsa Gabor's house; though she was too ill to see the production.

The film became the first in 23 years to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. Affleck responded by noting that he wasn't nominated for acting either. In fact, the film was the first since Crash to win without any lead acting nominations - though Alan Arkin received a Best Supporting Actor nomination. It was the first film in 80 years, since Grand Hotel, to not have  Best Director or major acting nominations. It also ties with Gigi for shortest title to win the category. The year itself was pretty diverse, with Life of Pi winning with four and everyone else receiving a few, including a tie for Best Sound Editing between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall. It was a pretty even night with more people generally enraged by controversial host Seth MacFarlane's profane antics than the actual winners. It was also the first year in which First Lady Michelle Obama presented the award via satellite after an introduction by Jack Nicholson.

The controversy around the film remained well into its aftermath. Many thought that the film undermined the value that the Canadians had in the events of Argo. After receiving complaints at the Toronto International Film Festival, Affleck replaced the epilogue with a quote acknowledging this. Even former President Jimmy Carter (who was in office at the time) commented on the film's inaccuracies. While he praised it as entertainment, he noted how certain details - specifically regarding the fictional plane sequence in the third act - weren't true. Despite this, the film has since become popular on the black market in Iran, where information regarding the events are still classified. Among the film's more positive, obscure legacy is that its robot character also appeared in the Adult Swim series NTSF: SD:: SUV:::, which parodied crime shows such as NCIS.

It does seem a little dubious that a film about Hollywood saving the day would be brought up on charges of accuracy. While the controversy has since faded, it still remains an entertaining, if understated film. Unlike the other winners of the time, Argo didn't have a special gimmick. It was about America and cinema saving the day. In a way, it summarizes everything that The Academy is about nowadays. It's about making us happy both emotionally and legally. No matter what, it's a film that embraces the studio system unlike any other. Should it be punished for inaccuracies? Not exactly. If anything, it should get people interested to learn more. It's a good film with a lot to offer and teach. 

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