Argo

tn_argoARGO is based on an amazing true story, recently declassified and told in this great Wired article. During the Iran hostage crisis, it turns out, the CIA managed to rescue a group of stranded American workers using an unusual cover story: they were part of a Canadian film crew scouting exotic locations for a STAR WARS inspired sci-fi fantasy epic. John Chambers, the genius makeup artist behind the PLANET OF APES series (and played by John Goodman here), had done “some contract work” for the CIA according to the article (let’s hope he gets a whole series of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE style thrillers) and helped to set up real Hollywood producers and offices for the fake movie. The now-worshipped-by-nerds comic book artist Jack Kirby (seen only in a cameo here, played by DEATH WISH V’s Michael Parks) provided the artwork that they used as pre-production set and costume designs.

This is Ben Affleck’s third directorial work, and he stars as Tony Mendez, who comes up with the plan and heads the operation to rescue the six nerdy diplomats, played by Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishe and Rory Cochrane in shaggy wigs and giant glasses. The visual seventiesness of the movie at first reminded me a bit of the “Sabotage” video, but that feeling went away pretty quick. Affleck’s a good director.

mp_argoMendez has all kinds of obstacles. He has to convince higher ups like Bryan Cranston and Philip Baker Hall that this is a good plan. He has to get all the pieces together. Pierce and a fictional producer played by Alan Arkin set up a seemingly legit production office, mainly so they can answer the phones if anybody calls the number on the business card to check out the story. They find a script and set designs and everything and create fake promotional materials. They gotta make it seem like they’re really trying to make this movie. In one scene Adrienne Barbeau is seen wearing a space queen costume.

It’s kind of light-hearted for a true story hostage crisis drama. Arkin and Goodman in particular have alot of jokey scenes. It’s so interesting that they really did this, but in the middle it starts to really feel like it’s spinning its wheels. Yes, this is cool that they did this, that’s what I thought when I read the article, and when I saw the trailer, but now you gotta make a movie out of this. It feels like more of a premise than a story for a while.

Then the suspense thriller elements really kick in as Mendez has to get into the country and find them and convince them to go along with this and coach them to be able to pull it off and go through with various activities to create the cover story. And there is all kinds of turning of screws as they create suspicion and almost get tattled on and almost get spotted and the operation gets officially cancelled and when they get questioned and a guy calls the number on the business cards but Goodman and Arkin are held up by some other movie shooting and can’t get to their office to answer the phone and holy shit they even get chased as the plane is taking off…

and it works as a thriller but I wasn’t really able to let go of the knowledge that all the things that make it most tense are total bullshit. The real plan actually went very smoothly, without all these near misses. It was just nailbiting because holy shit, somebody could’ve found out, but they didn’t. But that’s not a movie. Maybe a documentary.

The dramatic license has made alot of non-Americans angry: Canadians who feel it portrays a largely Canadian operation as one the CIA just let them take credit for, Iranians who feel it portrays Iranians as one big angry mob except for one sympathetic housekeeper lady, etc. These are probly pretty legitimate complaints, but I’m more concerned about the standard-movie-thrills bias than the American one. I liked it better as an article.

So unfortunately I don’ think this is the great movie I was hoping for from the collision of the director of THE TOWN, George Clooney’s production company and a fascinating anecdote from American history. But Affleck and friends do bring two interesting angles to the story that I really liked.

1. Through actual photos and a voiceover by Jimmy Carter, the end credits frame this story as an example of how clever and brave intelligence agents and international cooperation were able to rescue hostages without killing anyone, without dropping bombs, without sending in troops, without starting a larger conflict. A reminder that being a sneaky ninja might be better than being The Death Star.

2. One of the dramatic angles for Affleck’s character is how he did this great thing and nobody can know about it, not even his family. Of course the fictional movie they’re pretending to make is a celebration of the sci-fi and fantasy mania in Hollywood and in our culture after STAR WARS. Mendez misses his son, who is portrayed as a sci-fi fan with a bedroom full of Star Wars toys, who gives his dad the Argo idea while watching PLANET OF THE APES on TV. And Affleck finds a really sweet way to show a connection between father and son when the kid’s love for space robots and laser swords saves human lives.

This is kind of a quickie review by my standards. Honestly I saw it a while back and wasn’t sure I was gonna write about it, but I figure it will be a best picture nominee on Thursday and I want to get my ducks in a row. In this case ducks are best picture nominees reviewed by me. This is not one of my favorite ducks of the year but it is a pretty good duck I suppose, I’m glad people are able to enjoy this duck.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 7th, 2013 at 12:16 pm and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

48 Responses to “Argo”

  1. Wait a second, I thought John Goodman plays John Chambers?

  2. Argo fuck yourself

  3. Sorry about that. Fixed now. Hopefully I didn’t accidentally reveal another CIA secret.

  4. Ben went 3 for 3 on this one. A really solid Hollywood thriller, of which not many are made these days. I’m guessing it’ll get nominated. I probably wouldn’t be so sure about it if it was limited to 5 nominees though.

  5. Yeah, the overwhelming praise on this one is kind of baffling. It was an enjoyable time-waster. I saw SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS on the same weekend and that made so much more of an impression.

  6. Yeah, I didn’t even read the article, and all that cliffhanger stuff in the last 20 minutes still felt like total hyped-up bullshit. It’s a decent, reasonably entertaining movie, but Affleck still isn’t much of an actor, and as long as he’s straining in an effort to win an Oscar, he’ll probably never make another movie as good as Gone Baby Gone.

  7. Vern pretty much nails it again. I’m real glad this movie exists, even if it’s not quite as fascinating as the operation’s declassified raw data or the Wired article, because it’s just such a fucking great story.

    Very competent filmatism on display here, especially the opening act. Hell, the whole thing is well made, very compelling, except… you can’t help but notice all the stuff that was *obviously* added &/or embellished for the purpose of generating artificial suspense, to make it a more conventional thriller & hero movie rather than a docudrama.

    Also, I don’t like how the escapees choose to get drunk the night before the big escape mission. What the fuck? That’s some PROMETHEUS shit. Had science in the 1970s not yet realized that inebriation is brain damage, and can only hurt one’s ability to remember the crucial fake details of their fake lives on the most important day of their lives?

    I’ve always been a Ben Affleck fan, even back when I didn’t give a shit about him; he’s been doing interesting things, roles & projects he really cares about since the ’90s

    (with a couple Hollywood-y exceptions, but, hey, everyone was tricked by THE ROCK back then, thinking Michael Bay could make more good blockbusters, let’s forgive ‘em, it was a different time),

    so I’m glad he’s becoming such a well-respected auteur with a bright, budgetarily & creatively infinite future as an artist.

  8. That drinking party at the ambassador’s place also diminishes the catharsis of the final instant of the finale. When the pilot announces, “We have cleared Iranian airspace,” their moment of relief would have been even more meaningful, even more joyous, if *that* had truly signaled the first moment they could grab a cocktail. They cheated by illegally drinking while they were still in country.

    The way they handled their celebratory drinking was like fucking your fiance on your wedding morning. Boo.

  9. I can’t IMAGINE the film not being nominated because:

    1) It is a valentine to Hollywood, full of little Hollywood pseudo-insider quips about, say, the writers guild and stuff

    COMBINED WITH

    2) It is a high-production-value period piece about an Historical Event that demonstrates some good ol’ American heroism without quite being jingoistic or even too political (not to invalidate the international complaints Vern cited)

    It’s like the two most beloved properties a film could have, according to Thee Academy, married together as one, and even augmenting one another (SPOILER the Iranian security at the airport getting into the Hollywood movie magic and sound effects and shit).

    So all that kinda…annoyed me… while watching the film, but it’s hard to tell if one is just being a sourpuss, an anti-elitist-elitist and such. Glad to see others had an underwhelmed reaction. Certainly if you’re looking for another thriller as ice-cold as GONE BABY GONE you may be disappointed?

  10. I didn’t know anything about this story (in Wired or otherwise) and only went as a fan of Affleck, the director. I enjoyed it but was still disappointed to learn the extent of the embellishments. I agree that the power of this is in the true story, though it is fine filmmaking. I remain less enthusiastic about Affleck the actor… And let’s be glad Ben didn’t try to write this one himself, too!

  11. Thank you, Vern. Good movie, it works, but it’s getting a pass on a lot of things. And how many times can they make the joke that Hollywood is worse than Iran? Isn’t that funny, because Hollywood sucks and we hate artists and people who make movies.

  12. If I want realism I’ll watch PBS.

  13. Franchise Fred:

    I also grew weary of that joke, but I would argue that it wasn’t in the spirit of “man, Hollywood sucks” and more in the spirit of “Hollywood is real shit, we people who can succeed here are akin to — nay, surpass — CIA superspies like Ben Affleck in our feck and gusto.” Like, however badass Mendez needed to be to pull shit in Iran, the Hollywood dudes were even MORE badass to fuck up that third take outside their office! For example.

  14. I think the question of factual accuracy might be more productively applied to 0Dark30 than this one, but I say that without having read the WIRED article or having any investment in ARGO’s subject matter outside of the film.

  15. Vern, nice review, ect. Just thought I would mention I read that the NW film center in Portland is having a ŠVANKMAJER fest this month. 35mm prints. Including FAUST… Just sayin’.

  16. Well, to me the main appeal of ARGO’s premise is “man, can you believe this really happened? Truth is stranger than fiction, eh?” so the knowledge that most of the thriller stuff is completely made up made it hard to enjoy as much. I had a similar problem with THE BANK JOB, but that one could probly be blamed more on the advertising than the movie.

    So yes, I agree, the PBS version would be way more interesting, Affleck should’ve done that instead.

  17. PBS wouldn’t have given Affleck the creative freedom necessary to include that one partial shot of himself shirtless.

  18. People as a general rule would not actually want a less exciting movie that is factual, but probably boring. I like facts and I like the truth, but I also like entertaining movies.

  19. I actually loved the shit out of this one, but maybe it’s because I went in not really knowing the story and genuinely didn’t know how it would turn out. Was this going to be one of those “look how close we came to not making it!” movies, or a “look how close we came to almost making it!” movie? With that in mind, I was just able to enjoy the well-paced, phenomenally-cast, assured filmmaking that for some reason Affleck seems able to do. For my money, the tensest, most wild ride all year, and done with a hefty dose of class but no pretension. If anyone hasn’t read the story yet, I recommend doing so only after you’ve seen the movie.

    And man, how awkward is it to learn that the CIA has a film division a few months before ZERO DARK THIRTY comes out? Hmmm.

  20. See this exactly is why I hate Oscar/Awards season.

    I think whether we intend to or not, we let that reality subconciously dig into our heads when we watch movies that supposedly are in contention and more or less hold that against them. Reminds me of people who watch CITIZEN KANE and dismiss its merits simply because for “the greatest movie ever,” it wasn’t the greatest movie ever.

    Seriously its funny when we say yearly that the Oscars don’t matter, critics don’t matter, awards don’t matter. But then they do apparently. (I seem to remember Vern last year not doing so well with KING’S SPEECH and SOCIAL NETWORK and if I remember correctly, brought up their contenders status in both. The first for sure, but the latter I’ll have to go read up and see if he did.) But don’t take it personal folks, I think we all get stuck in that mindset.

    For example, I saw THE READER after it “snubbed” THE DARK KNIGHT out of a Best Picture nod and I despised it. Last year I figure I must give it another chance since hey I might’ve been prejudiced against it from the get-go so I gave it and Winslet’s boobs another shot. I recognize some ideas I didn’t before, and I am intrigued in general by post-WW2 Germany for whatever reason. But you know what? I still don’t like it. I still find the crucial dramatic plot clutch with her choice in that hearing to be unbelievable and that point just killed the movie for me. Of course I would rather admit publicly that I’m illiterate than you know, GO TO JAIL. What the fuck woman?

    On the flipside, I saw THE KING’S SPEECH after I was swooned by SOCIAL NETWORK which I adored. I was ready with my knives out, sharpened. But you know what? I actually enjoyed TKS. No not as ambitious of a movie, not as heady, not as the movie of the moment as TSN was. If anything, TKS is a HBO/BBC movie but with a bigger budget and theatrically released. But I like many HBO/BBC movies, so that’s not a deal breaker. It’s more easily digestable to watch than TSN, but still I liked it. It beating TSN at the Oscars doesn’t bother me that badly in retrospect. Better a great movie lose to a good one than to, oh I don’t know, CRASH or BRAVEHEART or something embarrasing.

    Back on topic: I saw ARGO on opening weekend. It got good WOM from Toronto festival and hey I liked Affleck’s previous directed movies. And I quite enjoyed this for what it was: a popcorn thriller, a really good crowd pleasing one at that. (Might explain the $110 million domestic box-office.) I don’t think you can analyze or dissect it anything about it beyond that reality. I’m sorry that some folks really can’t enjoy it for what it is because of the Oscar shit. Do nerds fight each other over which is the best LOTR movie because the last one won the Oscar? Pfft no.

    If ARGO won, would it bother me? No. Should it win? Probably not, only if there weren’t any other good movies out this year….but we had many good movies this year. But ARGO winning wouldn’t annoy me. I still have trouble believing that it can win since ZD30 seems to be the one with the momentum, and LINCOLN (another popcorn crowd pleasing historical movie) is more if you ask me the more practical alternative. (Lewis is winning an Oscar, maybe Jones too. Oscar wins boost your chances of winning Best Picture. What Oscar will ARGO win? I don’t see it.)

    Mr. Sublety – isn’t it funny that ZD30 has gone from pro-Obama campaign propaganda to pro-torture apologist propaganda? Like what is it Internet?

    The most absurd political bitching at ARGO I heard was the far left claiming ARGO is pro-Iran war propaganda. If that was so, looking at the national election results, ARGO failed then as propaganda. Then again maybe, and this is pure conspiracy talk, maybe some people out there refuse to accept a “true story” movie (quote on quote) where the good guys work for the CIA?

    Plus you know, the Iranian government is not one that is exactly hard to root against. Just saying.

    Vern – Its funny but I remember not seeing Oliver Stone’s JFK for many years because of the fact that he basically invented alot of bullshit in his “true story”, but when I got down to watch it, bam I got involved, it provoked thinking, it was entertaining, a great murder mystery. In spite of the fact of the embellishments and the Garrison trial was a joke that deserved to be laughed out of court. But wow still an awesome movie. I guess the whole truth/movie making embellishment doesn’t bother me that much because movies are their own hyper-reality.

    Also did you mention that Affleck is about as Hispanic (as the real guy is) as Jamie Foxx?

    I’m reminded of some bitching at DJANGO UNCHAINED for being totally inaccurate when it came to the guns being used decades before they were manufactured. This aint ROOTS, its a glossy big budget Billy Jack/Clint Eastwood/blaxploitation movie.

    Anyway, you all know what my favorite shot in ARGO is? *SPOILER* The ending shot. All those toys that represent, and fuel, imagination and that storyboard for a non-produced movie, where adults used their imaginations to make that movie come to life, even as only a hoax.

    “The now-worshipped-by-nerds comic book artist Jack Kirby ”

    Vern – Kirby was a god to comic book nerds back in the day too, but they were the only ones aware of him and his work.

  21. The original Paul

    January 8th, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    I’ve reviewed this one already, and I know at least one of my friends agreed with the whole “too much dramatic license” argument. I don’t know how to respond to that except to say that I didn’t mind about that aspect of it, at all. I don’t know the story it’s portraying as a real-life story. It’s not something I’ve ever been particularly interested in (before seeing the movie, at least).

    I thought “Argo” was brilliant. Simply brilliant. I loved how it made the Americans likeable protagonists while never quite letting us forget that they’re cleaning up their own mess. I loved the portrayal of the American media at the time (very pointed and relevant to today, I thought. Remember how Vern made the point about “Farenheit 610″ by Michael Moore [yeah, I might have got the number wrong, I can’t be bothered to IMDB it] that people’s anger at Moore for portraying “only one side of the story” was hypocritical since we’d never seen that side of the story portrayed in the mainstream media? I think Affleck’s film very ably made the same point about the media without in any way overdoing it).

    I thought there was a lot of subtle little nuances of historical portrayal that seemed to have been ignored / unnoticed by a lot of the movie’s harshest critics. Which isn’t to say that it didn’t stand up on its own as a story about likeable human characters. I loved how the guy who’s the most sceptical about the whole plan is also the one who gets them out of trouble at airport security. A worse director or script would’ve made this guy the “token asshole” for going up against the person trying to save them – that or written him out completely. But that didn’t happen.

    I can absolutely understand the criticisms levelled at this film, especially by people who couldn’t get past the “dramatic license” that Affleck takes here. But I think they’re less criticisms of the film’s craftsmanship and story than of the decisions Affleck chose to make. I think those opinions are subjective, and so all I can say is that I don’t share them. “Argo” for me was an absolute belter of a film that somehow improved on “The Town” (which was also great). I thought it had everything – tension, great story, a coherent tone that still managed to not be “one-note” (a criticism that I’ve had about a lot of films this year), great acting, likeable characters, and a lot of genuinely thought-provoking moments.

    This was one of my favorite films of last year, and a great film in its own right. As a piece of narrative filmmaking I think it might very well have been unequalled by anything except “Into the Abyss” (which, as we’ve already established, is another great filmmaker’s masterpiece that every single one of you should see).

  22. RRA – I also saw it opening weekend, and no I probly wouldn’t have mentioned Oscars if I’d written about it back then, and actually probly didn’t think it would be nominated back then. But since the upcoming nominations were what prompted me to finally getting around to finishing the review it was relevant to mention. If I implied a competition between this and ZERO DARK THIRTY in my links to the review it was in my head because of something Quint wrote comparing the two that I strongly disagreed with. Anyway, I’m still working on that review.

    And I loved THE SOCIAL NETWORK, so that was not spoiled for me by awards hype.

  23. Vern – Don’t pull the trigger and spoil the ZD30 ending, ok?

    Anyway sorry I accused you like that, but it read like you just watched it or something. My Apologies then. (You liked TSN? I swore i thought you thought TSN was overrated? I guess my memory is going bad.)

    Will you review that musical also? Is Russell Crowe as bad as people claim he is?

  24. I mean I have no proof to offer you, but all that Oscar shit I mentioned occurred to me as I was watching the movie, WHEN IT CAME OUT. Some movies are just out to suck Hollywood’s dick and this was clearly one of them. I thought it was pretty good though.

  25. renfield – oh trust me, Hollywood loved the idea that they were the good guys. But enough for them to vote it the Oscar win? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be shocked if Alan Arkin for his small part gets a supporting nod.

    Unless you mean you thought it was Oscar Bait. I didn’t? I just took it at face value as a popcorn thriller. Vern was right in calling it a Reader’s Digest sort of insane true story.

    I say ZERO DARK 30 is the Oscar frontrunner, and ARGO and LINCOLN are both splitting each other’s support as the less controversial alternative.

    Interesting looking at the DGA nods yesterday. Hooper/Affleck/Lee/Bigelow/Spielberg. All them previous Oscar winners. Except Affleck.

  26. “Hollywood loved the idea that they were the good guys”

    Who IS Hollywood anyway? And I don’t think that Oscar jury members like Dakota Fanning (seriously!) or Brett Ratner (seriously!) see such a movie and think “Oh my god, finally a movie that portrays my workplace in a heroic light! Best movie ever!”

    There is always that notion that “Hollywood” cosists only of big businessmen, who get high on their own farts while giving each other a reacharound, but I think most of them (and especially people who are allowed to vote for the Oscars) are pretty average people, who couldn’t give two shits if a movie is more a love letter or a cynical hate mail to Hollywood.

    I also have to say that I’m pretty tired of the cliche that every movie, that is not aimed at a popcorn audience only, is automatically considered “Oscar bait”.

  27. The original Paul

    January 9th, 2013 at 5:35 am

    “If I implied a competition between this and ZERO DARK THIRTY in my links to the review it was in my head because of something Quint wrote comparing the two that I strongly disagreed with.”

    Yeah, that struck me as well in his piece. It was that line where he talks about Argo in his top fifty favorite films of the year, wasn’t it? And if ZDK would ever come into cinemas outside of the US, maybe I’d get to try and make the comparison myself. Damn release dates…

    This was a problem when trying to organise the “best of” list for 2012 that I posted. I saw eight films in the cinema in January alone, and most of them were 1) fantastic, and 2) “officially” released in 2011. Except nobody SAW them in 2011 except for a few critics in advance screenings. So if Zero Dark Thirty ends up on my “best of” lists (and from what I’ve read about it so far it might), I’m gonna say, screw official release dates, it’s not on over here until 2013 so that’s when it “counts”.

  28. The original Paul

    January 9th, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Or, in the case of “Chained”, the other way around. Saw it at an advance screening at “Aberfest” back in October but it won’t be “officially” released until later this year.

    That’s a weird one actually. Without spoiling what is mostly an excellent film, I think that if the filmmakers make one significant change before it’s released, it’s guaranteed to be on everybody’s “best of” lists for the year. If they don’t, it’s going to end up as a cautionary tale. I really really really hope they change it. Is that possible this late on?

  29. The original Paul

    January 9th, 2013 at 6:00 am

    CJ – well I didn’t think “Argo” was “Oscar-bait”.

    To me, Oscar-bait is very simple to define: it’s a movie that ticks a whole string of boxes regarding content, tone, etc, depending on what the filmmakers perceive would win the most awards; and does so in such a way that the film seems more designed to get Oscars than it is to entertain the people watching it. Doesn’t mean you can’t LIKE Oscar-bait, but it does mean that the film was designed for an audience of sixty-something white guys instead of the general public.

  30. Honestly, I cannot believe anyone making this movie thought they were gonna end up in Oscar territory. I think they just wanted to make a damn entertaining thriller out of (some) of a crazy true story. To that end, I agree with Paul, I think they succeeded wildly. And in fact so wildly that they ended up making one of the best films of the year. I’d personally love to see such an unpretentious and fundamentally well-built movie nab a best picture.

  31. The original Paul

    January 9th, 2013 at 7:04 am

    And you know what, Renfield? I am officially pissed off now.

    Here’s what I would consider “Oscar-bait”, going off of a list of “Best Picture” nominees from the last twenty years that I’ve actually seen (which is not many of them, especially recently – for example I haven’t seen “Crash”, “The Reader”, “The Green Mile”, “The King’s Speech”, “The Queen”, etc):

    – “Forrest Gump”, “Gladiator”, “Erin Brockovich”, “The Departed”, “Rain Man”, “Quiz Show”, “Shakespeare in Love”, “American Beauty”, “LA Confidential”, “Driving Miss Daisy”, “Scent of a Woman”, “Dances with Wolves”, “Munich”.

    (I’d add the likes of “The Last Samurai” and “Cold Mountain”, but they weren’t nominated for “Best Picture”.)

    Now I’m not saying that all of these movies are pointless (although some definitely are). I kinda love “American Beauty” (and was hesitant to include it on this list because, hey, masturbation in the shower! On the other hand, dancing plastic bag, Nazis, blatant anti-homophobic message, and Annette Bening losing her shit.) I also kinda like “Gladiator”, “Erin Brockovich”, “Scent of a Woman” and “Rain Man”. The rest… not so much. My problem with all of them is that there are scenes or elements that seem to be very calculatingly designed, to my cynical mind, to appeal to the Oscar crowd.

    And here’s some other nominees for “best picture” where I’d argue that the decisions made in them show more genuine artistic intent than attempts to appeal to that particular group:

    “Saving Private Ryan”, “The Thing Red Line”, “Lost in Translation”, “Unforgiven”, “Schindler’s List”, “The Full Monty”, “Traffic”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.

    And for the life of me, I don’t understand how “Argo” fits into the first group rather than the second. I can see Affleck and the producers campaigning for the movie after the fact (Affleck’s very much a Hollywood man). But to me there was a clear artistic vision that defined “Argo” that had nothing to do with “ticking the right boxes”.

    This is the problem with the “Oscar-bait” concept. “I’ll know it when I see it” doesn’t seem appropriate when everybody has a slightly different definition of “it”.

  32. The original Paul

    January 9th, 2013 at 7:24 am

    Thanks Mr S. Join the club of “people who’ve articulated exactly what Paul means but in way less time and using way less rant.”

  33. GLADIATOR is Oscar bait? An R-rated movie that shows how a kid gets run over by horses and belongs to a genre that was plain and simple dead at the time?
    AMERICAN BEAUTY? An independent picture that tries to show how ugly the “normal American family” is?
    DANCES WITH WOLVES? A 4 hour long western that was even dubbed COSTNER’S GATE, because it was expected to be a huge failure? Y’know, the last western that won BEST PICTURE before DANCES, did that 60 years before!
    QUIZ SHOW? The retelling of a TV related story that nobody even remembered anymore before the movie came out?

    I have to say that the “true” Oscar bait movie exists (I would put THE READER in that category), but to me most movies don’t seem to get that label (and weren’t even made with Oscars in mind) until the critics decided that it was Oscar worthy.

  34. Paul -isn´t TITANIC Oscarbait? I´m curious here,what exactly are the scientific criterias by which any movie gets to be labeled Oscar-bait,really. I don´t understand what it means.

  35. Sorry, I forgot to read higher up in the comments section. You describe you opinion about Oscarbait,clearly.

  36. I think L.A CONFIDENTIAL has a helluva lot more “genuine artistic intent”, than for instance THE THIN RED LINE which was according to me just a big empty nothingness. I have never been that emotionally disconnected at the cinema ever. If your criterias for Oscar bait are anything to go by, that movie felt like it

  37. The original Paul

    January 9th, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Shoot and CJ – that’s pretty much my point. The whole definition of “oscar-bait” depends on how you view a movie’s intentions. I’m on the record here, I think, as not having liked “LA Confidential” the first time I saw it. Second time, I actually liked it better than I did before – I think I appreciated the performances more when I wasn’t bothered by how predictable and film-noir-lite the whole thing was (well, ok, the James Cromwell shooting thing was pretty shocking, but come on, did anybody think that guy was trustworthy?) – but I couldn’t honestly say I’d watch it a third time.

    So yeah, I totally disagree about the “Thin Red Line” / “LA Confidential” comparison, but that may be because I’m more of a fan of film noir than of war films. So an unsatisfying attempt at film noir is likely to impress me a helluva lot less than something like “The Thin Red Line”, which comes from a genre that I’m not used to and therefore has novelty value, I guess.

    Anyway, just saw “Jack Reacher”. I think I’m gonna wait for Vern to post on this one because I enjoyed it but there’s three things in particular that absolutely did not work for me and that were major parts of the film. It’s the kind of film where I’d like to do a full review.

  38. The original Paul

    January 9th, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    And Shoot – I think “Titanic” was a serious experiment at the time, if only because of the budget, to see if you could get a film that long and that expensive made and still get people out to see it. It wasn’t appealing to the Oscars, it was appealing to the populist crowd, because it had to. When the experiment worked, they *had* to reward the film. I mean, this is Hollywood, right? It’s the same as “Lord of the Rings”, it’s a massive gamble that totally paid off and made a lot of people in Hollywood very rich. Neither “Titanic” nor “LoTR” was exactly mind-blowing in terms of quality, but the Oscars have never been about rewarding quality, they’re about rewarding bankability. It’s all about the Benjamins. (Also, hey! I just made a rap reference!)

    And CJ – “Gladiator” is absolutely Oscar-bait, more obviously so than any of my other examples I think. A big historical epic starring a beloved actor who’s a proven box-office hit with overly broad themes about the role of the common man in society, and a tragic end to the main male lead that’s followed by an upbeat coda that has them meeting characters from their past? (Yeah, “Titanic” and “Gladiator” both end on a shot of the dead male hero meeting his loved ones. Considering that one of these two films is about a fictional Roman Emperor who kills his father and steals his throne, and the other is about fictional characters having a love-affair amidst a real-life disaster, you ought to try looking to see just how much these apparently dissimilar films have in common some time. It’ll blow your mind.) Also did I mention that it came out right after Titanic won EIGHT Oscars?

    I guess I’m saying that although I can’t be certain that a film like this wouldn’t have been made had “Titanic” not come along and proven that big-budget historical dramas can make oodles of cash, it sure as hell didn’t hurt.

  39. Well, I am certainly glad that was your point.I just found the whole idea behind this “Oscar bait”shit completely arbitrary. And together with the nonsene of “Hollywood”. CJ has a big point there. What is Hollywood anyway? Its so fucking vague. What does ANYONE mean by saying shit like ” Its typical Hollywood” What is typically Hollywood these days?
    Is Hollywood just the big corporations,is it those responsible for the blockbusters or what is it?
    Hollywood is a place, I´ve been told. And places are in themselves passive. Only humans that live in places are active. Do I make any sense?

    To me the usage of the word “Hollywood” indicates there is some kind of big conspiracy that is behiond everything. I would love a definition of what Hollywood is.

  40. I’d rather they just skipped to the point where they made an ACTUAL Jack Kirby designed movie of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. Check out the concept art! It’s amazing: http://www.lordoflight.com/art.html

  41. The original Paul

    January 9th, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Shoot – if you’re pro-Hollywood, it’s the centre of the greatest cultural media production industry the world has ever seen.

    If you’re anti-Hollywood, it’s the corrupt heart of a bureaucratic system that only rewards excess and artistic bankruptcy, to the cost of any original creative thought.

    Personally I think it veers between those two extremes on a regular basis.

  42. Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Picture (Drama)!? Really?

    Christ, I’m gonna fuckin’ yack. I can only hope the Academy exercises slightly better judgement.

  43. Tonight is the night Ben Affleck beat Steven Spielberg. Nah, it’s cool. Spielberg will do just fine.

    Can’t happen on Oscar night. Affleck’s not nominated for director.

  44. I think Oscar voters love actors turned directors (Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood) but the Globes are more likely to fall for Affleck just based on him being a handsome celebrity they love to report on. I think you’re right, I don’t see ARGO winning, but then again it would definitely qualify for my traditional “perfectly fine movie that I resent because it wins over better movies.” I was surprisingly okay with THE ARTIST doing that last year so this could be another test for me.

  45. Sorry to piss you off and then leave you hanging, Paul.

    I’m quite a fan of Ben Affleck, the director. Had huge expectations riding on ARGO. I WANTED to view it as the ice-cold thriller you guys did, but thought it was a touch Oscarbaity. I don’t mean that “every element of creative force applied to this movie was calculated to win it Academy Awards.” I have no idea what the Affleck and Clooney wanted out of the movie, and am perfectly willing to assume that they’re true Artists who want to make quality films.

    However, I also think that The Academy is COMPOSED of actors, directors, producers, etc. That, like most Artists, they are pretty narcissistic. And that they love films that tell them that what they do can Change the World, and ALSO lathers them up with a bunch of Hollywoody jokes about how the Writers Guild compares with the Ayatollah or whatever.

    Also they love shit like HUGO and THE ARTIST, so the pro-Hollywood stuff is in vogue right now with the Oscars, no?

  46. “perfectly fine movie that I resent because it wins over better movies.”, as Vern said, is about right. I liked it, but didn’t really get as involved as I wanted to, probably from knowing the ending, probably from the story being more suited to a one hour documentary than an actual movie. It kinda reminded me of how someone said the Nicolas Cage “Gone in 60 Seconds” failed because the entire movie is “he has this plan and then they do the plan and they succeed”. The near-misses and they-almost-got-caughts are just incidental and frosting on the cake but we need more – Maybe better characterization of the 6 “hostages”? Maybe a better subplot other than the John McClane-style “estranged dad/husband” thing that we’ve seen so many times but for all we know may be true. I don’t know, if you’re going to do a true-life story that alot of people will know the ending to, you better have something up your sleeve and this movie never had it. It’s still good though and Affleck seems like a nice guy so I’m not going to complain.

    And for some reason the aforementioned shirtless shot in the mirror reminded me of his awesome monlogue-while-posing in the mirror scene in Gigli. I hope the new, respectable Affleck won’t entirely replace the funny-guy Affleck because I kinda miss that guy.

  47. Vern’s “at least ARGO will never be on the penny” was priceless.

  48. I’ll go ahead and say I liked “Big Miracle” better than Argo, especially in the world of historical period pieces that everyone knows the ending to. I mentioned above that it’s a tricky genre to pull off, but Big Miracle does it right – lots of multilayered, sympathetic yet often unlikable characters, lots of politics and compromises and ulterior motives, lots of drama and big budget spectacle. Sure it’s the same thing as Argo where “there’s a plan and then they do the plan”, but it does it in a much more entertaining way. It’s too bad this movie bombed because I absolutely loved it.

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