Season Spotlight: “Argo”

Fresh from the DGA Awards stage this weekend, where Ben Affleck was hailed as the Best Director of 2012, Argo has its hopes set for Oscar glory. The film has swept all of the major Hollywood guild prizes over the past week, its cast winning the SAG Award for best ensemble and its producers winning the PGA Award last weekend.

The prizes came on the heels of Argo winning two of the top prizes at the Golden Globes: Best Director and Best Picture. The film also raked in seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for Alan Arkin. Some may have been quick to dismiss the film in the run up to the recent awards, but with Argo, Ben Affleck has once again exceeded expectations and proven himself to be a superb craftsman with an already impressive filmography unusual.

Whether the film's run of accolades is a surprise or not, the film burst onto the festival circuit last fall in a way that demanded attention. While it had already been selected to the gargantuan public cinema celebration that is the Toronto International Film Festival, with over 200 films on display, a week before its official world premiere Affleck had a sneak debut at the intimate Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. The film's potent mixture of historical drama with thrilling pacing and a confident comedic edge helped it win over audiences and critics alike. Writing from Telluride, The New York Times' A.O. Scott praised the film as "a fast-moving throwback to the politically tinged thrillers of the '70s."

With its use of a retro Warner Bros. logo as its introduction, Argo is a film firmly grounded in history, but its modern stylistic approach keeps it from feeling staid. Opening on the chaotic storming of the American embassy in Iran, Affleck's deft handling of the material bursts forth with forest-fire intensity that makes use of handheld camerawork and jagged editing. But the film delves deeper, as has his other films, in search of more fruitful human drama along with a dose of crackling wit and humor provided by John Goodman and Alan Arkin. 

"I have a great affinity for films of the 70s and I have probably consciously and subconsciously emulated those," Affleck explained during a Film Society Q&A last fall, "It's just an extraordinary collection of American realist directors... I love those movies and I love those directors, so it's probably something I'll continue to try to emulate and to try to find excuses for doing so."

After directing two films similarly based in the underground crime world of his native Boston, Affleck's Argo is the first real risk of his career and it appears he passed the test with flying colors. In support of his naming the film the Best of 2012, Roger Ebert wrote, "this film takes first place on my best movie list because it is above all else a movie—pure, strong and sound."

We here at the Film Society were equally impressed by the film. Our program notes for this past fall's special event An Evening with Ben Affleck called Argo "a cross between François Truffaut’s Day For Night and Costa-Gavras’ Z." Say what you will about the Golden Globes, but Argo is a deservingly praised piece of work that adds to an already impressive filmography from Ben Affleck, whose latest is a throwback in many ways: its fierce, Clint Eastwood-esque political drive, its screwball-paced humor, and, above all, its supreme directorial confidence.

Watch our Skype Q&A with Ben Affleck following a special screening of Argo at the end of last year:

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