“Argo” won Best Picture for its dramatization of the failed hostage rescue attempt in Iran in 1980. It’s nice to see critics showing their appreciation of recent history, but one can’t help feeling that the film-while genuinely well made-somehow missed its mark. “Argo” makes an effort at playing as epic tragedy, complete with dramatic monologues and a lugubrious score. This is really too bad, since the real-life raid on which the movie is based, code named Operation Eagle Claw, was so badly planned and executed that it could almost have been scripted as a dark comedy complete with collapsing scenery. No other approach will ever quite do cinematic justice to the super-secret mission that Charlie Beckwith, the raid’s own commander, gave a “less than 1 percent” chance of success before it even got off the ground. Apart from accidentally being in the wrong genre, “Argo” is executed well and largely delivers what the audience is paying to see in what amounts to a war movie.
Jessica Chastain took Best Actress for her inspired performance as Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty,” a taut thriller and no doubt highly dramatized version of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. Spoiler alert: he’s dead now.
In a victory for method actors all over the world, their patron saint Daniel Day-Lewis collected a trophy for Best Actor in the title role of “Lincoln.” It’s said that during production of “My Left Foot,” Day-Lewis was so deep in character that between takes a member of the crew had to push him around in a wheelbarrow. There’s no word on what he did to prepare for his now award-winning role as Abraham Lincoln, but it is nice to see things have worked out better for Day-Lewis than they did for Honest Abe.
Anne Hathaway and Philip Seymour Hoffman took away Best Supporting awards for the perennial favorite “Les Misérables” and “The Master,” respectively. Hoffman’s win came as a surprise, as many watchers were predicting a victory for Alan Arkin for his supporting role in “Argo.” It should be noted that Hoffman also beat Tommy Lee Jones and Robert DeNiro in the Supporting Actor category. Wholly inappropriate jokes about violent revenge by the runners-up are implied but not encouraged. Anne Hathaway earned her award for starving herself and playing a prostitute with syphilis in “Les Misérables” and celebrated by showing up to the award ceremony wearing a dress guaranteed not to burn up on reentry.
According to critics, Ben Affleck was the year’s Best Director for “Argo.” Usually the director of the Best Picture is considered a shoo-in for Best Director, but this year, Affleck was facing stiff competition from his fellow nominees. It certainly can’t be easy to walk away a winner when your list of rivals includes Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, and Kathryn Bigelow, but Affleck won this year by managing to keep control of the dark mood and deliberate pacing of “Argo” to turn in a generally well-crafted film. Look for more projects with Ben Affleck’s name attached as director, as he only seems to be hitting his stride now and may have a decade or more of creative work ahead of him.
With this year’s Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, the world has gotten its sneak peek at the Oscars. One item of note is that two of the leading films of 2012, “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” were war movies. The other top movies, “Les Misérables” and “Lincoln,” are also essentially about wars and the people who fought them. Whether this signals a coarsening of audience sensibilities or a certain frame-shift in the culture of the movie industry is hard to say. It’s always possible that war movies just make more money and are easier to film. Jessica Chastain and Daniel Day-Lewis had a very good night, while it’s fair to say Ben Affleck had a terrific one.