Thursday, July 24, 2014

Battle Of The Oscar Stars: Best Picture 2012

The epic train dodge in Stand By Me, the giant ship side swiping an iceberg in Titanic, and the passengers stuck aboard that zooming bus in Speed - these classic moments perfectly prove that when the build up of suspense is at its best, any movie, no matter how many times a person has seen it, can still leave hearts pumping, riddled with  tension and excitement. During each viewing the heavy question still arises; will they they, or won't they make it out alive?

History be damned, because every time I watch Titanic there is still a tiny part in my brain that for a quick second always says, "Hey, I think this is the time they are all going to survive!"

I have the exact same reaction when the blaring engine looks like it is going to catch up to Gordie and Verne, throwing them off those train tracks. My heart beat picks up just thinking about that scene.

Sad thoughts of a crazy woman, maybe, but just because we already know what is going to happen doesn't mean we won't continue to repeatedly get caught up in the plot or that it makes the movie any less exhilarating.

While the Best Picture Winner of 2012 has some other strong points, it's dedication to building suspense is the highlight.  Even after watching it for a second time, that nail biter of an ending still delivers.

The major story points aren't fiction,  but ripped from the headlines and dramatically retold for the big screen. The basis for this movie was such a big event, that going into Argo most of  viewers could be already familiar with the crisis that dominates the entire movie. There are some liberties taken however, so the twists and turns of the plot might still be unexpected. We all remember that the Titanic...(spoiler alert?)... sank, and that in no way hindered that movie watching experience. Much like the movie version of a book, history too can become it's own once it gets the film industry treatment.

The entirety of the story focuses on one conflict beginning in 1979, when the United States granted asylum to the controversial Iranian Shah. Anger disapproving these actions spread quickly through Iran, which drove citizens there to storm the US embassy. Everyone in the building was taken hostage except for six workers that escaped and saught refuge with the Canadian ambassador.

For months the US government scrambled to come up with an escape route for everyone trapped in Iran. The CIA decided to take a chance on a unconventional plan developed by one of their operatives, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck).

The bright lights of Hollywood have never before blended so perfectly with the stiff shirts of D.C, when Mendez pitched that the perfect ruse would be to create a fake movie. The six hiding with the ambassador would be played off as part of the crew scouting locations for filming.

With the guidance of a Hollywood producer (Alan Arkin) and make-up artist (John Goodman) no detail would be left unturned. The government fake would have the works - staged press, an actual script, and elaborate storyboards. 

Conjuring up a fictional movie crew as an escape plan is a rather brilliant idea. No matter the country, everyone loves a movie. It seems like no one would question its validity, since, I think it's safe to say, we all hear  "movie crew" and instantly flutter our eyes with excitement.

From this plan the tension really starts to build. Even though this is not a documentary, it always raises the stakes of a story knowing that the people are real, not just characters, and they actually went through this drama. Tying in real news reports and footage of the protests also makes the world director Ben Affleck created seem more like the real thing.

As much as the riveting story propelled much of the first viewing, I spent this time around being distracted by the more ridiculous exaggerations, which is definitely the films biggest criticism. Could rebels in jeeps really chase down a plane? It didn't bother me when I saw this in the theater a couple years ago, but now it left me hysterically cracking up. All I see is Buzz Lightyear on the back of Bullseye at the end of Toy Story 2 .

First time viewers will definitely appreciate how the story excellently builds piece by piece for the intense ending to truly deliver. You get completely wrapped up in the fate of these hostages, stuck in a circumstance that was completely out of their control.

Telling the story is a large group of equally terrific actors. Only Alan Arkin was separated from the crowd, getting an Academy Award nomination for his supporting performance. Rightly so, as he always adds pizazz to each role he plays. It also won't surprise anyone that Bryan Cranston's performance as a CIA officer is a stand out. This typically would be a non showy role, where he could have just phoned in the performance, but Cranston instead commanded an air of believability and emotion, more than anyone else in the movie.

In the end though, with such an immense cast playing supporting roles, the attention goes back to being all about the story and that was done well even while taking liberties with the facts. Other film watchers have sqawked so much about all the inaccuracies with the plot that now that has become the films lasting legacy, instead of winning the best picture.

What we can all remember; this is a movie based on true events. With stylized camera work, impeccible 1970s costumes and beards, the film introduced an important story to those who may have been unfamiliar with the events. Since it was released, I was inspired to do more research on everything involving the Iranian Revolution, so it didn't bother me that there was some stretching of the truth. I can't be the only one.

Inspiring folks to go off and learn seems like evidence enough that Argo accomplished effective storytelling. Some bits are over the top, but that's what we have come to expect from Hollywood. Either the movie could be enjoyed on its own, or, if you want a point by point description of facts, you could do more reading on the topic -  it's up to you to decide. (By the by, this is also my defense for the animated version of Pocahontas. Take that however you like.)

Looking back I can't help but exclaim, "What a year 2012 was for Best Picture nominees!" Les Miserables, Life Of Pi, Django Unchained, Amour, Silver Linings Playbook, and more - all outstanding and incredibly diverse. I'm not sure how the voters decided, or how I would have voted (I'm actually leaning towards Django, for the Leo factor, obviously) either way, Argo ended up becoming the top dog.

As a whole, it may rank somewhere in the middle on the spectrum of quality best picture winners, but it's hard to ignore that the final 20 minutes of Argo still was able to highly pique my interest. I knew what was coming, but then the crazy mental tricks produced by intense movie magic kicked in again - with wide eyes locked on the screen I actually had the thought that this time, maybe, just maybe, the outcome would be different.

Next up: That's it folks! We made it to the end of this metaphorical road, the most recent best picture winner. I held off on seeing it for months -  we're watching 12 Years A Slave.

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