Awards Profile: Argo


Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Chris Terrio; based on an article “How The CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran”, written for Wired Magazine by Joshuah Bearman.

Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Kyle Chandler, Clea DuVall, Michael Parks, Taylor Schilling, Victor Garber, Ashley Wood, Chris Messina, Tate Donovan, Adrienne Barbeau, Richard Kind, Christopher Denham, Rory Cochrane, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishé.

Synopsis (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures): Based on true events, Argo chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis — the truth of which was unknown by the public for decades. On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist named Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a risky plan to get them safely out of the country. A plan so incredible, it could only happen in the movies.

Why It Could Succeed
Despite the early-in-the-Oscar-season release date of September 14, 2012, Argo seems like the film that may finally get Oscar winner Ben Affleck over the hill and through the woods when it comes to his work being fully embraced by the Academy.  Nominated once and winning for co-writing the screenplay of Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon, Affleck has reversed his career from a series of career and box office failures and a fair amount of public ridicule, to becoming a highly esteemed and widely accomplished filmmaker with his directing of 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s The TownArgo not only features Affleck as director, but also in the leading role, and as a co-producer with the powerhouse production team of George Clooney and Grant Heslov.  If the film delivers, Argo could land Affleck as many as three nominations as Actor, Director, and Producer.  In recent years, this has happened just twice and for one person – Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood hit the trifecta with both Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby.  While Eastwood failed to win the Best Actor prize those years, we all recall Eastwood winning Best Director and Best Picture for both efforts and with Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone and The Town drawing comparisons to Eastwood’s recent Oscar-contending work, this is a parallel and awards season narrative definitely worth considering.

Actor, Director, and Producer - Ben Affleck may hit the Oscar trifecta with "Argo"

Additionally, Argo tells one remarkable story, which will speak to Academy voters and peers exponentially.  With tensions continuing to be front page news in the Middle East and many Academy members still cognizant of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, the story of the United States CIA and Government of Canada creating an elaborate plot to rescue six U.S. diplomats, all under the ruse of the diplomats actually being filmmakers location-hunting for a science-fiction film known as “Argo.”  The story of the rescue, how the diplomats were given sanctuary, the symbolic nature of the name “Argo”, and the manner in which the diplomats were eventually brought back home is a riveting and inspiring story, originally featured in a 2007 Wired Magazine article, which screenwriter Chris Terrio fashioned into a compelling screenplay.  The buzz on Terrio’s screenplay is electric and with Affleck assembling a strong cast, Argo looks the part and feels the part of a serious player this coming Oscar season.  Whether it looks the part is what we need to see.

Why It Could Fail:
Those who follow the Oscars religiously each year will undoubtedly cock their head with the September 14, 2012 release date.  Last year, Warrior, Drive, and Moneyball all became Oscar nominees being born in September 2011, but only one, Moneyball, earned anything more than one nomination, with Moneyball netting 6 nominations.  Eerily similar to 2010, Affleck’s The Town opened on the same weekend Argo will be opening in 2012, and we all remember that with many expecting The Town to be a Best Picture nominee, only Jeremy Renner made the final shortlist as a nominee for Best Supporting Actor.  The Town was the only September release to score an Oscar nomination in 2010, Bright Star the only release in September 2009 to receive a nod, and no films were cited in September 2008.  Point is, Argo is in a curious spot where the only Best Picture nominees to emerge from September, since 2000, are Moneyball, The Queen, Capote, and Lost in Translation.  You have to travel back to 1999 and American Beauty to find the last September film to win Best Picture.

John Goodman may finally hear his name called on Oscar morning next January...

Theoretically, the film has a lot to deliver.  The film must pay respect to the Iran Hostage crisis, play faithful to the “Canadian Caper” event which is at the heart of the film, plus ensure that the depictions of the late and storied and revered Oscar-winning makeup artist, John Chambers (John Goodman) and industry-famous science-fiction artist and comic book writer, Jack Kirby (Michael Parks) are faithful to the real person many Academy voters remember and know.  More than that however, Ben Affleck is wearing three hats on this production and it will become quite apparent whether he has spread himself way too thin with this project.  For whatever reason, Affleck’s work as a director has faced resistance, and perhaps he still must overcome the bias that often becomes saddled on the backs with many high profile, younger Oscar winners, where the entrenched, older Academy voters may still hold Gigli, Surviving ChristmasPaycheck, and Pearl Harbor against him with the belief that he won his Oscar way too soon.

The only other worry is box office and mass market appeal.  Marketing will be tricky with a film like this and depending on what Warner Bros. opts to do with marketing the film, one has to wonder where the threshold of success will be for discerning Oscar voters.  Then again, if the film is fantastic, box office likely won’t matter.

Awards Speculation:
Earmarked by 5 of your Awards Circuit staff selecting Argo as a Best Picture nominee, and our own Robert Hamer pegging it as the winner, Argo is squarely in the crosshairs of many an Oscar speculator.  There is so much to be excited about here as Affleck seems ready to break the shackles the Academy inexplicably placed on him for his last two terrific directorial efforts and truly take the final accepting step into the Oscar pantheon.  If Argo delivers to the expectations of many, Affleck might cement himself in that rarified air currently occupied by the Clooneys and Pitts of the world.  Up and down the line, Argo could potentially land double-digit nominations, although a higher single-digit total seems more likely at this point.

The film opens in theaters on September 14, 2012 (scope of release not yet known) and will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Oscar Potential:

  • Best Picture (George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Ben Affleck)
  • Best Director (Ben Affleck) – sure seems like it is time, no?
  • Best Actor (Ben Affleck) – as Tony Mendez, the CIA operative at the heart of the “Argo” project, this looks custom-made for a nod.
  • Best Supporting Actor (John Goodman) – Tackling a beloved Oscar-winning makeup artist, Jack Chambers, Goodman seems in prime position for his first Oscar nomination.
  • Best Supporting Actor (Michael Parks) – Also tackling a beloved industry veteran, Jack Kirby, it will need to be seen how Affleck balances Goodman and Parks’ characters, but both might be good enough to compliment one another, although Goodman seems to have the bigger supporting role.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio)
  • Best Cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto)
  • Best Film Editing (William Goldenberg)
  • Best Costume Design (Jacqueline West)
  • Best Sound Editing (TBD)
  • Best Sound Mixing (TBD)
  • Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat)

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My love of film began at the age of 7 when my parents not only gave me a television, but HBO to boot. My first theatrical experience was "E.T." My first movie cry came with "Old Yeller". "The Usual Suspects" made me decide to make movies and film writing a priority in life, even knowing the twist beforehand. My passion for film, music, and pop culture in general can be isolated to my youth. My love for film took root in high school. Above all else, movies and art, in any form, exist to entertain and I remain much more interested in how art affects others, more than with myself. But I love the conversation and to have a chance to share my thoughts and be a part of the community here is a unique and enriching experience.