Monday, February 25, 2013

Why a completely unremarkable film called Argo won the Oscar

How ironically fitting that Michelle Obama announced the Oscar for the winning picture. Argo is a putative "true" story from the not too distant U.S. past - a past to which American viewers can easily relate - a feel good story of American perseverance, ingenuity, courage, an inspiring version of U. S. exceptionalism resulting in a bloodless American victory with only, according to the script but not Ken Taylor, a smidgen of help from Canadians. Such an uplifting image was far more appealing to mean-age 63 Academy voters.  
Does Argo deserve the Oscar? Depends on what "deserves" means. 
For the film is remarkably unexceptional in every way including the Howard Hawks overlapping dialogue and suspense building cross-cutting sequences, this last a sequence structure we've see a hundred times before. There are no outstanding scenes, no notable performances - just workmanlike stuff from mostly television actors - no innovative shooting strategy or editing, no production design worthy of note, no serious moral or political challenges offered - only a fiction of another young CIA agent bucking the system to do the right thing thereby exhibiting once again American courage and creativity. (Cf. Homeland and Zero Dark Thirty.) Voters  preferred this image to the dry debates about the dark past of slavery and the questionable conduct of the CIA. 

Postscript: to add insult to injury as it were, Argo was not even shot on film. What possible aesthetic rationale justifies the choice of digital over film for such a conventional project?

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