Was it enjoyable? Yes. Was it exciting? Yes.
But “Best Picture”? No.
I haven’t even seen all of this year’s nominees, but I’ve seen two others from the list: Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook”. In that short, three-title list, “Argo” is third in my opinion.
“Argo” has many virtues. The costume and set design were top-notch. The art direction was quite good. The acting was (for the most part) very good. Where it falls down is in direction and screenplay.
Note: Spoilers follow.
The direction is pedestrian–good, but nothing wonderful–but at least it doesn’t get in the way of the movie. Shots are straightforward, uncomplicated, and fail to convey many of the aspects that must have been a part of the lives of Westerners in Tehran in those days. The terror of the time we see, but within the walls of the Canadian ambassador’s house, we are merely told how bad it is; we never see its effect, we’re just told of its effect. And six people kept in a house for three months…nerves are going to get frayed under the best of circumstances, and none of that tension–that internal tension–is shown.
As for the screenplay, I’m sorry, but it was trite. The action follows a pattern of rising-action/climax/relax over and over, which is standard fare for thrillers, but “Argo’s” problem is that each climactic peak, each “Oh my gosh it could all end right here!” moment, hit the same high note every time. I counted at least five such “Oh my gosh” moments, and with the exception of the final sequence, each one was an emotional replay of the one before, and this is a fatal flaw. If your soprano hits a high-C in the first aria, you might be impressed when she does it in the second aria, but by the time the fifth one comes ’round, you’re going to be inured to it.
So it was with “Argo,” because not only did I know that everything would not go pear-shaped on the first climactic action (hey, we had a 2 hour movie, and it wasn’t going to end after 30 minutes), I was so saturated with climactic action that by the third time, I was yawning.
To cap it off, the final climax, a seriously “it could all end here” moment at the airport, fell back on the old “The guy who’s been bitching about everything the whole time is the guy who saves us” trope. Now, I don’t know if that’s how it really went down or not, but it was cliché.
At the end, I felt like I’d just sat through six episodes of an old matinée serial, complete with cliffhangers.
So, how did this one get “Best Picture”? Because “Lincoln” is Spielberg, and Steven has had enough praise for a while, and “Silver Linings Playbook” is essentially a rom-com (albeit with attitude), and rom-coms do not win Best Picture awards. I don’t even know if “Argo” is third on my Best Picture list; there are several other movies that might push it farther down.