Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Best Films of 2012: #3

Ben Affleck's "Argo," about the government's top-secret efforts to exfiltrate six American embassy employees from Tehran in 1979, is the rare crowd-pleaser that seems to please every single person in the crowd. (It received an average CinemaScore grade of A+.) Like Affleck's second film, "The Town" (which made my top-ten list in 2010) , it's a consummate entertainment, deeply knowledgeable of its subject matter, smart and focused. Affleck's juggling act - including half a dozen interwoven plot threads and a reported 120+ speaking parts - is worthy of any directing luminary.

Some movies have something for everybody. "Argo" has a little bit of everything for everybody. It's got action, behind-the-scenes diplomatic and intelligence-agency intrigue, a generous dose of humor (provided by the always dependable John Goodman and a rarely in-form Alan Arkin), and tremendous suspense, climaxing in that rare movie scene that literally keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The look of the movie also merits special commendation. It will be a crime if "Argo" doesn't take home the Oscar for Peter Borck's and Deniz Gokturk's art direction and Jan Pascale's set decoration. They've captured the look and feel of the period in minute detail, down to the primitive computerization of the monitors at the airport gates. There are no 555 phone numbers in "Argo," no artificiality to take you out of the helter-skelter confusion of this unique and compelling circumstance.

How lucky for us that Affleck is so young and has many more years to turn out mass-appeal films of this rarefied quality.

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