In case you doubted me, I kept my promise last night to avoid the Oscars. Instead, I pretended it was an ordinary Sunday night, drinking beer, watching Worst Cooks, and listening to “Tom’s Diner” at a bar. (Enjoy having that stuck in your head for the rest of the day, sucker.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t have opinions, and as long as Bullett keeps signing the checks, I will continue to foist them on you.
Today I’m wondering if Argo might have been better off not winning Best Picture. Take away that honor, and the film remains an underdog—forever remembered as the little (big budget, star driven) movie that could. Argo was a fun movie, but calling it the best picture of 2012 only underlines. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that Argo is wildly inaccurate. God knows I don’t give a damn about historical accuracy, but even for those whose tastes run towards the swashbuckling, the last twenty minutes—when gritty tension explodes into cartoonishness—were too much for me.
The movie is remarkable not because it’s great, but because it’s well-made, clever and exciting—three things Hollywood does far too rarely these days. That’s nifty, but not transcendent. Put the weight of best picture on this flimsy little movie, and it falls right to pieces. Argo is a good movie, but if it’s the best of 2012, then Hollywood is in worse trouble than I realized.
(Let us take this moment to gaze upon the evening’s finest gif. Watch that for ten or fifteen minutes, and proceed to the next paragraph once your brain begins to function again.)
From my perch on the bar stool, far away from the TV, I was quietly rooting for Zero Dark Thirty—an ambitious film that might be described as Argo with balls. The onetime frontrunner’s failure to pick up any major awards is being chalked up to Congressional backlash over the film’s depiction of torture, suggesting that historical accuracy is only necessary if a film paints Uncle Sam in a bad light. Where was this Congressional outrage when the Bush administration was pioneering enhanced interrogation? Well, that’s a question for another article. Zero Dark Thirty has its own flaws, but it’s a much better film than the best picture-winning Hurt Locker, and deserved the same amount of love.
Between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, which will be remembered in thirty years? Although I don’t think it great, there’s no question that Argo will stand the test of time. It’s an irresistible movie, and popcorn flicks age well. Zero Dark Thirty is so of-this-moment, that I don’t think it will be comprehensible to anyone who hasn’t spent the last ten years watching the news. The climactic scene, when—spoiler!—Osama bin Laden gets shot in the face? It’s glossed over. Every American knows what happened on the third floor of the house in Abbottabad, so there’s no need to dwell on it.In ten or fifteen years, I’m not sure that the ending of that movie will make any sense.
“Wait—they killed him?” our children will say. “Where was the shootout? Where was the music? Where was the fucking ending?”
“Don’t curse like that, kiddies,” we’ll answer back. “The ending happened in your mind. It’s a beautiful thing when a piece of art causes your brain to complete the story for yourself.”
“That’s bullshit, Dad. Stop wasting our time and give us more of your awesome, retro ’90s candy.”
My imaginary kids are right—it probably is bullshit. My whole point in skipping the Oscars was that what the Academy says doesn’t matter, but here I am—spending the morning after mulling over the results. You beat me again, Oscar.