In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 2012 winner Argo. Is it better than Crash?
I don’t know how, but I somehow missed every single nominee for Best Picture in 2012. I don’t always see every nominee or anything, but missing all nine of them the first time around almost seems deliberate. It wasn’t, though, and Argo was one of those movies I just always figured I’d see, somehow. After watching it, I don’t feel like my position on it changed at all. There are some good-to-great performances, especially from the supporting cast, and it’s certainly exciting, but it isn’t the kind of movie that usually does it for me.
It’s a dramatic retelling of the rescue of six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. The movie portrays a small group of film executives working with a small group of government officials to stage a fake space movie filming in Iran. The plan is to break the hostages out by appearing to require them for the movie’s production. It’s outlandish, but it has the added benefit of being (sorta) true, so everything that happens “works” as a real story. Typically, as with every “true” story in an Oscar movie, almost every criticism is about how events actually happened. I think those criticisms are valid from a historical standpoint, but I don’t think they need discussion in this context. If your story doesn’t do the history justice, that’s on you, I just want to find out if you made the worst Best Picture Oscar winner of all time.
For a really intense movie, the pacing is strange in Argo. The hostages are in constant danger and the plan is always about to fall apart and everyone is always tense and everything else you want from a good caper movie, but it also feels very straightforward. It happens how you think it’ll happen, more or less. Aside from one really great hitch towards the end, I never felt like anything too shocking happened. That may be like the Titanic version of “you know the boat sinks, don’t see it” complaint, but it affected my viewing.
Honestly, if anything is remarkable about Argo it’s that it’s awfully funny for a drama. Alan Arkin and John Goodman do a lot of heavy lifting in that department, and a bit role for Richard Kind never hurts. It’s ridiculous: they make a space movie in Iran to save six people. That’s essentially what happens in Argo, which is totally bonkers. The script allows for most everyone to lean into the crazy without detracting from the suspense, and that’s definitely worth noting.
The Best Part: During a very tense scene, an Iranian soldier has to call the actual production company to verify the existence of this fake movie. The “will they pick up?!” tension of a phone call that isn’t supposed to happen is very real and really works. I couldn’t believe how much it got me.
The Worst Part: I don’t know if this will be a minority opinion, but I didn’t love Ben Affleck or Bryan Cranston in this. I think they both do a fine enough job, but neither performance really stands out now a few weeks later. The supporting cast steals the show.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? It’s better, but it will be interesting to see what the legacy of Argo is. I do wonder if people will rethink it at all, or if they possibly already have. The worst thing I can say about Argo is that it doesn’t stand out when judged alongside other Best Picture winners. It’s just a mostly true story, told well, with good performances. Hardly an insult. Crash is none of those things, and the weaker supporting cast of Crash looks really rough in comparison.
Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a Slave | The Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The Godfather | Casablanca | Grand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker | The Life of Emile Zola | Slumdog Millionaire | The Deer Hunter | Around the World in 80 Days | Chariots of Fire | Mutiny on the Bounty | Argo
Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @alexbad.
Argo’s Picture win drove me absolutely crazy as an Oscar watcher, because it was such a light and melodramatized lark that beat out MUCH better competition. (Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Amour, Lincoln, etc) The real insanity is that people watched Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, which are both about the CIA mucking around in the Middle East, and said “I prefer the silly one where they say ‘fuck yourself.'” Just…NO! ARGH!