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Reader Feedback – on Argo and Other Laments

I feel like I need to put this exchange here on the main page because frankly I’m sick of having to discuss this repeatedly. First, a reader named Andrew wrote:

I’m not sure what my not posting on other threads has to with anything, but I will make one point- I have been posting here for years, and have never had my posts deleted or moderated until this year. And it has been about one thing: my pointing out of the skewed Lincoln-loving and Argo-hating, from a site whose editor called Argo perfect.

Your comments were moderated and deleted because of their nasty, relentless tone – you don’t “post” here, you comment here. There is a difference.  We were pretty up front about our Lincoln loving – and there was never “Argo hating.” Not once. Oh, maybe on Twitter when it kept winning everything – we are allowed to show our irritation.

We knew Lincoln was a tough sell, as was Life of Pi. That’s why we invested heavily in those movies – and in Beasts of the Southern Wild and Middle of Nowhere and many of the other seeming “lost causes.” Lincoln bothered people more because there was a uniform hate of it that started over at the New York Times where they made not one but two “why Lincoln is such a bad movie” videos. It didn’t stop there. It was savaged for all of the wrong reasons. If it was so bad why were the reviews so great? Why was it number 5 on the top ten lists of all of the critics and why did it eventually make $180 million? You see the dynamic we’re up against? You don’t think I saw this outcome from a mile away? I did but there wasn’t much to do but write about a movie I (we) felt deserved much better than it was getting.  Probably the worst thing that happened to Lincoln, though, was when President Clinton intro’d the film at the Globes and the following morning the story was expertly spun into the David and Goliath narrative that would take permanent hold.

I think we will eventually be on the right side of movie history but you never really know about these things.

I just need to stipulate that I did not call Argo “perfect.” I called it a perfect film. There is a difference. What I never did, out of respect for the film and the filmmakers and the publicists, was write a long essay about why I’d changed my mind about Argo after I watched it a couple more times. I never did that so people assume I just flipped. I never knew so many people paid attention — it’s not like we’re talking about pro-life versus abortion – you act like I “took a position” and then “flip-flopped.”

I often see films I think are great and then rewatch them and see that no, in fact they’re flimsy. Argo looks perfect on first pass. But there is nothing deep there, nothing more to discover. If you notice, before Argo took the lead in the race I wrote up a “favorite moments” post and I couldn’t even find one in Argo but I gave it an honorable mention. There were ten films that were more memorable, deeper. Why I have to explain this is bizarre — everyone who watches movies knows we re-evaluate them over time. Well it didn’t take me long with Argo — just about three viewings.

I watch movies over and over again. I watched Zero Dark Thirty seven times over a two day period. That is a great movie. Social Network I saw 30 times during Oscar season and I still notice new things about it when I watch it. I watch No Country for Old Men maybe five times every year. I’ve seen The Godfather, Raging Bull, Jaws, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Psycho more times than I can count. I even watch imperfect movies repeatedly because they have something worth diving into. But what I found with Argo was, unlike The Town for instance which is one I watch repeatedly, you get everything on first pass. There is nothing more to dive into. The best part of it are the Hollywood jokes and the music. That’s great and all but you still have to then deal with the whole getting the Americans out of Iran which you can really only see once, maybe twice and then it all starts to look pretty fake.  So yeah, like The King’s Speech, like The Artist these are not “flawed” movies in the least. They are in their ways “perfect films.” But as such, that makes them ultimately lacking in depth. At least the King’s Speech had that one great scene with Colin Firth and Geoffrey’s Rush’ brilliant supporting turn.

Each of these three winners can’t be picked apart or criticized, which is why they won, frankly. The least flawed, the least divisive films do tend to win. I was just hoping, with an array of GREAT films this year that might not have happened. But alas, even without a Best Director nod, it still did.

So I hope that explains it better. They won Best Picture and that’s a done deal.  Further, Andrew writes:

My point has been that we can’t cry when our fave doesnt win, AMPAS does that all the time. And we shouldn’t hate on a film like Argo which is a fairly decent pick, better than other recent winners like TKS and The Artist.

But you see, yes we CAN cry. We write an Oscar blog which means we can cry about anything we want. After 14 years of “yes sir, can I please have another” we know how the game goes which is why we try harder to steer the ship in a different direction year after year but it’s always too late to turn the boat around — it’s headed in one direction.

What bothered me was that Argo’s wins seemed to be fueled by two things: Zero Dark Thirty’s demise and Ben Affleck’s snub. No one started the Oscar race thinking Argo was the film to beat. No one in the pundit world, in the critic world or the public. But Affleck’s “Oscar story” became too big to ignore and it won the same awards as Slumdog Millionaire heading into the race. The difference between that film and Argo is that Slumdog starting winning and didn’t stop. Argo didn’t start winning until Zero Dark Thirty stopped. That means it was probably never Lincoln’s or Life of Pi’s to win. But we’ll never really know the outcome.

I agree with you that you can’t really criticize Argo’s win too much – it’s a great movie for what it is. The problem wasn’t WITH Argo so much.  The problem was that it, like the King’s Speech, was standing next to much more daring works of genius.  I think, and readers of this site know, that Ben Affleck is a really good director.  I was enthusiastic about Argo when I saw it in Telluride and those were honest feelings. I don’t now think Argo is a bad film. It’s just that I like to think this industry rewards career high points – grand achievements that were decades in the making. All too often now, the Oscar race is like politics – find the least offensive choice you can live with and be done with it. I don’t think that’s the best way to find “the best.”

Finally, I recognize that being a woman makes me the target of more hate than I would probably get if I were a man saying the same stuff.   I get that I’m supposed to be nice about everything and that when I’m not I get called all sorts of colorful names. It would probably bother me more if all of this was my whole life. Thankfully, it isn’t. The Oscars are a game — some play it really well and win the game. But we should never forget what they really are.

I hope that what we’re doing here, Ryan and me, is appreciated by people who like to talk about the Oscar race and every other discussion it brings to the table. I think those discussions are worth having.  We continue to reserve the right to control the content, which includes the comments.  You have many Oscar blogs at your disposal now – the supply far outweighs the demand.  You should feel lucky to have so many options to choose from.  And that it’s all provided to you at no cost.   How bad can that be?