Always risky to say a movie is a unanimous hit with critics because even as the raves stack up we never know if a writer will come along to undermine a great average. Today with 40 top critics weighed in, it feels safe to name Argo the best rated mainstream movie of 2012. It vaults to the top of the heap with an 87 average. Metacritic rates 13 reviews as perfect scores of 100 and more 3/4 of the reviews rank higher than 80. With no negative reviews whatsoever and only 4 that are somewhat middling, Argo has achieved that rarity of critical consensus — it’s not even polarizing; it’s an undisputed smash. The critics agree with Lou Lumenick: Argo is “a blue-chip Oscar contender.”

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Ben Affleck not only stars in but also directs, and “Argo,” the real movie about the fake movie, is both spellbinding and surprisingly funny. Many of the laughs come from the Hollywood guys played by Goodman and Arkin, although to be sure, as they set up a fake production office and hold meetings poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel, they aren’t in danger like their “crew members” in Iran…

The craft in this film is rare. It is so easy to manufacture a thriller from chases and gunfire, and so very hard to fine-tune it out of exquisite timing and a plot that’s so clear to us we wonder why it isn’t obvious to the Iranians. After all, who in their right mind would believe a space opera was being filmed in Iran during the hostage crisis? Just about everyone, it turns out. Hooray for Hollywood.

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

It’s a doozy of a story and so borderline ridiculous that it sounds like something that could have been cooked up only by Hollywood. Ben Affleck, however, who directed “Argo” from a script by Chris Terrio and cast himself in the pivotal role of Tony Mendez, realized that comedy alone wouldn’t do. American lives, after all, were at stake (a situation that contemporary viewers will be all too familiar with), and so, after opening the movie with a bit of history and archival imagery, he rushes into the moment’s jarring, unsettling craziness with a cinematic whoosh…

Better yet, after setting your pulse racing, he smoothly downshifts, easing from the high anxiety of the opener — which evokes 1970s political thrillers like Sydney Pollack’s “Three Days of the Condor” — into something looser, mellower and funny.

Lou Lumenick, New York Post

Ben Affleck’s “Argo’’ offers plenty of nail-biting thrills as well as funnier scenes than you’d ever imagine possible in the grim context of the Iran hostage crisis, which began in 1979…

Affleck aces the tonal shifts so flawlessly that it’s surprising this is only his third movie as a director — if you didn’t know otherwise, you’d swear this was the work of a veteran master like Steven Soderbergh.

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

As a filmmaker working on a large canvas in a quasidocumentary style, Mr. Affleck rises to one challenge after another with a sure touch. (And with the help of such collaborators as the cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, the production designer Sharon Seymour, the editor William Goldenberg, and Alexandre Desplat, who did the original score.)

…Yet it does so with a flair for showmanship. “Argo” is a movie about storytelling that tells its own story briskly and clearly; there’s very little fat on the narrative bones. It’s a movie about movies that savors the medium’s silliness.

…And “Argo” exults in what a movie can do when its story has a compelling core. There’s been no shying away from the joys of expert manipulation, no reluctance to heighten the fact-based drama with fictional inventions. What’s startling is that the invented elements have been done so well. (One tolerable, perhaps inevitable, exception is a moist, uplifting coda.) Without giving any plot points away, I can tell you that a climactic scene turns on a marvelous surprise, and promise you frequent spasms of suspense that will grow almost unbearable. If you’ve forgotten how gratifying a Hollywood studio film can be, this is the best good idea you could ask for.