Top 10 films of 2012: Argo

Feature Simon Brew 31 Dec 2012 - 07:38

Ladies and gentlemen, it's the Den Of Geek writers' film of the year: Ben Affleck's Argo...

Last year, our film of the year was comfortably won by Drive. Drive led the polling in 2011 from the off, and won in the end at a canter. This year, it was a much, much tighter race, and over the course of the two weeks we polled our writers, the lead changed many times. As it turned out, Argo snuck through right at the end, and edged out The Avengers by one single vote. That doesn't make it any less deserving a winner though, as we're about to explain...

1st place:

Argo

Ben Affleck is a man with already one Oscar on his mantelpiece, for his screenplay for Good Will Hunting. By the time the Academy Awards take place in early 2013, there’s a sporting chance he’ll have at least one more. As the star and particularly the director of Argo, he’s fashioned an exemplary thriller. And it’s testament to his growing prowess as a director that it’s hard to think of too many other people who could pull this project off quite so successfully. It’s been widely critically lauded, and it’s found a big audience too, with over $100m in the US alone.

It helps, of course, that the story of Argo is such a compelling one in its own right. Based on a now-declassified true story, it follows a CIA operation to extract six US diplomats from Iran in 1979, during the hostage crisis of the time. Said diplomats, played by relative unknowns to help heighten the tension (making you less certain of the outcome), are holed up in the Canadian embassy, and the clock is ticking before they’re discovered. The pressure is thus on to come up with a way to get said diplomats out, ideally without using bicycles!

With this story in place, Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio effectively split Argo into two halves. The first is about the setup, and this is where the tone is ever-so-slightly lighter. Kicking off with a well told introduction to the Iranian hostage crisis and what led to it (there’s a lot of education packed into the opening five minutes alone), Affleck spends a good deal of well-spent time dealing with the instigation of a particularly offbeat plan – to set up a fake film production (the Argo of the title), and use that as cover. And he also brings in the characters and events required to make it happen.

The supporting cast in particular are exquisite here, with the pairing of John Goodman and Alan Arkin in award-baiting form. Bryan Cranston too adds gravitas, getting arguably the line of the film, if not the year, when he warns Affleck’s character of an impending meeting with the charming words “Brace yourself, it’s like talking to those two old fucks on The Muppets”.

If the first half finds lots of humour, the second, from the moment when Affleck’s Tony Mendez boards his plan to Iran, turns a lot more serious. It’s made abundantly clear just how high the stakes are in the earlier stages of the film, and as a consequence of that work, the tension never lets up from the moment Mendez sets foot in Iran. Take a sequence where Mendez takes the aforementioned diplomats for a drive, and try and prevent yourself gnawing the nails off your fingers. It’s superb cinema.

Affleck’s ability to ratchet up the tension is without question here, and the devil really is in the detail. Small things matter, such as the ominous gluing back together of shredded paper for example. Little details sown throughout the film threaten, but don’t always have resonance. There are red herrings and things that matter, and Affleck never lets you get comfortable by revealing which is which until he has to.

As a result, whether you know the eventual outcome or not, Argo will have you practically ripping the armrests of your chair for much of its second half. It perhaps falters very slightly in the last five minutes or so, but up until that point, it’s a wonderfully complete film.

It’s also, in a year that’s brought such genre treats as Looper, The Avengers (Assemble) and The Dark Knight Rises, Den Of Geek’s film of the year. It received more first place votes than any other feature on our list, and whilst it wasn’t the film we expected to top the list when we began our annual poll, we’re glad that it did. Pretty much everyone we know who’s seen it loves it, and it deserves significant success come Oscar night. Affleck is surely the man to beat for Best Director.

Furthermore, Argo leaves Ben Affleck as the director on the top of most studios’ wishlist at the moment, a stunning turnaround from where his career stood a decade ago. But Affleck, as he’s mentioned in interviews, said that he figured if he wasn’t getting interesting material offered to him, he’d go and find it himself. He’s proving to be quite brilliant at that, with his skill at telling stories only beaten by his ability to pick them.

His directorial career is only three films old, but it’s already one hell of a boxset. Intriguingly, Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo all work within slightly different genres too, suggesting that there’s a real range to the projects that he’s set to tackle in the future.

For now, whatever he picks next, be it blockbuster or small drama, he has some way to go to top what he’s achieved with Argo. We’re proud to name it our film of the year.

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