2012 OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Reevaluation of Picture and Director categories



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In previous entries I have gone over my predictions for the 2012 Academy Award nominations for Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay (both original and adaptation) and Director.  A lot has happened since then, and it’s time to start reevaluating my predictions.  Most of them I believe still hold.  But there are some instances where I have to eat crow a bit.  There are still some issues due to a few movies having not opened or having only recently opened, so it’s still a bit difficult to gauge a general feeling toward those few. 
There are also a couple of issues to discuss before proceeding.  One of the problems now is that once you have previously made a list as to what the top five are going to be (or more when it comes to Picture), you now are not just deciding what will be nominated; you have to take the list you made and decide what name to remove.  This is a sometimes much more difficult (if not downright painful) action to take.
Also, even though a number of films haven’t opened or have just recently opened, there have been screenings for the films, as well as screeners, and appearances at film festivals, awards and other nominations, etc.  This can, but not always, mean that you can gauge a general feeling toward a film.
At any rate, here I go:
Best Picture
My previous predictions were:
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Master
Les Miserables
Lincoln
Django Unchained
Silver Linings Playbook
Arbitrage
Moonrise Kingdom
Amour
As runner ups Life of Pi, Flight, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit
I think it’s obvious right now, I made a couple of boo-boos.  Arbitrage is out, as if Flight, Zero Dark Thirty is in, and not just in, but will probably win (my only defense is that ZDT at the time I made my list, was an incredibly unknown quantity). 
In addition, Amour is still a possibility, but will probably be passed over since all voters are going to assume it is going to win in the Best Foreign Language category. 
I still have a few qualms about Les Miserables, only because it hasn’t opened yet and it is getting some terrible reviews and a mixed reaction by the people who have seen it.  It’s probably a sure thing, but if any movie is going to crash and burn before the voting closes, it’s going to be this one.  It’s somewhat the same on Django Unchained, but the reactions so far have been much stronger and better than for Les Miserables.
The two main questionable films are The Master and Moonrise Kingdom.  The Academy voting is set up now such that movies that have a strong following (i.e., movies that will get more votes for first place rather than movies that get more overall votes, but only in the middle range) will have a chance.  The Master is loved by the critics and by those who really loved it; it is also hated or left feelings of indifference in even more of the audience.  The intensity of the love, though, if only by a small number, fits perfectly with the Oscar voting system; so it could sneak in.
Moonrise Kingdom is different.  People liked it, but I don’t think with the passion of The Master.  And with Beasts of the Southern Wild having a bigger impact on the voters, it may be left out.
I will now put a movie on the list that I think most people are not even thinking about.  I strongly suspect that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will make the list.  It is one of those movies that people seem to really love, and by the attention it is now getting from various awards groups, I think it may be the real sleeper of the noms.
 Finally, there is Life of Pi.  As we get closer to the nominations, I may change my mind and include this.  The feeling I’m getting right now is that critics and Oscar pundits would like to see it nominated so much, that they keep pushing it on their lists.  But I’m not convinced that the audience and voters are agreeing.  But that may change.  But then, which one would I remove?
So in reevaluating, I will list them in the order I think their chances are.
Zero Dark Thirty to win
Lincoln
Argo
Silver Linings Playbook
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Master
That’s nine.  If there is a tenth spot, I’ll go for Moonrise Kingdom or Amour with also a chance for Life of Pi.
Best Director
Since Best Picture and Best Director usually go hand in hand (with often only one, more rarely two, differences), I’ll quickly firm this category up.  
My previous predictions:
Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty to win. 
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. 
Ben Affleck for Argo. 
Tom Hooper for Les Miserables. 
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook. 
Runners up: Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master; Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild; Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained; Peter Jackson for The Hobbit; Michael Haneke for Amour; Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom; Ang Lee for Life of Pi.
You will see one oddity.  I made this list so long after my predictions for Best Picture, I had seen the light and now had Bigelow to win.  I still think she will.  In addition, I can’t imagine Spielberg and Affleck not being nominated. 
But after Bigelow, Spielberg and Affleck, that leaves two spots.  My issue with Hooper is as I’ve said before: if any movie is going to crash and burn before the nominations come out, it will be Les Miserables.  But it seems like it has a firm enough foothold so far.
If Russell doesn’t make it, it will probably be because you can only have five nominations, so someone has to go.  But who will it be?  And I have to be honest, I don’t know.  I suspect that Zeitlin will be overlooked because the movie is too small and there’s too much competition.  The director will have to go the “it’s an honor just to be nominated” route, even if that nomination is not for him, but for picture, actress and screenplay.
Jackson is out for The Hobbit.  It was well received, but not that well and a lot of people are having issues with the 3D process.  Wes Anderson I think is out because if Zeitlin isn’t going to make it, Anderson has even less of a chance.  At this time, I’m also putting Lee out for the same reason as before; I can’t tell if the enthusiasm for him is being driven by certain people wanting it, or because there is an actual desire by voters to nominate him.
That leaves three possible upsets for Russell: Anderson, Tarantino and Haneke.  Anderson has a better chance with directors than general voters.  Tarantino is getting great buzz.  Haneke’s main issue is that his film won’t get a nomination since most people will assume Amour will get the Best Foreign Film award. 
But I am going to go out on a limb and go for Haneke.  It has great buzz and has more recently opened, whereas The Master has been gone from the screens for some time.  I can’t give a logical reason for Haneke over Tarantino, but I’m just going to be contrary and go for something unorthodox here.
So my predictions are, in order of their likelihood:
Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty to win. 
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. 
Ben Affleck for Argo. 
Tom Hooper for Les Miserables. 
Michael Haneke for Amour
Runners up: David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook; Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained; and Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master.
Next up: Actors.

OSCARS 2012: SCREENPLAY CATEGORY



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For my next essay on the upcoming Oscar race, I shall deal with the Best Screenplay categories.  This is often the most difficult category to predict because, first, one has to go to all the trouble of figuring out whether a screenplay is adapted or original, which is really kind of annoying, believe it or not.
The second difficulty is that, of all the categories, the Best Screenplay is the one that will have the most monkey wrenches thrown into it.  Screenwriters, who vote for the nominations, can be a non-conformist  sort of lot and it is not unusual for them to recognize unusual, edgy, foreign, indie screenplays that will often not get a nomination in any other category.   The directors are second to the writers when it comes to this, but the screenwriters’ branch edges them out a bit.  And since there are ten slots to fill, that only allows for a few more idiosyncratic choices to sneak their gremlin way in.
But there is also one overriding issue that has to also be considered here.   This category is often called the consolation prize.  Since there are two awards every year, one of the categories usually goes to the best picture win.   The other is often used to give an award to a smaller or more (altogether now) idiosyncratic picture or a favorite that just got overshadowed by another film and often doesn’t do well in any other major category (Good Will Hunting, Sling Blade, The Social Network, Precious, etc.).
I will begin with the Best Original Screenplay category:
Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty to win.  Zero Dark Thirty has really broken out after doing well at a couple of critical award competitions.  Boal won for The Hurt Locker.  Everything seems to now be going ZDT’s (as it’s being called) way.   At the same time, it hasn’t opened, but that may not matter.
Michael  Hanake for Amour.  He also directed.  Amour has also been breaking out in the critics’ competitions.  The movie hasn’t opened yet, like ZDT, but the buzz is strong.  It’s supposed to win best foreign language film.  It’ll be the A Separation of this year, one of those idiosyncratic (oops, I said it again) screenplays that screenwriters like.
Beyond this?  I really am not sure yet.   But this is what is being talked about:
Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master.  The critics loved it, but the public (which includes Oscar voters) stayed away.  But Paul Thomas Anderson is well respected.  With ten categories to fill and a lot of uncertainty, this could get in.  But I’m still having a little problem accepting this because I just didn’t like it (perhaps I’m just being a bit too Republican here, though, and refusing to accept reality).
Romain Coppola and Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom.  I really feel that this movie has almost been forgotten.  It was not the break out independent movie that Beasts of the Southern Wild was which played in the theaters far longer.  If the producers, et al., can make the screenwriting branch remember that the movie came out this year, it could have a chance.
Quintin Tarantino for Django Unchained.   A bit too unknown a quantity.  In addition, unlike ZDT and Amour, the buzz hasn’t really started yet, so it’s hard to say.  But it has a very good chance.
Martin McDonagh for Seven Psychopaths.  It deserves to be up there.  I haven’t seen all the above movies yet, but it’s my favorite original screenplay of the year so far.  But no one seems to think it has much of a chance and it may not have made enough of an impression on the public when it opened (maybe even less than Moonrise Kingdom).
The remainder:  Woody Allen for To Rome With Love (some people loved it, but so many people hated it, I mean hated, it I don’t think it will make it; but it is Woody);  John Gatins for Flight (probably only a best actor nom, but it’s possible, even though the it’s not that strong a screenplay); Rian Johnson for Looper (very popular and people thought it was a clever screenplay—it wasn’t; but it has a chance);  Jacques Audiar, Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson for Rust and Bone (mainly included because it opened to excellent reviews and Marion Cotillard is expected to get a nomination, and it could be another of those damn idiosyncratic choices the screenplay branch likes, but I’m not convinced, yet).
If I had to make a prediction now, I would go with Zero Dark Thirty, Armour, Django Unchained, Moonrise Kingdom and Seven Psychopaths. 
Adapted screenplay:
This is actually a much easier category only because the most likely candidates have sort of risen to the top, like cream, I suppose, I mean, if you have to use a simile, it’ll do, I guess.
But what may make this a bit more difficult is that if ZDT is going to win best picture and then wins screenplay, this is the consolation prize category. 
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook to win.  People love the film. It’s going to get a number of other nominations.  It has some good writing (though the second half is a little weak).   It’s the sort of thing that could just win the consolation prize.
Tony Kushner for Lincoln.  SLP’s biggest competitor and it could win.  But I’m getting the feeling that Lincoln may be a movie that everybody loves, but somehow is going to get shut out more than one might expect (except for best actor which still seems a shoo-in for Daniel Day-Lewis).   But since it’s such a big movie and isn’t going to win Best Picture (which right now, is going to ZDT), it may lose out to a consolation prize award (which could go to SLP).
Chris Terrio for Argo.  The definite winner until Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln opened.  It’s great Hollywood studio writing (which is also its drawback).  But the movie may have peaked too soon and it may have trouble doing as well as originally thought.
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  In another year, this would have automatically won the consolation prize award.  But it doesn’t look good this year with fierce competition and a more solid set of nominations.  It feels more like this film is going to be one of those, it’s just an honor to be nominated movie. 
William Nicholson for Les Miserables.  This seems a certainty, though strangely enough, the fact that it’s more an opera than a musical I suppose could hurt it (isn’t the real writing the lyrics and the music and just how much of an adaptation could Nicholson have done when it came to that; at the same time, Kenneth Branagh got a nomination for adapting Hamlet, so this is probably a silly objection, at least when it comes to a nom).  
Other possibilities:  Stephen Chobosky for The Perks of Being a Wallflower (should be included, but Beasts… may be the only really non-big, more independent film to get a nom; screenwriters are idiosyncratic, but only up to a point—they ultimately know who signs their paychecks); David Magee for Life of Pi (perhaps the screenplay with the best chance to unseat one of the above, but people may feel it’s more a director’s movie than a writer’s); Ben Lewin for The Sessions (a well liked movie, but may have to settle for a couple of acting awards); Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps for Frankenweenie (it’s doing well in winning animation awards with the critics, but hard to see what it could upset above); John J. McLaughlin for Hitchcock (a clever script, but that may be it’s problem—viewers thought that was all it was and have been disappointed it wasn’t a more serious look at the great filmmaker).
After this, basically what I will be doing is updating each category.  At this point, the basic nominees have been set.  When deciding if someone new is going to be included (Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, etc.), you will have to make the choice of who will he replaced, i.e. who will not be nominated who was thought a shoo in before.  This is where the guessing becomes really difficult.

OSCAR RACE 2012–BEST DIRECTOR



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Continuing my Oscar predictions, the next category is Director.  In certain ways, picking the director nominees used to be fairly easy.  You selected which five films you thought would be nominated for best picture and then try and decide which one wouldn’t correspond with a director (there often was one difference).  But now that it is possible for there to be up to ten picture nominees, this sort of throws a monkey wrench into the system.
In many ways, you still make your guesses using the same principle.  You decide which five movies you suspect would have been the nominees if the rules of up to ten weren’t in existence and you take that as your cue for your basic list of for the director’s category.
Like all the other categories, the top five seem to be slowly rising to the top.  So to the list:
Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty to win.  It’s not just the double whammy so far of winning the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review awards.  There’s no guarantee that that translates into an Oscar win, though at the same time, it don’t hurt.  Part of what is helping here is that Argo, which had the lead, peaked and was being overshadowed by Spielberg and Lincoln (which was more successful than was originally thought) and is now being overshadowed by Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty as well.  Will she win?  Right now it’s all buzz, but the buzz is deaf impairing, so unless the movie opens and then crashes and burns, it seems she’s got it (the first female director to win twice; the first to be even nominated twice).
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln.  This seems like a done deal, not just because it’s Lincoln directed by Spielberg, but also because it did much better than anyone expected (which is important since people expected it to do well as it was).
Ben Affleck for Argo.  Once the front runner for winning, but has now been eclipsed.  But his nomination still seems like it’s in with the in crowd.
Tom Hooper for Les Miserables.  My only hesitation here is that the movie hasn’t opened and I’m a little loathe to make a prediction for a musical (I still remember Nine), but it looks like a sure thing.
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s a serious comedy and that doesn’t hurt and people just seem to love it to death. 
Now there are definitely other possibilities, but here is where things get tricky.  If you think that another director is going to get in there, you’re going to have to decide who won’t make it.   Right now, I think only Tom Hooper and David O. Russell have a chance of being unseated and replaced by: Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master (the issue here is that the critics loved it, but the public, which includes the voters, didn’t); Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (deserving, and the strongest possibility for an upset as far as I’m concerned); Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained (the movie is too unknown a quantity and it may open too late to really excite people); Peter Jackson for The Hobbit (he’s already got it for The Lord of the Rings, I can’t see them doing it again and some people haven’t been happy with some of his directorial choices; it may also be opening too late for people to care); Michael Haneke for Amour (probably deserving, but he’s probably going to get shut out; and since it’s going to win Best Foreign Language Film, they’ll probably nominate it for screenplay and forget the direction); Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom (forget about it, it will be Zeitlin before Anderson). 

OSCARS 2012


As an addendum to my best picture race analysis for the Oscars, I called Argo the Mitt Romney film and Beats of the Southern Wild the Barack Obama film.  But I realized after thinking if over more, that this is true only aesthetically.  Ironically, from a thematic standpoint, it’s the reverse.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is about a group of fiercely independent people who celebrate constantly in a very patriotic manner and who want absolutely nothing to do with the government or receive help from any outside group—the perfect Romney demographic.  Meanwhile, Argo is about  a group of people who want to avoid using violence and sending in troops to solve an issue in the Middle East, rather using a consensus building approach by joining forces with another country (here Canada) and solving the problem in a more subtle way, which makes it more the Obama picture.

OSCARS 2012


It’s getting to be that time of the year, so I’m going to start my annual blogs on the Oscars.  I know, I know.  It’s the one baited breath thing you’ve been waiting all year to hear about.  Well, you can finally stop thinking about the election and really grapple with something important now.  No need to thank me.  It’s just what I do. 

These entries will be quick and off the top of my head, so my thoughts will change as time goes on.  This entry will deal with best picture.

By now, I usually know what’s going to win top dog.  But this year, I was really stymied for a long time and even now I’m not totally sure.  I’m not certain why things are so up in the air this year.  Maybe it’s because it’s been one of the worst years for movies in the U.S. and it’s been hard for anything to really galvanize people.   But it does look like things are starting to gel. 

Argo:   The Mitt Romney of the noms.  As of right now, this is the lead to win best picture (though I think the Presidential election will come out differently).  It has all the right qualifications.  It’s perfectly middle brow, i.e., it makes the audience think it’s edgy, takes chances, is very serious, really grapples with important subject matter, when in reality, it’s a safe, above average action/thriller.  Very retro, but gets the job done.  It also is a box office hit, but not such a hit that people think it’s a studio time waster like The Avengers or The Amazing Spider-Man.  It also has some nice selling points from a marketing standpoint.  First, it’s based on a true story and a true story that most people are unaware of; and it’s a great story, one of those, if it hadn’t really happened, no one would ever believe it had (even if it didn’t really, exactly happen the way it happened in the movie).  Second, Ben Affleck’s acting career had seriously stalled, then he became a director, and is now finally getting new respect, so it’s something of a come back story.  Third, it’s topical—well, topical for a Hollywood story; it takes place in the Middle East, though as was mentioned above, it doesn’t really tell us that much or give us any serious insight into what’s going on over there.  The writer and director are having too good a time entertaining us to do something like that.

Beasts of the Southern Wild:  The Barack Obama of the noms (though, again, I personally think the election will go a different way than the Oscars).  The indie darling of the year.  It probably should win best picture, but will have to settle for a best picture, actress (the youngest ever), screenplay and maybe supporting actor and director nom.  This is the movie that does something and takes the art of filmmaking forward, unlike Argo that is very old school, very George Bush.   It has a great grass roots organization behind it; after all this time, it’s like the Energizer Bunny: it just keeps going and going and going.  It came from nowhere and worked its way up to the top on sheer quality alone.

The Master: a tough call.  The critics love it, but not many others seem to, and it’s the others that vote for the nominations.  In a year of only five noms, I would say this wouldn’t have a chance, but it’s the sort of love it or hate it that the new rules of possibly up to ten noms is made for and it may slip in.  Whether it will get a directing nod is much more difficult to say.  Should get a best actor nom no matter what (Joachim Phoenix) and possibly supporting actor and actress (Hoffman and Adams).

Les Miserables: There is a certain set of films that is impossible to make a guess on until they open.  These are movies that are so big, have such high expectations, have so much “talent” associated with them, that everyone thinks they are a sure thing until they open when most of them crash and burn.  This is especially true of musicals.  I refuse to make any sort of guess until people who have seen it (regular people, not critics) start reacting to it.  Remember Nine?  I’m not making that mistake again.

Lincoln:  See above for Les Miserables.  The previews make it look ponderous, overstuff and self-important.  But it’s Steven Spielberg, so who knows, it might also be entertaining.  It’s suppose to win a best actor for Daniel Day Lewis (beginning to look like one of the few sure things right now), and some possible supporting noms.  Expect to see it in the top ten even if it’s awful simply because it’s Spielberg.

Django Unchained:  In a year of five, probably no way, but in a year of up to ten?  Maybe.  The problem is that it’s by Tarantino.  Tarantino is one of our greatest filmmakers, but he’s a very serious filmmaker who doesn’t makes serious films.  They do nothing, but do it absolutely brilliantly.  This, I think, makes it difficult for the Academy to actually nominate him.  The exceptions were Inglorious Basterds which was about the heavy subject of WWII, Nazism and the Holocaust, and Pulp Fiction which was something people hadn’t really seen before and made people see movies in a different way (and was a film noir, which helped).  Django is basically a Spaghetti Western, so there you have it.  Also, people seem a little uneasy right now whether it’s going to work.

Silver Linings Playbook: It’s been getting a lot of good buzz, but the previews make it look incredibly formulaic and sentimental, so until it opens, it’s an unknown quantity.

Arbitrage:  Not on anybody’s radar right now, but don’t count it out.  It’s the sort of well made, unambitious, entertaining movie that wins voters over.  It’s just fun and there’s often a movie on the list that is just fun.

Moonrise Kingdom:  The, “Oh, yeah, right, I remember that movie, I loved it, but whatever happened to it” film of the year.  People have even forgotten it opened this year and it’s been overshadowed by Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Amour:  A shoe-in for awhile, but it’s also the Austrian entry in the Foreign Language Film category so that may cut against it.  I still think it might have a chance since we have up to ten movies to nom.  It’s very different from Haneke’s other films, so the voters may feel safe in voting for it.  It also may get a best actor and actress nom, as well as screenplay.

Life of Pi, Flight, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit are all too unknown quantities right now.

ARGO and SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS



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Argo, the new thriller written by Chris Terrio and directed by Ben Affleck, has been described as one of those throw back Hollywood studio movies, one that isn’t based on a franchise or comic book, but is instead a solid, well written, professionally made piece of entertainment aimed at adults.  And this is a very accurate description.  But at the same time, this also means that it reduces a terrifying and important and politically complex situation to a routine thriller; has jokes that are as old as the Hollywood Hills (though I seemed to be the only one that laughed at the screenwriting/free meal punch line); and has character arcs and plot turns that are obvious and formulaic and have everything but subtlety (and the kitchen sink, I suppose). 
But does any of this matter?  Does anyone care?  It doesn’t seem so.  Mainly because it is also highly, if not, incredibly entertaining for the most part (or enough part to make it work very well on its own terms).  Indeed, the approach may reduce the circumstances to a Casablanca like simplification, but it doesn’t ignore the historical reality altogether (and gives it more attention and depth than expected).  The jokes may be stale, but they are still funny and delivered with the timing of pros.    The plotting may be predictable, but it still keeps you on the edge of your seat.  And the character arcs may be formulaic, but they still bring a tear to the eye. 
So I suppose the conclusion is: go for the entertainment, but leave your aesthetic at the door.
The story revolves around a group of American embassy workers who manage to get out a back door and take refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.  To rescue these six people before the Iranian government finds them (and most likely would kill them), a CIA agent, Tony Mendez, is assigned to rescue them and he does so by coming up with the “best, worst idea” they have: Mendez will pretend to be a Canadian movie producer scouting locations in Iran and then take the six out with him pretending that they are part of his crew. 
There’s nothing that wrong with the movie.  It more than gets the job done.  And it has some wonderful aspects to it, especially in some of the supporting roles.  Alan Arkin plays a once big movie producer now reduced to accepting life time achievement awards and he plays his part as if it’s the role of his life (he may be as old as the jokes, but he makes them zing as if they’ve never been told before).   John Goodman solidifies his career as one of our most enjoyable supporting actors as John Chambers, a make up artist who won an Oscar for the original Planet of the Apes movie.   Victor Garber takes a nothing role as the Canadian Ambassador and fills it with such humanity, one wants to give him the Nobel Peace Prize.  And there’s a scene at the end where the annoying Doubting Thomas/Debbie Downer character, who had bad talked the mission the whole way, fulfills his arc by suddenly becoming more invested in his playacting than the others, describing the fake movie they are not shooting to some Iranian guards as if he was pitching the project that could make or break him (which it could, I suppose).
At the same time, as fun as it is, one does wish it could have been better.  The rest of the cast is filled with a bunch of TV actors as if the producers were hoping that casting them alone would cover up a certain flatness in most of the roles (it doesn’t, though, as hard as people like Bryan Cranston try).  The second act drags a bit, and though the third act is exciting, it is also a bit over the top (so over the top, it’s obvious it didn’t quite happen this way—and it didn’t—the most suspense the real participants had at the airport was a ticket agent who suddenly disappeared for no reason for ten minutes, only to return with a cup of tea) and relies on the authorities turning into a bunch of Keystone Revolutionary Guards (one wanted to shout to them, “Just call the tower, you idiots”).
And then there’s Ben Affleck.  Many, including yours truly, were relieved when he became a director.  He wasn’t doing anything that interesting from an acting standpoint and his career seemed to stall.  Then he gave us Gone, Baby, Gone and he was back with a vengeance.   Since then, he has become a more than competent director.  Unfortunately, he’s also gone back to acting and keeps putting himself in the lead in his films.  There’s nothing wrong with his performance here, but like most of the supporting ones, he can do little with breathing real life into the role and I just kept thinking how much more interesting the film might have been if someone with more screen presence, like Jeremy Renner or Ryan Gosling or Michael Fassbender, had been in the lead.
But then I saw the movie Seven Psychopaths (the second feature by writer/director Martin McDonagh, who gave us the deliriously wonderful In Bruges in 2008) the same day as Argo and what a study in contrasts.   
Where Argo was made with a studio finesse, …Psychopaths is a shaggy dog of a story; where Argo is the perfect movie to study for formula with all I’s dotted and tittles crossed, …Psychopaths feels made up as it goes along;  where Argo is filled with a supporting cast of actors that seem to be used to cover up a lack of depth in the characters, …Psychopaths has one of the most impressively written ensembles inhabited by perhaps the best and most exciting cast of the year (even when it comes to using TV actors, Argo comes up with Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights where …Psychopaths uses Boardwalk Empire’s Michaels’ Stuhlbarg and Pitt); where Argo feels like the poster child of how-to screenplay books and college classes, …Psychopaths seems to revel in saying “fuck you” (and not just implicitly, but also explicitly over and over again in the screenplay) to anyone who thinks one should write according to the rules; and where Argo feels satisfied to be what it is, a well made thriller, …Psychopaths feels infused with the passion and a desire to really do something personal. 
So whereas Argo is fun and extremely entertaining (and you will not be disappointed if you see it), Seven Psychopaths is something else: a wonderful, witty, perhaps brilliant rag tag of a movie that does nothing you expect and surprises you in ways that very few movies do.
The basic story line revolves around Marty, a screenwriter who is blocked, (Collin Ferrell, who along with Renner, et al., would probably also have been a better choice for the lead in Argo) and his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell, in perhaps his finest performance to date), who makes a living kidnapping dogs with his friend Hans (a heartbreaking Christopher Walken).   All Marty has for his opus is the title, Seven Psychopaths, but nothing else.  But in working out his storyline, he finds himself caught up in Billy and Hans’ world, especially after they abduct a dog from the sociopathic mobster Charlie (Woody Harrelson, who seems to be having more and more fun the further he gets away from the role that first made his name, that of obtuse, country boy Woody in the TV series Cheers).  Let’s just say that chaos, violence and hilarity ensue.
McDonagh  does some remarkable things in Seven Psychopaths.  The story is ridiculous.  It’s almost never believable.  It’s so over the top, it makes Scarface look like Little Lord Fauntleroy.   But the more preposterous the movie becomes, the more caught up you are in the whole stupid, insane mess.  And just when you don’t think it can get any more outrageous, McDonagh pulls a rabbit out of his hat (both figuratively and literally) and doesn’t just go one level higher, he makes a tiny adjustment and suddenly you’re so emotionally caught up in the whole thing, you find yourself on the verge of tears.   No matter how far from reality the story gets, there’s something so real at the core, that the emotions at times sweep over you in ways that never make any sense, but yet, there they are.  How does he do it?  I don’t know.  But there’s no point in fighting it; resistance is futile.
In the end, though I think Seven Psychopaths is a far superior movie to Argo, I think both represent what I wish movies would be.  If you’re going to do a studio driven, formulaic movie that doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is, at least make them as entertaining and intelligent and enjoyable as Argo.   But if you’re going to write something personal, if you’re going to revel in being independent and taking movies in a new and unique direction, then movies like Seven Psychopaths are indispensable.   Argo is the future of the studios.  Seven Psychopaths is the future of filmmaking.