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Argo-ing for Ben Affleck’s talent

by Victor Rodriguez / Columnist • January 31, 2013

The recent rise of risk-takers and independent productions has had its impact on the upcoming Academy Awards. This year’s Best Picture nominations boasts impressive variety, from the French film, Amour, to the indie Beasts of the Southern Wild. Argo, Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort, garnered seven nominations, including Best Picture. This was also the first year that one of Ben Affleck’s films got a nod for more than one Academy Award. He is a director whose short career is aching for recognition. Affleck turned from being a broken-down star to a director worthy of attention, and has become the prime example that such a transition can work.

To think of Ben Affleck as a risk-taker is historically challenging. It isn’t as if we’ve forgotten his past collaborations in disappointments like Daredevil and Pearl Harbor, both of which earned him nominations for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor. Despite occasional highs like Good Will Hunting or Hollywoodland, Affleck was on a slippery slope.

There is, however, risk-taking in his work as a director. Working with smaller studios has provided him with enough freedom to direct acclaimed thrillers. Gone Baby Gone, a movie about two private investigators looking for an abducted girl in Boston saw its way through numerous 2007 critics’ top 10 lists, including the Associated Press, as well as receiving awards at various film critics circles. 

In 2010, Affleck followed up with the The Town about a team of bank robbers. It received high critical praise and was a success at the box-office, although, like Gone Baby Gone, it only received one nomination at the Oscars. The American Film Institute named The Town one of its 10 films of the year, calling it a “great American heist movie.” Not only that, but Variety’s Justin Chang lauded The Town film for putting an optimistic spin on the sub-genre of Boston-based crime movies like The Departed and Mystic River.

This year, Ben Affleck once again surprised with his thriller Argo. It centers on a CIA operative who poses as a movie producer to rescue six American diplomats from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. Once again, critics were astounded by Affleck’s directing abilities. He keeps the thrills high in nearly every scene. And in its technicalities, the camerawork is tense and recalls a war movie or documentary. The crafting of Argo is timeless, and although it takes place in 1979, it is a film for audiences today. Rather than praising the United States, it praises the man who made the mission happen when nobody else would.

Despite Argo’s seven Oscar nominations, the Academy failed to recognize Affleck’s role as a director, leaving the film at a disadvantage for Best Picture. Historically, films not nominated for Best Director rarely win Best Picture.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Affleck acknowledged that it was frustrating that he didn’t get a nod from the Academy as a director after he had won the Golden Globe for the same category. The Hollywood Reporter even noted the possibility that Academy voters could “fix” the Affleck snub by writing him in. It would be extraordinary occurrence, although not probable. Still, it is a case worthy of attention, and among the few proofs that the transition from actor to director can, in fact, be fortuitous.