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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

February 13, 2013 at 10:43 AM

Oscar countdown: ‘Argo’

We continue our alphabetical countdown to Oscar night with the second of nine Best Picture nominees: “Argo.” The third feature from actor/director Ben Affleck (who won an Oscar for screenwriting 15 years ago for “Good Will Hunting,” when he was just a lad), “Argo” is one of those you-couldn’t-make-this-up true stories, about how a secret CIA/Canadian operation rescued a group of Americans in 1980 Tehran by pretending to be Hollywood filmmakers. It’s the kind of story that Hollywood loves — having George Clooney as a producer doesn’t hurt either — and “Argo” has enjoyed a pleasant cruise through awards season, winning top awards from the Directors Guild, Producers Guild, BAFTA, SAG (for outstanding cast), Golden Globes and others. Interestingly, though “Argo” doesn’t entirely stick to the facts of its story — particularly in its final moments — it’s largely escaped the was-it-real-or-wasn’t-it scrutiny that “Zero Dark Thirty” has gotten. Like “ZDT,” it pulls off a difficult feat: bringing suspense to a story for which we already know the ending — and it just might get the ultimate happy ending come Oscar night.
Total U.S. box office: $123 million, placing it fourth among the Best Picture nominees.
Total Oscar nominations: Seven, for best picture, adapted screenplay, supporting actor (Alan Arkin), editing, sound mixing, sound editing. No directing nomination for Affleck, which was a bit of a shocker; the Directors Guild of America made up for it by giving him their top award.
Best chance for a win: Oddly, the top award seems the most likely; this may well be one of those years when the major awards go to a number of different films. Arkin, who won this category a few years back (for “Little Miss Sunshine”), is a long shot, and my guess is that “Lincoln” might take adapted screenplay award.
Odds of this movie creating some fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: Only three times has a movie won Best Picture without a directing nomination — and only once since the early 1930s (“Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989; the others were “Wings” in 1929 and “Grand Hotel” in 1931). Usually on Oscar night, the directing award gives a strong hint of how Best Picture might go — not this year.
Fun fact: In real life, the movie called “Argo” in the film began as a screenplay called “Lord of Light,” based on a novel by Roger Zelazny. Comic book artist Jack Kirby made some production drawings for the film; you can see one of them here.
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John Goodman and Ben Affleck in “Argo.” (Photo by Claire Folger; courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Oscar night is Feb. 24. Join me for a live discussion during red-carpet arrivals and the show, that afternoon at seattletimes.com.

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