My number 9 film of 2012 is a true story about a fake movie.
9. “Argo" - In 1979, Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 American hostages.
I am old enough to remember the Iran Hostage Crisis, and even though I was only a kid at time, I recognized the general malaise which gripped the country.
Each day, the editors of my local newspaper printed the number of days of the crisis, and every once in a while I’d grab the front page and see “Day 103” or “Day 279” or “Day 356.”
Eventually and thankfully, on Day 444, the hostages returned home safely, but much sooner than that, six Americans - who initially escaped the embassy on the day of the initial raid - returned home from Tehran.
I must have been focusing on a Strat-O-Matic baseball game or playing eight hours of tackle football in a nearby park that day, because I really don’t recall this important breakthrough happening at all.
So, I am very happy that director Ben Affleck pulled together such an informative and entertaining movie which somehow covers a number of themes about this fascinating true story.
Hiding at the Canadian Ambassador's home for months, the six Americans can’t risk leaving the house - for fear of being discovered and pulled in with the 52 hostages - and therefore, remain trapped in Iran.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government tries to formulate a rescue, and CIA agent Tony Mendez hatches a seemingly preposterous idea:
He would pretend to be a movie producer scouting out locations in Iran for a science fiction film called “Argo.”
The six Americans would pose as his Canadian film crew, and they all fly out of the country together.
When asked if they doesn’t have a better bad idea, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) of CIA says, “This is the best bad idea we have, Sir...by far.”
This isn’t an ordinary plan, and Ben Affleck’s film doesn’t follow ordinary conventions.
From Hollywood and Washington D.C., Mendez knocks on doors and pulls strings in order to turn his “fake movie” idea (which, believe it or not, was inspired by his son) into a real mission.
The dichotomous moods - between the tense and terse events in Iran and the amusing navigation in Los Angeles - magically gel, and keep us off-balance, but, more importantly, peak our interest.
Give lots of credit to editor William Goldenberg - who rightfully earned his Best Achievement in Editing Oscar nomination - for balancing this complicated juggling act, and overall, “Argo” earned seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture (including a Best Supporting Actor nod for Arkin).
Mendez’s miracle mission is a completely fascinating true story, and Affleck adds actual footage from the period which draws gravitas and perspective of America's ordeal from 30-plus years ago.
At the end of the day, the initial mess doesn’t seem so far fetched and so far away, because “Argo” reminds us of the challenges we face in today's confusing geopolitical climate.
Follow me on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic