When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Argo Best Picture at the 85th Academy Awards on Feb. 24, it was the second year in a row that the top prize went to a film that made Hollywood feel good about itself. It’s this kind of self-congratulating that is now the first and foremost criteria of Oscar voting, pushing an awards ceremony that was already narcissistic and out-of-touch even further away from artistic merit and filmmaking quality.
Argo won for two reasons: to avenge Ben Affleck’s “snub” from a nomination in the Best Director category - which the Academy itself votes on - and because it is, ultimately, a film about how Hollywood helped save lives during the Iran hostage crisis.
The first was the result of an asinine campaign that somehow painted Affleck as deserving of - and slighted of - recognition for his directing of Argo. When the Oscar nominations came out on Jan. 10, there was a burst of outrage that Affleck had not been nominated. Why? From the film’s release until that morning, Argo had gone from a solid, if only a tad banal, directorial follow-up to the straightforward The Town, to ho-hum Oscar prospect.
Before the nominations, did anyone really think Argo was deserving of Best Picture? But then the nominations were released and no one could believe that Affleck wasn’t nominated for Best Director - even if the film itself was up for Best Picture. How could they snub one of their own, a classic comeback story like Affleck? Although I’m not sure how it’s a comeback story. Was Affleck ever really “down and out?” - he’s freaking Ben Affleck.
His snub rallied the troops, drew attention to an imagined disrespect of Affleck and he and his film proceeded to scoop up award after award leading up to the Oscars, until finally Argo became the odds-on favorite and eventual winner of Best Picture, when just two months prior it had been closer to a “lucky to have been nominated” kind of film.
The opportunity to “make right” any previous transgressions of the Hollywood-beloved Affleck was too great to pass up for the Academy. That, coupled with the fact that the film lauds Hollywood as an integral part of the CIA mission that rescued six Americans trapped in post-revolution Iran, makes for a Best Picture award that is little more than Hollywood getting off on itself. Of course the Academy would call Argo the best of 2012; Hollywood comes off as an international hero.
The Artist, Best Picture winner at the 84th Academy Awards, received adulation for a similar reason. The film’s success comes from its nostalgia for Hollywood’s heyday, a 100-minute appeal to the audience to remember how nice and quaint movies used to be. Had The Artist not been a “silent” film - something that seems more gimmicky than anything - it too wouldn’t have been the Oscar favorite it eventually became.
The Academy Awards have stopped rewarding films for their quality and have simply descended into picking whichever makes Hollywood feel the greatest about itself as its Best Picture. Oscar ceremonies have always been about the movie elite gushing over one another; Argo taking home Best Picture is evident of how far that trend has come.