Confession time: There are few things I hate more than when an audience — especially one composed of journalists — claps at the end of a movie. Yes, I'm a joyless snob who cringes at the sight of kittens riding unicorns across dazzling rainbows. But a post-film ovation seems so...useless. The actors can't hear you! Neither can the director, screenwriter or cinematographer! Why bother? Yet, as the credits rolled on "Argo" at a recent press screening, there I was hooting and hollering like a cheerleader at homecoming.
In fact, as I walked to catch the bus home, I sent a barrage of effusive missives across all of my social networks (except Myspace; you haven't won me back yet, JT), pleading with my friends, family and followers to see the Ben Affleck-directed drama. I may have even said it was the most enjoyable movie of the year.
To be clear, I didn't declare "Argo" the best movie of the year. I'm not a film critic (though most of them do agree that "Argo" is pretty awesome), and I'm not going to contemplate its Oscar chances. But as someone who enjoys movies and writes about them for a living, I feel confident saying it is one of the most fun movies you'll watch this year. Which, for a feature about the Iran hostage crisis, is an unexpected treat.
In case you're not familiar with the real-life story, which came to light after President Clinton declassified heaps of documents in 1997, "Argo" centers around a group of six Americans working in the embassy in Iran, who after coming under attack, seek refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. The CIA cooks up a number of hairbrained schemes to free them (including one involving bicycles and 300 miles of harsh Middle Eastern terrain), but the most outlandish idea of all comes courtesy of Affleck's Tony Mendez: pose as Canadian filmmakers scouting locations for a "Star Wars" rip-off titled "Argo." As one character points out mid-way through the film, it's just crazy enough that it might work.
What unfolds is a nail-biting thriller infused with moments of laugh-out-loud levity. From zingy one-liners made at the expense of the Hollywood machine, to the film's de facto catch phrase "Argo F--- Yourself!" (based, apparently, on an old knock-knock joke), you may just end up peeing your pants — whether from anxiety or hilarity, you'll never know.
Of course, the tone set by screenwriter Chris Terrio and director Affleck is only heightened by a cabal of high-class talent. The pairing of Alan Arkin and John Goodman as the film's fake financiers is reminiscent of the best buddy comedies, while Bryan Cranston (who has never met a grizzled smart-ass role he didn't like, especially of late), is in typically fine Cranstonian form here. Add in Chris Messina, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan and Kyle "Coach Taylor" Chandler, and well, let's see another director top that anytime soon.
Ultimately, "Argo" is what every film should aspire to be. Dramatic. Humorous. Suspenseful. Touching. It's not a perfect film, but I'll bet it's among the most enjoyable you see all year. And I'm more than happy to give it a hand.
Check out everything we've got on "Argo."