We have all seen it happen before. One minute, everyone thinks Adele is a talented, emotional singer who writes amazing break up songs. Then suddenly, her album becomes extremely successful, her songs are on the radio, she wins plenty of Grammy Awards, and people are saying that she is whiny and monotone with boring music. That’s the effect of popularity. One minute, everyone loves your art, but as soon as you achieve major success, people are right there waiting to bring you down and make you look like garbage. What drives this negative backlash? Jealousy? Competition? Whatever the case, people seem to underestimate the work that goes into a great piece of art, especially in music or film. As the Oscars are quickly approaching, I can’t help but think of the perfect example of this effect: last year’s winner for Best Picture, Argo.
Criticisms toward Argo have been around since it debuted at TIFF, where some, including former Canadian Ambassador Kenneth Taylor, who had taken in the American hostages during the crisis, felt that the role of the Canadians was downplayed. I can understand this frustration: no one wants to see good peoples’ efforts ignored for entertainment and commercial gain.
After TIFF, Ambassador Taylor was flown out to Los Angeles to rewrite some of the film’s post script that he felt was disrespectful to the Canadians. Ben Affleck, the film’s director and star, has even agreed to speak in an upcoming documentary about this rescue mission.
In having actually watched Argo, I can’t say that I shared these negative sentiments. In fact, when the movie concluded, I said to my cousin in the next seat over, “And that’s why you don’t mess with Canadians.” There were many things that I figured were fake, such as the imminent danger that the fugitives always seemed to be in. But from the opening protest and ambush scene to the post script at the end, both of us were thoroughly entranced, thrilled and entertained. Beyond the impressive directing, acting and filmmaking, it reaffirmed the love of movies that we both share: her working in the film industry and me writing movie reviews. We both knew that it was a contender for Best Picture and held on to that notion right up until Oscar night.
I was not aware of the aforementioned controversy going into the film, but while I knew that some the events were based in truth, I was aware that this is a drama “Based on a True Story”, not a documentary where everything actually existed as seen. I later picked up a copy of Tony Mendez’s autobiography, The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA, on which the screenplay for the film was based. Other than many dramatic alterations made, the film stayed respectful to Mendez’s account of events. The film was meant to focus on and glorify Mendez’s role in the mission. If anyone should be criticized for downplaying Canadian involvement, it should be the man who first stated in his autobiography that the CIA classified their involvement and played up the Canadians’ role accordingly.
Even though these controversial beliefs have been around since the film debuted, it was only after the Oscars that these allegations became mainstream opinions. Suddenly, vast amounts of people were accusing the Academy of promoting American sentiments over artistic value. But what happened in the months between TIFF and Oscar night? Argo was number one in the North American and Australian box office and held an 8.0 rating on IMDB and a spot on its Top 250 (it has since dropped to a 7.8 rating and off the list). In addition, when the Oscar nominations were announced, many people in the industry were shocked by Ben Affleck’s exclusion in the Best Director category.
And it’s not like Argo was the only film facing such controversy leading into last year’s awards.
Fellow Best Picture nominee and contender Zero Dark Thirty was under scrutiny for many fictional aspects of its story, such as the successful use of torture and the portrayal of one agent driving the mission. While the idea of one agent fighting adversity to get the job done makes for an inspiring story, it is, like many characterizations in Argo, not based in fact.
Also a contender, Lincoln encountered its fair share of criticism. While praised for its mostly accurate plot, it grazed over some details in the passing of the sixteenth amendment and the abolitionist movement. These details, however, were not as influential as those in the other two movies.
Silver Linings Playbook received some criticism for its portrayal of mental illness. Many viewers are also unaware that while it is an excellent stand-alone movie, it is based on a novel by Matthew Quick, who develops the main characters’ troubles and what caused them. Some of these troubles were simplified in the making of this comedy, such as the exact reasons why Tiffany made the decisions that she did.
Django Unchained was also unable to escape controversy (but it’s not like Tarantino tried to avoid it). Alongside the film’s excessive violence and abundant use of “the n word”, critics point out that certain elements of the slave experience, such as the fights, were highly unlikely and that there is no evidence that such fights happened. That being said, Django is a fictional story.
Each of the above are great movies. My question is this: would the accusations against any of the other nominees have been as publicized as Argo if they took the top prize?
There was a lot of criticism at the ceremony last year surrounding the presence of Michelle Obama, who presented the Best Picture award via satellite to Argo. Many argued that this just pushed the American pride that Argo was apparently going for.
While I can see why some may find this suspicious, Michelle Obama was there to present the award regardless of who won. If she announced Zero Dark Thirty instead, would people have called this gesture the Academy and the US Government supporting torture in interrogation to get vengeance for one of the biggest disasters in American history? Of if it were Lincoln, would they have said she was patting an American hero on the back? Cynics who accused the Academy of supporting “All-American” aesthetics probably had a cow when this year’s nominees were announced.
Four of them have US-centric titles (American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street). Then there’s Captain Phillips, where the US Navy rescues a cargo ship taken over by Somalian pirates. Gravity shows the mistakes of the Russians resulting in major damage to multiple space crafts and the survival of an American doctor, and 12 Years a Slave displays a dark time in American history, showing how far society has progressed since then.
I have not yet seen Her or Philomena, but since Philomena’s story is a British one, I bid these cynics good luck in their support of it.
At the end of the day, it’s all just show business. Ten years from now, the films that are meant to stand the test time will do so and those that aren’t will fade into obscurity. As much as I enjoy immersing myself in the fun and excitement of Hollywood awards season, the opinion of the Academy voters as to what the best movie of the year is will affect neither my personal life nor that of the majority of you. For those of us whose only investment has been some money at the movie theatre, we should look back at the new experiences that we had thanks to the filmmakers who put these movies together.
There will always be something worth criticising; nothing’s perfect. Every piece of art, activity, decision or event will have some flaw to it, and while pointing these flaws out could be in our best interests, would it not be so much more productive if people were honest from the get go and didn’t just attack whatever society says it’s okay to criticize? We have become a society that is so susceptible to the opinions of others.
And so I encourage everyone who has lasted to the end of this article to do one thing. The next time someone tries to tell you what you should think, be open-minded and optimistic and decide for yourself, because at the end of the day, it is only personal optimism that will make us happy.
Photo Credits: imdb.com, obsession.nouvelobs.com
About the contributor: Ashley Moniz is a new contributor to The International Passion. He is studying Political Science and Drama Studies at York University-Glendon College. He hopes to go on to law school. He has enjoyed the experience that he has gained writing his own movie reviews on his Facebook page, Ashley Moniz’s Movie Reviews. His words were also published on the paperback for Martin McAlear & Lyndsay Sinko’s novel, The New King. You can read his movie reviews on the above listed page and follow him on Twitter at @AshleyMoniz