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Argo is the Film to Beat for Oscar's Big Prize

Argo, the movie, is about Argo, the movie that never was

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Argo, a near-perfect thriller with a hard-to-fathom-but-true back story, is the movie to beat for the Best Picture Oscar. With a bucketful of heart-in-your-throat moments, it's also one of the year's funniest films. If you think you know the story of how six Americans were rescued from the 1980 siege of the United States embassy in Iran, think again. This little-known tale of a supposedly well-known rescue will throw you for a loop.

History tells us that the Americans made it out alive, but I must confess to feeling dread as I watched the final 20 minutes of Argo. I bought this film--hook, line and sinker--entirely to the credit of director and star Ben Affleck, who needs to make some room on his mantel for a second Oscar.

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Argo is being launched into theaters at a time when we know all too well how bad things can go at an American embassy. In fact, less than 12 hours prior to its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in an attack on our Benghazi consulate.

With emotions so raw, I risked either a miserable or exhilarating experience in watching Argo at TIFF. I'm happy to report that it was the latter. It turns out that Argo is indeed an important film, asking us to consider valor, sacrifice and duty to foreign service.

Argo, the movie, is about Argo, the movie that never was. Concocted with just enough phoniness to pass as a "legitimate" Hollywood film, the CIA used the guise of a faux-movie to scout shooting locations in Iran. The plan, ridiculous at best, was to smuggle the six Americans out as members of the film crew.

"This is the best bad idea we have," says CIA boss Jack O'Donnell (Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston) before sending operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) on a fool's errand. In Mendez, whose identity was only recently declassified, we are introduced to an unlikely hero of the highest order.

Affleck and Cranston are supported by a superb cast, including Victor Garber (Alias) and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights). But it's Alan Arkin and John Goodman who steal the show as a pair of grizzled Hollywood veterans recruited to front the phony Argo. Here's a bit of their repartee:

"Oh well, history begins as farce and ends as tragedy," says Arkin's Lester Siegel.

"I think you have that backwards," responds Goodman's John Chambers. "History begins as tragedy and ends as farce."

"Really? Who said that?"

"Marx."

"Groucho said that?"

Priceless. If it weren't for such comic relief, Argo would be almost uncomfortably taut. Instead, it's a fluid story with heart and humor that also happens to thrust its audience into a geopolitical hell.

Along with Silver Linings Playbook and the much-anticipated Lincoln from Steven Spielberg, Argo needs to be at the top of your must-see list. Right now, I'm betting that Argo wins Best Picture. Hollywood loves a happy ending, especially when it is the hero.

Related Film

Argo

Official Site: www.argothemovie.com

Director: Ben Affleck

Producer: Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, David Klawans, Nina Wolarsky, Chris Brigham, Chay Carter, Graham King and Tim Headington

Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver, Keith Szarabajka, Bob Gunton, Richard Kind, Richard Dillane, Omid Abtahi and Page Leong

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