We’re entering Awards Season, folks. For most of you, that usually means seeing your favorite films of the year lose to what you’d consider the “lesser” Weinstein picture. It’s always very frustrating, but one of those movies you may be cheering on — and has Oscar nominations written all over it — is Ben Affleck‘s Argo. The movie is a shoe-in for both the heavy hitter nods and countless spots on year-end top 10 lists. To GQ, this makes Affleck the director of the year, considering how he went from “loathed, frat boy Ben Affleck” to “esteemed filmmaker Ben Affleck.” It’s a transformation, for sure, and one to be proud of, but does continuing an epic comeback we all knew about really make him filmmaker of the year for 2012?
Affleck proved himself as the director of the year in 2010 with The Town. That doesn’t mean he made the best movie of that year — and he certainly didn’t — but it was a big statement for Affleck the filmmaker. He proved Gone Baby Gone was no fluke — that he was the real deal. Although Argo is the best of these three films, it doesn’t say as much about his directorial career as his first two features do.
The intense, funny thriller does show he’s capable of going outside his Boston-set roots and delivering a film of more scope. Beyond that, Argo isn’t much of a surprise. After only two films, Affleck has already become a reliable director, to the point where you know you’ll probably get the goods going into an Affleck-directed film. Argo was exactly what we’d thought it’d be, and that’s a good thing.
Still, there is a workmanlike quality to the man’s work, something the writer-actor-director acknowledges himself. This doesn’t mean he’s in it for the paycheck, but that his features have a simplistic, refreshingly straightforward approach. If Argo says anything more major than “Affleck’s movies are da bomb,” it’s that he isn’t an attention-seeking storyteller. His award contender isn’t a major political statement or a technical marvel, but instead a story of six people trying to survive and one man doing his job. That’s what makes Argo work.
When Affleck receives his Best Director and Picture nomination from the Academy, it will be well-earned. But, still, if anyone is the filmmaker of the year, it’s Ang Lee, Rian Johnson, the Wachowski Starship, or Sam Mendes. Lee did what many filmmakers couldn’t do with the “unfilmable” Life of Pi; Looper successfully introduced one of today’s youngest and brightest directors in a sophisticated, entertaining, and commercial way; the Wachowskis gained back lots of fans they lost with their Matrix sequels; and Mendes made a 50-year-old franchise feel more alive than ever.
These films — and some of which that aren’t as good as Argo — say more about who these filmmakers are than the Iran CIA thriller does for Affleck.
That’s ultimately not a bad position to be in, because it means we already know what kind of filmmaker Affleck is. After three movies, he’s a director with smarts, confidence, and mass appeal. Like a more refined version of Clint Eastwood who knows he has to do more than one take, we now have a concrete (and concretely positive) expectation for what we’re going to get from Affleck.
So, he isn’t the filmmaker of the year, but he is certainly one of the best filmmakers of 2012. Let’s give him that title again when he cracks an adaption as ambitious as The Stand or surprises us outside his comfort zone before we give him the title. Lucky for him (and for us), he has plenty of time and talent to achieve it at some point.
Side Note: Maybe if Affleck expanded his student short film I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meathook, and Now I Have a Three Picture Deal at Disney — which I’m sure Mr. Affleck would want you to watch right here — into a feature length film, then he would be the filmmaker of the year.