It’s been more than a week since the Oscars and more than a couple of weeks since I’ve seen two of some of the most talked about movies of the year. Two weeks, and I am Still Les Miserable over Argo.
Having seen both Les Mis and Argo, I would’ve thought that Les Mis would’ve won the Academy Award for Best Picture. This is not to discount that Argo was a fine film, as it really was, but looking at both from the angle of “making the most out of a medium” the aspect would have to favor Les Mis. While readers would dismiss this blog as being biased for Victor Hugo, I would like to posit my opinions in both praises and criticism for Argo.
For those who haven’t seen Argo a synopsis of the movie could be found here:
Argo was a good story told on film and would rank to be one of the finest examples of “story telling”. Argo proves that it is very hard to ruin a really good story, especially if it is one from history that remained untold. Cinematography was rendered in style and feel that made you think that you were watching a film from that period (circa 1979).
Perhaps some of its minor flaws are pointed out due to its sincere efforts to be “era-correct”. These efforts noted were the use of a warm tones for the entire film and the non-high-tech cinematographic techniques such as the hand zoom-ins from aerials. There seems to be an effort to portray cinematographic techniques available during the time. There was even a scene where the camera focused on a picture of Lee Majors on a wall. These images purposefully draw us into a particular point in time. Some of the throw-offs however were:
The use of Blue LED lights in one of the robots seen on a set. Blue LEDs were not popularly used till late.
The wipers on the Canadian Ambassador’s car used one of those floppy rubber types which didn’t come into popular use till the late 90’s to early 2000s
Speaking about cars… I was also thrown off by the appearance of a yellow Pontiac Firebird in the beginning of the movie. You would think that the protagonist would’ve used such a car, it turns out that he didn’t. Cars play an important role in movies as they are often used to develop the characters of leading men. In this case the yellow Firebird was just a scene-stealing fluke. These minor flukes are enough to throw off the “suspension of disbelief”.
In fairness I would have to say that we saw Ben Affleck at his best, as an actor or maybe even as a director. He successfully disappeared into his role as a kind-hearted CIA operative. Remembering the classic singly dimensioned Ben Affleck in “The Town”, he was able to reinvent himself in Argo. Do I believe it was good enough for the award? “I don’t know”… So Alan Arkin says: “Argo F#¢* yourself!”
In contrast, “Les Miserable” in my opinion represents the best of what film could do to an already great classic story, even-more-so one of the best-loved musicals of all time. Having seen Les Mis twice on Broadway, once as a High-School student and another time in College. I was somewhat familiar with the story but even more familiar with many of the songs. Seeing a show on Broadway tends to be more of a musical experience rather than anything else. It was a cultural experience that is less on the story but more on the performance.
Seeing Les Mis on film adds a strong visual element from what is usually missed on stage. Film complements the entire story by painting scenes that are difficult or impossible to portray on stage. Even if you had the best seats in the house, you can never have the multitude of literal perspectives and angles that cameras could give. The stage could never display the poetic illusions that film could give in terms of scale, colors and effects.
By adding strong visual elements, stories are better understood and the totality of the experience is enhanced by a ten-fold. In all honestly, I never understood the story behind Les Mis until I saw the movie. Scenes, which were confusing on stage, were clarified on film. These instances were especially true when scenes required apparitions. The story was replete with them.
As far as performances are concerned the movie never failed as well. All the actors played roles where you didn’t see a Singing Gladiator, an Australian Drover or a Sex Slave that wears Prada. All three of them dissolved into their characters. Most of all, everyone was drawn into a visual and musical experience that makes you forget the world for at least a few hours. Everyone was gripped by the experience. All eyes were glued to the screen; everyone seemed almost captured by the music. Best of all, the audience was sympathetic to the all the characters and equally absorbed within the greater context of the narrative. It was a profoundly human experience that bridged across time and cultures.
Isn’t that what a great movie is all about? Aren’t we supposed to award great works of arts as so? I believe that the Oscars are more about the politics and actors rather than the human and cultural achievement brought about by the medium of film. It begs us to question the legacy of cultural and artistic value that we will leave behind. If that is what Hollywood is selling, then I have to say: “Argo F#¢* yourself too!” As for now, I’ll remain Les Miserable over Argo.