Tilly: Leave Affleck out of it

BY ZACH TILLY | MARCH 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Something you should know about me: If you step to Ben Affleck, you step to me.

That’s why Ben Ross’s column that ran on this page on Tuesday upset me so much. Ross, whom I do not know personally, was unhappy with the Academy’s decision to award the Best Picture Oscar to Argo, directed by one Ben Affleck.

Here is an excerpt from Ross’s brutal ad hominem attack against Argo and its creator:
“That Ben Affleck, the once-lovable screw up from Dazed and Confused got to stroll on stage with his pseudo-intellectual facial hair and accept the Oscar for best film made me swell deep in the wallows of my gut.”

The snobbery disgusts me. Affleck’s is a story of redemption; he’s an American hero. To suggest that he was somehow personally unworthy of his Oscar is absurd.

Chances are you first encountered Affleck jogging up Matt Damon’s driveway in a tracksuit in Good Will Hunting. After that — late-90s, early ’00s — he was hot. Armageddon, Shakespeare in Love, Pearl Harbor. He played Jack Ryan in The Sum of All Fears.

Then came the lean times — the Bennifer I era. Affleck met Jennifer Lopez in 2002 and promptly rattled off five stinkers in two years. Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas, Jersey Girl.

(Lopez and Affleck clearly brought out the worst in each other. Another product of the Bennifer I era was “Jenny from the Block.”)

It was during Bennifer I that first crossed paths with Ben Affleck. When I was 12 years old, I saw Daredevil on an airplane. I hated it; it’s a ridiculous, horrible movie.

Mid-decade, Affleck’s career was tanking. Nobody (nobody) comes back from a string of crap like that, just ask Josh Hartnett.

But Affleck did. He ditched J.Lo in 2004 and married Jennifer Garner in 2005 — so began the Bennifer II era. He started to right the ship. He did a little acting — Hollywoodland, Smokin’ Aces — and took up directing. In 2007 he made his directorial début with Gone Baby Gone, a movie that is unquestionably tremendous.

I began to consider that maybe there was more to Affleck than Daredevil.

Then he made The Town, which was good but not great. Then he made Argo.

Last Sunday at the Oscars, Affleck was redeemed.

Remember in Skyfall when Javier Bardem (looking like one of the Golden Girls) asks James Bond what his hobby is and Bond says: “Resurrection”?   

That’s Ben Affleck. He deserves every award he gets.

Now, let’s turn to Argo itself for a moment. In his column Tuesday, Ross asserted that Argo was not good enough to merit its Best Picture win. I respectfully disagree. Argo is a flawlessly executed thriller that’s tense throughout and gets more laughs than you’d expect, mostly thanks to Alan Arkin’s turn as a profane Hollywood executive.

Ross derided Argo as predictable; it’s a fair point, but I would suggest that Argo is predictable in the sense that Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty are predictable. Yes, you know that the hostages get out of Iran, just as you know that Lincoln frees the slaves and Seal Team Six kills bin Laden. Just like you know Mike Eruzione and Kurt Russell beat the Soviets in Miracle.

The core of each movie isn’t the predictable outcome but the story of how the characters get there. In Argo, the story moves at an exciting clip thanks to Affleck’s knack for suspense. Think of the scene when the film crew visits the Grand Bazaar or the climactic sequence in the Tehran airport. Sweaty palms, man.

The genius of Argo isn’t in its characters or its acting; the genius of Argo is its pacing. Affleck gradually builds and releases tension so that when that final tension breaks and the characters are safely on their way to Zurich, you feel safe, too. You feel like you’ve survived an ordeal.

Affleck achieved something really cool with Argo; he made a thriller that actually thrills.

Mr. Ross, I understand your unhappiness with the Academy — I have felt it myself. The dual snubbing of Moonrise Kingdom for Best Picture and Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director for Zero Dark Thirty infuriated me. The King’s Speech over a stacked field of Best Picture nominees in 2010? Outrageous.

But I think your disdain for Argo is misguided. It’s a great movie that deserved the award just as much as Zero Dark Thirty (my personal favorite of the year) or Lincoln.

If you must continue speaking ill of Argo, however, I will understand. Just leave Affleck out of it.

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