Affleck Overlooked? – The Abstract Art of Movie Directing

Ben Affleck Oscar
Ben Affleck was holding only one of the two Oscars he deserved.

When we watch a film we can generally tell if it is a great movie or not.  We know, because we just watched it, and it was great.  It’s pretty simple, right?  We can tell when special effects are fantastic and when they aren’t   A good score can make a good movie a great movie, and we know the score was good by how it made us feel.  These things aren’t necessarily measurable numerically, but they are tangible things that the everyday movie fan can understand and think about.  But what if somebody asked you to describe what was right or wrong about the director’s performance.  How good or bad was his “direction?”

With the Academy Awards in everybody’s rear view mirror, a lot of people are still asking the question, HOW, after crafting Argo, this year’s Best Picture award winner, did Ben Affleck not garner a victory, or even a nomination in the Best Director category.  It is certainly an odd situation, when the man who steps on stage to accept the award that states that the film he made was the best of the year, is not also considered among the best directors in that same year.

“IT’S A TRAVESTY!” I hear you film fanatics scream.  Well, I would be inclined to agree with you.  But let’s take a step back and think about this for a minute.  Many of us would have no problem stating that Affleck is a fantastic director of films, who did a fantastic job on Argo.  But what if somebody asked us to really describe why?  I could say “he made an amazing movie,” certainly.  But if someone took me one question deeper, “What specifically did he do that made it so great,”  I might just draw a blank.

The cinematography was awesome!  Great, must have been a hell of a cinematographer.

The editing was unreal!  Yeah, that editor killed it.

The camera work!  Oh, the camera work!  Better give that camera man a raise.

Get the idea?

The Evidence

Let’s look at Affleck’s films.  First, there’s Gone Baby Gone, one of my all-time personal favorite films.  The film is based on a truly amazing book by Dennis Lehane, so you know the story is going to be great.  The cast was full of great actors and actresses, from Morgan Freeman to Ed Harris.  A great actor is a great actor, so we knew the performances would be there right?

Next, there is The Town.  It has action, romance, intense heist scenes.  Everybody loves a good heist movie.  It’s another film full of great actors, and with great writing behind it.  Granted, Affleck was involved in writing the screenplay, but that’s writing, not directing.

Then, of course, we have Argo.  This film also had a magnificent cast that received nominations from The Oscars and The Golden Globes.  It certainly had that area covered. But what really got me thinking, was when I heard a few people comment on the story behind the film.  One individual during the Oscar recap said that the film had “all the makings” of a Best Picture winner.  A true story, about an outlandish rescue mission that saved a large number of American lives from a foreign government.  Not to mention, that this was all CIA classified until recently.   It was America’s movie this year.  When you really look at the deck, Argo certainly had all the cards.  What did Affleck really have to do to make this film successful?

Here’s a sports analogy for you.  A real mind bender.  The Miami Heat are winning games in their sleep right now.  Does that make Erik Spoelstra the best coach in the NBA.  I don’t think so.  Sometimes I wonder if my grandmother could have coached this team to a championship.  What makes a great musical score truly great?  Is it the composer, or the highly skilled musicians behind each instrument?  Which is more important, and how do they fit together?

With this being said, who actually did win Best Director?  Ang Lee took home the award for his visual masterpiece, Life of Pi.  This was a fantastic piece of storytelling and another deserving film, also based on a popular book.  Many called the book “un-filmable” due to its outlandish style and imagination.  So in many ways, anyone who is able to film it effectively, is certainly deserving of high praise.  Ang Lee’s movie was declared “un-filmable” while you could argue that Affleck’s movie was destined for greatness as soon as the CIA unclassified the case file it was based on.

So The Academy got it right?

Well, no.  So it looks like I agree with The Academy’s decision not to nominate Ben Affleck.  I may have even just discredited the whole art of film directing in general, by stating that with the right pieces, their direction is far less relevant.  I definitely just did that.  But that’s not how I really feel.  I don’t think it is anyway.

In actual fact, despite all that I have just written, I do believe Affleck should have been nominated and even wanted him to take home the prize.  Maybe it’s because he has made three straight fantastic movies, coming back from devastating criticisms at where his career was headed a less than a decade or so ago.  Maybe it’s because Argo was a deep, insightful and genuinely thrilling true story, which had tension, humor and a gritty realism not often captured on camera.

The story was amazing, how couldn’t it be a hit?  Well yeah, Ang Lee really worked a miracle.  I mean the novel “Life of Pi” was basically just toilet roll with a hardback cover and some text on it, right? It only sold 10 million copies worldwide.

What about all the great actors?  Anybody ever seen Righteous Kill?

(Yes, I am arguing with myself here.  If I had someone to argue with I wouldn’t be writing a blog)

The Conclusion?

Maybe I brought up some valid points in this discussion.  Perhaps, the role of the director is overvalued.  For those of us on the outside, the art of Directing may be too abstract to measure, too far in the background for us to truly judge.  Those involved in the film, the actors, the camera men, the producers, the crew, they can measure a director and they understand their value.  However, at the end of the day, we as movie viewers decide if we like or dislike a film.  Either way, somebody made that film.  Argo was the best film of the year.  Ben Affleck made that film, and whatever he did, no matter how much or how little, he did it flawlessly and with great skill.  Not everyone could have made that film.  A different director would have done it a different way.  If that wasn’t the case, we’d all direct a movie.  Maybe it doesn’t need to be so complicated.

Ben Affleck made the best film of the year, and he was the best director of the year.

Just don’t ask me why.

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