Movie Academy Awards 2013

Oscars 2013: Argo's win for best picture means everyone has to hate it now

Aargo OscarsThe 'Oscar film is dead.' Long live the Oscar film? Photograph: Stewart Cook / Rex Features

The only thing wrong with the Academy Awards is they make people hate perfectly decent movies. They generate a lot of cash and have become a small economy unto themselves, helping films get made that wouldn't otherwise see the light of day – but it all comes at a price.

How many times has it happened in the last five years that you've seen a film and thought something like "I'm glad they made that film" and not given it a second thought until it walks off with seven Academy Awards, at which point you have no option but to resent it for its pretensions to greatness, disown it when it comes up in conversation and frown over its flattening of far worthier competition.

So it is with Argo, which is a good film. It's not my favorite film of Ben Affleck's. I preferred The Town, a much faster animal, powered along by a humdinger of a performance from Jeremy Renner. As a piece of film-making, Argo marks a cautious advance in every department except casting; it really needed a loose cannon like Russell Crowe in the lead, to really put the fear of God into those hostages, instead of which we get Affleck, struggling hard to fit his gym-toned torso into seventies jackets and speak in his trustful, sotto voce hero voice. But the film ticks along nicely. If a friend said to you, "I hear the new Ben Affleck film is pretty good" and you saw it, you wouldn't go "I'm never listening to that friend again".

In a year full of big, ungainly, ambitious movies that wrestle with questions of history, morality and philosophy, Argo is less than the sum of its parts … a self-smooching gift from the film industry to itself, a likable mainstream hit that possesses what critics sometimes call "movie-movie" qualities. It's a real movie about a fake movie that makes a few lightweight observations about the similarities between spycraft and moviemaking, the two greatest let's-pretend businesses of our age.

Except, have you seen Oscar winners recently, Andrew? After a few years in the late aughts spent panhandling the darker corners of the indie sphere for artful arrangements of arterial spray and brain spatter (The Departed, 2006), for the sight of people punching holes in each other with cow-punches (No Country for Old Men, 2007), or men hot-wiring their psyches to the adrenaline rush of war (The Hurt Locker, 2008), the Academy decided it wanted an easier life.

They wanted to put their feet up to song-and-dance numbers from the developing world (Slumdog Millionaire, 2008). They wanted kings learning to cure a stutter by saying the word "bugger" (The King's Speech, 2010). Or silent matinee idols with furry sidekicks (The Artist, 2011). And now Argo, the Iranian caper from the good-looking producers with the made-up ending.

It bears repeating: Hollywood no longer makes the kind of movies that used to win Academy Awards, which is to say, mid-range, mid-budget humanitarian epics like Dances With Wolves, Gandhi and Driving Missy Daisy, about the moral efficacy of the individual – one person making a difference, in costume. As a genre, the 'Oscar film' is dead.

"The middle is toast, " as one Disney executive remarked recently. Steven Spielberg can get those films made, but even he was turned down by three studios for Lincoln, and two times by Daniel-Day Lewis until Tony Kushner's script met with the actor's approval.

The result was a movie shaped much more to its actor's specifications than its director's – you could almost feel Spielberg sitting on his hands during those in-absentia battle scenes, like a schoolboy ordered not to fidget – and the Academy punished him for it on Sunday night, stripping Lincoln of its 12 nominations to award it just two wins, for best actor and production design, which as good as said: masterpiece theatre.

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