Oscar preview: My problem with ‘Argo’ and Tommy Lee Jones

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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The Oscars are coming up this weekend, and the horse race for best picture seems to be between Lincoln and Argo.

Both are fine films, even if both used a touch of artistic license in depicting historical events.

In the case of Lincoln, it is not clear whether or not Thaddeus Stevens’ (Tommy Lee Jones) housekeeper was actually his mistress. In the case of Argo, we know that certain events — especially the final Tehran airport runway scene — were depicted as more exciting than they actually were. (This, of course, is nothing compared to the controversy surrounding another best picture nominee, Zero Dark Thirty.)

Both movies have their failings. In the case of Argo, I couldn’t help thinking how much it reminded me of Charlie Wilson’s War. This may not be fair (since CWW is five years old), but both films depict heroic figures who — prior to the film — were largely unknown or under-appreciated.

And both films involve serious plots and tense moments, while also providing some terrific comedy relief. In this regard, though, Phillip Seymour Hoffman was funnier in Charlie Wilson’s War than Alan Arkin and John Goodman were in Argo. (An aside: Alan Arkin is up for best supporting actor, but John Goodman — who was arguably more deserving — is snubbed?)

Daniel Day Lewis will probably win best actor for Lincoln — a well-deserved honor. But my problem with the movie had to do with Tommy Lee Jones — who’s up for best supporting actor. Whereas Lewis became Lincoln — and Sally Field became Mary Todd Lincoln — every time Tommy Lee Jones appeared on the screen, I thought, “There’s the old guy from Men in Black.”

This is distracting. It shakes one out of the reverie — to the point that, by the end of the film, I fully expected to hear him to say: “Target search every residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is John Wilkes Booth. Go get him.”

Matt K. Lewis