As I've written before, 2012 brought about the full-scale return of "the movie." By that I mean the mid-budget, major-studio genre vehicle that used to be the industry's bread and butter. As I also discussed way back in June, 2012 also brought the return of the R rating. After a decade of post-Columbine fear and four-quadrant obsession, major studios have begun to release mainstream films with the once seemingly-scarlet R as a matter of course. It's not just violent action pictures or gruesome horror films, but mainstream films that don't necessarily require an R but nonetheless signal that they are intended for adult audiences. Finally, with a few exceptions, 2012 solidified a certain fiscal sanity in terms of budgets, something that arguably began in 2011. Oh, the blockbusters still cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but we saw reasonable costs for middle-of-the-road studio fare, budgets that meant that a film didn't need to become a global blockbuster or even play to all potential audience demographics to become a hit. Argo represents a top-notch example of all three positive developments.
It is R-rated not because its content required it but because it was an adult movie made for grownup audiences, another emerging trend in 2012. It is not bathed in gore or drowning in sexual content. Yes, it is profane, and the film's catch phrase ("Argo fuck yourself!") required the R rating, but that was a choice that Warner Bros. allowed the filmmakers to make without interference. Argo could very easily have been a PG-13 picture with minimal artistic compromise. But Warner Bros. allowed the film to go out as R just because it was the appropriate designation for the adult political thriller. It also delivered top-notch entertainment value and incredibly authentic production design at just $45 million. Thus, the film is already incredibly profitable just on the $127 million it's taken in the U.S. alone, to say nothing of its $200 million-plus global take and eventual home-viewing profits to come. Most importantly, Argo is just a damn good movie. It's intelligent, thoughtful, and just a little nutritious. It isn't political but still manages to include politics and a potent history lesson wrapped up in a mainstream popcorn entertainment. It's exactly the kind of movie that we say we want from the studios every time we roll our eyes at another alleged franchise reboot or needless sequel.
Argo is a populist mainstream genre entry of uncommon craft and intelligence, rooted in character and narrative. It is R-rated purely because it is intended for adults. It is cheap enough that its solid grosses will make the film hugely profitable for its backers, encouraging other such films of its ilk to be financed. In terms of the best representation of the best of what the year in film of 2012 had to offer, Argo is absolutely the movie of the year.