Ben Affleck’s Argo emerged from the Toronto Film Festival as virtually every pundit’s Best Picture frontrunner, its grand reception topping off a heap of baity ingredients. This particular bit of groupthink is particularly disheartening, as those ingredients are, collectively, something Argo itself is never able to soar above. You know the mouthwatering pitch: Based on the impossible true story, this white-knuckle political thriller recounts the daring escape of six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. Produced by Academy Award winner George Clooney and Oscar nominee Grant Heslov, and directed by Academy Award winner Ben Affleck, who also stars, Argo is both a topical drama and a rousing crowd-pleaser. Which, of course, says nothing of the movie’s juicy Hollywood ties, doubling as an offbeat slice of film-biz history wherein a C.I.A. specialist uses a faux sci-fi production as his rescue ruse. On paper, Argo reads like a dream project, and it certainly helps that Affleck stocks his cast with a fine mix of Oscar favorites and of-the-moment faces (alongside Alan Arkin are Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, and Chris Messina). This is a movie that drums up sight-unseen support, specifically for Affleck, who’s been soldiering forth as a filmmaker and has finally made a film about something. It’s a shame that what he’s made also plays like a thin and shameless Oscar box-checker, and if it were to take the big prize, it’d only amplify the bemused awards-watcher’s cynicism.