Any doubts that Ben Affleck wasn’t a top-notch director have been quelled by his latest effort, Argo. One of the year’s best films, Argo offers a thrilling portrait of the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-80 and the rescue of six Americans. Directing his third major feature film (following Gone Baby Gone and The Town), Affleck proves adept at providing suspense for this fascinating story, while also offering an honest perspective of the international politics at the time.

Argo takes place during the Iran Hostage Crisis, and vividly shows how the incident occurred. It also offers a legitimate explanation for Iranian hostilities towards the United States at that time. Six U.S. Embassy workers in Tehran managed to escape the building before all the hostages were taken in, and they eventually took refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s residence. Argo highlights the efforts to bring those six escapees home.

Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA Agent charged with finding a way to rescue the six Americans. He concocts a fairly crazy scheme to a create a Hollywood science fiction film called “Argo” and send a Canadian film crew to Iran to scout locations. The plan is to make the six Americans pose as part of the film crew.

Mendez enlists the help of famed Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to put up the appearance of a legitimate film production. From there, Mendez embarks on his journey to rescue the six Americans.

While Affleck proves to be an ace director, his performance as Mendez isn’t particularly remarkable. He plays the part straight, although he’s still effective as the bearded CIA agent. Arkin is perfectly suited to play a famous Hollywood producer. He steals every scene he’s in with one witty line or another, and his performance may even earn him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars.

Arkin and Goodman join an all-star cast that includes recognizable names like Brian Cranston, Kyle Chandler, and Chris Messina, all of whom play various government officials. None of their performances stand out, but Scoot McNairy has an excellent turn as one of the six Americans in hiding.

What makes Argo work is its authenticity. If this were fiction, then no Hollywood studio would pick up the film, as so many elements of the tale are too fantastical to believe. But there are so many close calls and suspenseful moments, and the fact that it’s all true makes the story so incredibly engaging. But even more than that, Affleck wonderfully captures a Tehran in a state of revolution and confusion. It’s a city that’s effectively under siege, without real order, and the scary chaotic climate feels so real. That added to the spectacular suspense of this great caper makes for a film that literally keeps one at the edge of their seat.

There’s been talk that Argo is a Best Picture contender and Affleck is viewed by some as a favorite for the Best Director Oscar.  It’s likely that both Affleck and the film will receive nominations. But it probably stops just short of being a winner. Aside from Arkin’s witty lines, there’s no true standout performance. And Affleck doesn’t overdo it stylistically, which may cost him some Oscar votes when he goes up against other big name directors like David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow, and more. Still, it shapes up to be an outstanding race, and Argo has earned the right to be in the running.