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Old 01-09-2012, 10:20 PM   #5
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Looks like Ben Affleck's latest directorial and acting effort could be a major Oscar contender.


The 39th Annual Telluride Film Festival officially gets underway tonight but the fest provided a “sneak preview” of its highest profile movie, Director/star Ben Affleck’s pulse-pounding true life thriller, Argo which made its world debut this afternoon in a special preview for patron and sponsor passholders and selected press. Judging from the reaction during the end credits as well as talk on the streets afterward Warner Bros not only has a hit on their hands but a slam-dunk major Oscar contender in several categories.

Jumpstarting the long six-month awards season which officially begins with the Venice/Telluride/Toronto Film Festivals, this is the kind of supremely well-crafted studio film that Academy members (and there were several on hand for this screening) will eat up . “It’s got my vote as one of the ten”, an acad voter told me afterwards. It also shows the movie industry off in a strong light which should further impress Oscar voters. Unless I am crazy expect nominations for Picture (producers are Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov), Director for Affleck, Chris Terrio’s screenplay , and supporting actor for Alan Arkin, possibly even Bryan Cranston. Affleck also could figure in the over-crowded Best Actor contest and editing, score (Alexandre Desplat) and Rodrigo Prietro’s stirring cinematography are other possibilities. At last February’s Oscars Governors Ball, a top Warners exec predicted this film, still in post then, could be the studio’s best shot at top Oscar attention in 2012. Looks like they could be right.

Telluride has a recent tradition of debuting at least one solid Best Picture contender (recent Best Pic winners Slumdog Millionaire, King’s Speech and The Artist all got the awards season rolling in earnest right here in the Rocky Mountains) and Argo has already laid claim to one of those spots if reaction holds. Next stop is Toronto a week from today where it should also be huge considering it has a strong Canadian connection in this story of the rescue attempt of six Americans who managed to escape and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador after 52 of their colleagues were taken hostage by Iranian militants who took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. It was a crisis that lasted 444 days until all were released on Jan 21, 1981. But the incredible real story of these prevoiusly unknown six was classified and not detailed until President Clinton declassified it in 1997. The tale of how a CIA exfiltration specialist named Tony Mendez (played by Affleck) tried to get them out under the ruse of making a fake Hollywood science fiction film called Argo would be impossible to believe if it weren’t true, and although filmmakers have taken some dramatic liberties to tell it, it is powerful stuff. Former President Jimmy Carter who endured the hostage crisis for the last year and a half of his Presidency even has a part as a new audio interview the film’s producers taped with him is included over the end credits giving the movie extra credibility. After the screening Executive Producer Chay Carter (no relation) told me they were only given a half hour to get it done and it certainly was worth it. I am also told Mendez will be attending the Toronto premiere.

The film not only works as a suspense thriller, it also has strong comedic elements thanks to the Hollywood angle, especially with the jaded producer played by Arkin (“If I am going to make a fake movie, it better be a fake hit!”) and John Goodman who plays Oscar winning make up artist John Chambers who played a key role in setting up the ruse for Mendez.

Although not announced yesterday as an official part of the Telluride lineup it was strongly tipped to come here and Affleck introduced today’s screening. “You are the first paying people to see the film. I know you didn’t literally pay, but in my heart you did. This is actually one of the few film festivals that really is about seeing movies instead of just walking around and talking about them, ” Affleck said in tipping his hat to the fest which is showing a wide range of films (but his is the only new one directly made for a major studio).

It’s a wise move for Warners to hit the fest trail with this which can only build anticipation for the October 12th wide release and help give cred to the subsequent awards campaign. I am told the studio , knowing it has a long road to go and lots of competition (even from themselves) , is going to take it slow and easy in crafting a campaign for the long haul.

After strong critical and public reaction to his first two directorial efforts , Gone Baby Gone and The Town, the star and Oscar winning screenwriter (Good Will Hunting) has emerged as a major directing talent and seems to be fashioning a career in the tradition of a Clint Eastwood. Both his previous films were shot in his hometown of Boston so Argo reps a definite leap out of his backyard. The first Telluride audience was clearly impressed.
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