Argo

Over at InContention, Kris Tapley — who had been predicting Argo — went for Les Mis in a big way last night, writing:

And the Best Picture landscape will be shaken up one more time this season. Is this the one to take it all the way, two years after Hooper did precisely that? I’m thinking it might just be, but I’ll get into my own thoughts on it in due time.

Hollywood-Elsewhere’s Jeff Wells has finally dropped his advocacy for Silver Linings Playbook in a grand lament, though remains solidly what he calls “ABL” — Anything But Lincoln:

The Universal release is going to win Best Picture apparently, and hats off to Tom Hooper and the gang if it does. If it’s over, it’s over. I can live with this, and perhaps I’ll celebrate it. The proof is in the pudding.

Dave Karger, for his part, remains, what he calls, “bullish” on Silver Linings. Karger took heat from Jeff Wells the past two seasons for being called “safe Dave” and always going for the Big Weinstein Co. movie. He’s heading for a threepeat of that this year as he remains the last man standing on Silver Linings at the moment.

I suspect some will align behind Les Miserables because they feel Lincoln can’t win.  They may think it’s too dry, too talky, too cerebral, not feelgoody enough. Les Mis might be that movie that puts smiles on the Oscar voters faces and renews their faith in humanity, a la The Artist, a la The King’s Speech.  A pundit who shall remain anonymous said about Les Mis, “It wouldn’t be what I voted for on my ballot but I could see it winning.”

In terms of Lincoln vs. Les Mis it is really about the actors. Both are giant ensembles. Lincoln has more vets, more character actors and generally a more well known ensemble, which makes it a force to be reckoned with on that count. Les Mis is more of your typical actor’s wet dream. They all love Les Mis, many have acted in Les Mis at one time or another, and it represents “the theater” in many ways.  Actors divide themselves into two groups (I know because I trained to be an actor many moons ago) — serious stage actors and musical theater actors. Lincoln represents the former and Les Mis the latter, which makes it a really intense competition between the two.

Lincoln has a couple of more things going for it at the outset – it has the best script of the year, by Tony Kushner, and is directed by a beloved Hollywood icon who hasn’t won since 1998. By contrast, Hooper won two years ago. That means the movie has to be really really really really all that and a bag of chips to overcome Hooper. Some will likely predict a split, as happened with Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan versus Shakespeare in Love. And that would not be an outlandish prediction.

Moreover, Argo and Lincoln are so far the only two that have passed the critics + box office test and both have passed with flying colors. You don’t necessarily have to have both but it helps in a tightly competitive year. Les Miserables didn’t compete on the festival circuit so it won’t enter the race with the same running start as The King’s Speech, which had won two audience awards by the time it rounded the first curve of Oscar season. It passed both the critics and the box office test with flying colors. The Artist’s buzz started in Cannes and no other film was big enough to beat it. Its box office didn’t matter but it helped that it was a low budget production to begin with. The voters often like low budget/high return best and they hate high budget/low return most. Hugo might have beaten it were it not for its loss at the box office. Les Mis will make bank. But we have to wait for the critics to hear what they think of it. That’s my take anyway.

Either way, it’s an exciting year for Oscar’s Best Picture with many many great films in the running. Passion will likely be Les Miserable’s best poison. If it has that it can easily go all the way.

Over at Movie City News, David Poland put up a quickie chart for Best Picture. As of now, Dave Karger is still confident Silver Linings Playbook will take home Best Picture. Karger faith + Weinstein Co + sappy crowdpleaser has equaled Best Picture for two years running. Can it win a threepeat? We will have to wait and see. Kris Tapley says that he makes his predictions on “most likely to get a Best Picture nomination,” as opposed to “most likely to win.” Steve Pond figures he might as well predict Zero Dark Thirty to take the whole thing since he believes he has not yet seen anything that CAN win. Other outliers include Susan Wloszczyna, who has Les Miserables at number 1.  Ellwood, Feinberg, Hammond, Poland all have Argo to win.  And EW’s Anthony Breznican has Life of Pi to take the top prize. It feels as though we have a real race this year as opposed to something all locked in. That always makes for a more exciting Oscar season.

Currently over at Gold Derby, Argo is in the number one spot and Lincoln is third, with Les Miserables at number 3.

Box Office Mojo reports that Lincoln is doing better than expected at the box office on its expansion to 1,175 theaters. Argo is edging slowly towards $100 million, currently at $92 and yes, Twilight Breaking Dawn broke a record for the franchise. All in all, a great season at the multiplex. Flight doing extremely well at $61 million.

Lincoln is especially impressive, given that it’s not dumbed down for maximum profits at the box office but instead is keeping the fire burning through great reviews and strong word of mouth.

Silver Linings Playbook opened in 16 theaters and made $458,000 and Anna Karenina also opened in 16 locations and made $315,000.

On the 21st, Silver Linings Playbook goes wider and Life of Pi opens.

From JustJared:

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The Oscars can be a kaleidoscope view of our world — spectacular and surreal. Or they can be a microscope, honing in with sharp perspective on matters we’re obliged to observe with crystal clarity. The themes that course through this year’s Oscar race for Best Picture will likely be far more consequential than stories of a king from the 1930s who stuttered or a silent movie star who lost his mojo. For voters in recent years, those films offered a path of least resistance; they delivered a lot but asked so little of us in return.

Between then and now, we’ve witnessed a divided America, a hard fought election, a second-term victory by the first black president, and the subsequent fallout which cannot yet be measured. These events have altered our perceptions of ourselves as Americans. How could they not? 2012 wasn’t a bloody civil war but it often felt that a physical clash was just a few hurled insults away. Racist tweets from young students in the deep South using hateful epithets you just don’t hear anymore were quickly investigated and rightly outed. At this very moment, signatures are being gathered from at least 15 states on petitions to secede from the union. All because a black man is in power and he won’t step aside until he finishes the job he started. Nothing has ever made America lose its head the way it has over this.

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A wonderful choice for a wonderful film festival. The SBIFF is one of the fests worth attending on the west coast because of its Executive Director, Roger Durling. It is his passion and knowledge about films, and the Oscar race, that drives the fest. It was announced yesterday that:

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival, will honor director, producer and actor Ben Affleck with the Modern Master Award at the 28th edition of the Fest, which runs January 24 -February 3, 2013, it was announced today by SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling. The Tribute will take place on Saturday, January 26, 2013 at the historic Arlington Theatre.

Affleck hit it out of the park this year with Argo, his second film that will hit the $100 million mark (it’s already at $85 million), and his best reviewed film so far.

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Will actors eventually be selected out of their central role in movies, increasing replaced by animation,  performance capture, and other evolving forms of digital characters?  That irrational fear has been drifting in and out of Oscar conversations for years. Just as the pleasure of reading books has endured while movies became the world’s foremost storyteller, films driven by great performances remain as popular now as they’ve ever been.  In the end, no technology can ever replace what gifted actors are able to do. This year, a handful of film ensembles remind us of the irreplaceable power of performances.

Two essential forces often compete to dictate the Best Picture race — the director and the ensemble cast. The Screen Actors Guild’s ensemble award has come to mean much more than just a precursor for Best Picture. They have gone out of their way to define their ensemble prize in terms of their unique collaborative contribution — Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.  Those of us who look to the SAG Awards to see what might win Best Picture must balance our regard for the acting branch as the largest block of voters who choose the top prize at the Oscars with our awareness that sometimes it really is all about the acting.  When a film wins Best Picture without an Oscar for its director — as was the case with Crash, Chicago, and Shakespeare in Love — the SAG ensemble prize is often an early indication that its strength is perceived to be the collective contribution of its cast more than a result of the director’s control.

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Argo isn’t just a Best Picture frontrunner amid the Oscar pundit circles; it is that rare word of mouth film that people “out there in the world” are talking about. Why, because it delivers in so many different ways. It doesn’t hurt that we are in the midst of an election season that has shades of Argo threaded throughout. You might think that would keep people away but the opposite turns out to be true.  In the end, though, Argo is entertaining and that is perhaps the most important reason why it’s got legs. It has made $60 million so far and will have no problem getting to $100 million, making it Ben Affleck’s biggest hit and one of the biggest hits of Oscar season and of the year.

The Town: $92 million
Gone Baby Gone: $20 million

The stats, according to BoxOffice.com:

1 Argo $12,355,000 -25% 2,855 -392 $4,327 $60,780,288 3 Warner Bros.
2 Hotel Transylvania $9,500,000 -27% 3,276 -108 $2,900 $130,436,341 5 Sony / Columbia
3 Cloud Atlas $9,400,000 2,008 $4,681 $9,400,000 1 Warner Bros.
4 Paranormal Activity 4 $8,675,000 -70% 3,412 0 $2,542 $42,632,365 2 Paramount
5 Silent Hill: Revelation 3D $8,000,000 2,933 $2,728 $8,000,000 1 Open Road

Bravo to Cloud Atlas for hitting number three that close to the number 2. Sure, people will want to think of it as a bomb but here is a giant effects movie with a big heart that isn’t a sequel, a remake, or formula-driven dreck. I hope it makes back its money. Viewers will discover Cloud Atlas slowly, over time.

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With two weeks before the US Presidential election, nerves are frayed. The horses are kicking in their stalls. Cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon and a country sharply divided. Oscar season had no choice but to start early this year. With ballots being turned in very early in January, there are just two months left to lay it all out. At the end of November and early December we’ll get our critics top ten lists. After that, the critics awards. Then the guild awards followed by the Oscars. That means that a consensus will be forming soon. Usually by the beginning of December the race seems to be about a handful of films that have run the gauntlet and come out the other side with a consensus vote. Some of these movies have been preordained, their places in line held firm. They only have to meet or surpass expectations to fortify their position.

Oscar pundits are busily making their lists, putting certain names at the top of the list because they deserve to be there, or because they hope they will be there. Oscar voters are preparing for the all-out assault of ads and screeners, parties and interviews. Through the noise they’ll lift their fingers and point, “that one. I like that one.” It’s enough to drive any sane person off the cliff, that is, if the election hasn’t done that already. But at this stage of the game, there isn’t a lot more we can know because four of the biggest movies of the year have yet to be seen: Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hobbit. Any one or all or none could shift the race from where it stands right now.

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Always risky to say a movie is a unanimous hit with critics because even as the raves stack up we never know if a writer will come along to undermine a great average. Today with 40 top critics weighed in, it feels safe to name Argo the best rated mainstream movie of 2012. It vaults to the top of the heap with an 87 average. Metacritic rates 13 reviews as perfect scores of 100 and more 3/4 of the reviews rank higher than 80. With no negative reviews whatsoever and only 4 that are somewhat middling, Argo has achieved that rarity of critical consensus — it’s not even polarizing; it’s an undisputed smash. The critics agree with Lou Lumenick: Argo is “a blue-chip Oscar contender.”

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Ben Affleck not only stars in but also directs, and “Argo,” the real movie about the fake movie, is both spellbinding and surprisingly funny. Many of the laughs come from the Hollywood guys played by Goodman and Arkin, although to be sure, as they set up a fake production office and hold meetings poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel, they aren’t in danger like their “crew members” in Iran…

The craft in this film is rare. It is so easy to manufacture a thriller from chases and gunfire, and so very hard to fine-tune it out of exquisite timing and a plot that’s so clear to us we wonder why it isn’t obvious to the Iranians. After all, who in their right mind would believe a space opera was being filmed in Iran during the hostage crisis? Just about everyone, it turns out. Hooray for Hollywood.

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

It’s a doozy of a story and so borderline ridiculous that it sounds like something that could have been cooked up only by Hollywood. Ben Affleck, however, who directed “Argo” from a script by Chris Terrio and cast himself in the pivotal role of Tony Mendez, realized that comedy alone wouldn’t do. American lives, after all, were at stake (a situation that contemporary viewers will be all too familiar with), and so, after opening the movie with a bit of history and archival imagery, he rushes into the moment’s jarring, unsettling craziness with a cinematic whoosh…

Better yet, after setting your pulse racing, he smoothly downshifts, easing from the high anxiety of the opener — which evokes 1970s political thrillers like Sydney Pollack’s “Three Days of the Condor” — into something looser, mellower and funny.

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Have you ever seen a movie where you walk out saying, “That was just a great fucking movie”? That’s Ben Affleck’s Argo. Inexplicably, a film that draws its strength from humor and suspense, winds up being more moving the second time through. Perhaps because once you have been through the suspense part of it you get to know the characters better and therefore care about their outcomes more.

My second viewing of Argo came last night at the glorious Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Wilshire in Beverly Hills, otherwise known as the Academy theater. I was kindly invited to go to the most swanky of all screenings with celebrities in attendance and everything.  There was even an after party — which my friend Craig Kennedy and I skipped. Not to humble brag but I will never turn down an invite to the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Cushy seats, big wide screen, mostly quiet audience — it’s nothing short of cinema heaven. But you are never going to get an impartial crowd, particularly, at premieres, not with stars in attendance. Once you file in with the party-goers you pass various checkpoints where you can oggle celebrities, if you are inclined towards that sort of thing.  The first checkpoint is past the lights and press tables at the edge of the photography corridor. Standing there last night, you would have seen George Clooney, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck take their pub walk to the theater’s entrance. At the bottom of the stairs is another gathering spot for celebrity watchers. Then you head up Gone with the Wind-esque red carpeted stairs to a mirrored wall, which I swear is a flattering skinny-mirror, in dim lighting for the badly aging and vain among us, and then up another flight of stairs.

At the top of the stairs is where you really get a chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with the famous.  I once saw George Clooney exiting the john and it reminded me of that line from Annie Hall, “look, there’s God coming out of the men’s room.”

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I felt the need to throw some support Argo’s way after a story has emerged that the film was insulting to Canadians and yadda yadda yadda. The alleged sore point is that the film focuses on the previously unpublicized involvement of CIA while, until now, the Canadians got to take all of the credit, thus setting up Canada with a permanent stain on its history and on its record. Okay, fine. But Argo isn’t really about Canada. Argo is about America, specifically, our complicated relationship with Iran which brought down the Carter administration.  The hostages were released the day after Ronald Reagan took office. Had the Carter administration been able to publicly announce their involvement with this story, who knows how different things would have turned out for Carter. THAT is the real story they’re telling here. It’s called having a point of view.

The whole thing smacks of typical campaign tactics around Oscar time that usually involve rival studios trying to spread rumors to take out the competition. This story isn’t a rumor — but ink is being splattered north of the border and someone made the call to Ken Taylor. Someone got his feathers ruffled and from there Ben Affleck phoned Taylor and then put a polite addendum to the end of the film to appease the Canadians. Now to casual observers it may look like the whole film was a fraud — and this, my friends, is how you play the game of Oscar — illustrated beautifully in this scene from Chicago about changing the story.

Here’s to hoping that the chatter out there doesn’t harpoon Argo, one of the best films of 2012 and currently the frontrunner to win — which makes it a big, big target. Is it a legit complaint? I suppose if you’re Canadian it might seem so. But to me Argo is telling the story from a specific point of view — if the Canadians want to make their own movie about the story from their end, great. But this was the story of the people WHO DIDN’T GET TO TAKE CREDIT. By all means, let’s cast doubt on the role the CIA played. American agents were already robbed of glory once, so undercutting them all over again will solve everything.

I think it’s too early to call a winner in the 2012 Oscar race, particularly since FOUR key films have not been seen. Those FOUR are Lincoln, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained. All three could feasibly be the Million Dollar Baby of this year, sweeping in late and taking it all. There are a few others, too, that should be considered, Flight and Life of Pi and The Promised Land.

It’s a lot easier to call a race once the other films have been seen. On the other hand, I have to say, I agree with a lot of what Ebert said about Argo. I think it is one of those rare perfect films that give you a satisfying cinematic experience. It’s funny, suspenseful and ultimately moving.  It is filled with great dialogue and performances. It’s, to my mind, perfect.

You’ll also want to read this post by In Contention’s Kris Tapley, Making the Case for Argo as the Zeitgeist Movie – which lays it out pretty well, I think.

Ebert tells it this way:

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