The Venice Film Festival announced over the weekend that Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” a 1950’s-era drama starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, had snagged three awards at that festival, an early augury of possible Oscar juice.
But at the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s Ben Affleck’s “Argo” that is being touted as a sure thing for high-visibility nominations, including best picture and best director. The political thriller stars Affleck, John Goodman and Alan Arkin as players in an astonishing true-life episode during the Iran hostage crisis, when a CIA operative master-minded a fake movie shoot in Tehran in order to free six Americans hiding out in the Canadian ambassador’s residence. The rescue had always been credited to the Canadian government, until the facts of the case were declassified in 1997.
“Argo,” which arrives in theaters on Oct. 12, walks, talks and, most important, plays like a classic best picture contender, combining geopolitical gravitas with the kind of affectionate Hollywood satire that Academy voters adore (Goodman and Arkin play grizzled movie-industry veterans to hilarious effect).
A story in the Washington Post today compares Toronto to the Republican and Democratic conventions, as a similar launching pad for high-cost campaigns to come. It’s an analogy that Affleck largely agreed with when I sat down with him on Sunday. “I think it’s a really good comparison,” he said, adding that festivals “actually have much more drama than the conventions do now. What was interesting about the conventions before was when we had a brokered convention or you lost a vice president out of a convention. Now they’ve become really dull, because they’re so scripted. You hand out the right signs for the right speeches to all the people who behave like robots [except when] some kook wears a USA hat or something. They don’t want any little bit of unpredictability. Whereas here, movies show up, something might be good that people didn’t expect, and it breaks out, so there is the possibility of surprise.”
“Argo” had its premiere here on Friday, where it played to a Canadian audience that, not surprisingly, received it particularly well. “It was like a hometown screening almost,” Affleck said. “For one thing, they all laughed at the Canadian jokes, at all the references to Canada that were like crickets at other screenings. But it was a really fun screening. The other thing about this festival is that movies just play well here. People like to go to the movies, they’re psyched, it’s not a festival where just agents and the connected get in, the cynical press doesn’t dominate the audience. It’s people who are excited to be there.” (Look for my complete interview with Affleck in Oct. 7’s Sunday Style section.)
In other Toronto news, some hotly anticipated indies were scooped up in recent days: Focus Features acquired “The Place Beyond the Pines,” a father-son drama by Derek Cianfrance starring his “Blue Valentine” leading man Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. IFC bought “Something in the Air” by Olivier Assayas (“Paris, je t’aime”). As of this writing, Noah Baumbach’s comedy “Frances Ha,” starring Greta Gerwig, had yet to land a distribution deal, although it arrived in Toronto with the most heat of all the available titles. Another film likely to find a home is “Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out,” Marina Zenovich’s follow-up to her explosive 2008 film “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which uncovered alleged prosecutorial and judicial wrongdoing in the director’s case in 1977, in which he plead guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor. In “Odd Man Out,” Zenovich explores why the Swiss government decided to arrest Polanski in 2008 as he prepared to accept an award in Zurich; she uncovered yet another fascinating skein of motives and manipulations, this time having to do with the financial meltdown, Swiss banking laws, diplomatic finesse (or lack thereof) and good old-fashioned payback.