We had one film releasing this weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.
Ben Affleck has gone from young adult, Oscar winning writer to a blockbuster leading man to quite auteur in just over a decade. With his debut film as a director five years ago, Gone Baby Gone, Affleck began to impress critics with his effortless directing style, taking on serious subjects with a keen eye and creating suspense with seemingly little effort. His second film, The Town, showcased his ability with action films, creating one of the best urban crime dramas in recent memory and impressing everyone, including audiences. Argo presents a unique opportunity for the director. It combines historical relevance with taut action drama. The result may be the Academy’s first recognition of the talented actor-turned-director as a filmmaker.
When Good Will Hunting became a phenomenon, the then-27-year-old actor was known mostly for as a young thespian, but with his pal Matt Damon, they won the Oscar for Original Screenplay and set their careers in motion. While both would continue as actors, Damon seemed to be the only one of the pair that had any appreciable skill, Affleck choosing to bank on his good looks to make a name for himself as an action star. While a film like Hollywoodland proved he was a capable actor, it was seen as too late to really change the perception of his ability. Then came Gone Baby Gone, a film that surprised everyone as a capable effort helmed by an actor whose untested filmmaking capabilities were on the edge of success. The Town proved he had talent, but the Academy was lukewarm to the genre flick, a genre that had long lost intrigue with the Academy since its prominence in the 1970’s.
Argo may finally give the Academy an opportunity to recognize Affleck. Critics have heaped praise on the film, which follows the efforts of a CIA team to exfiltrate six Americans from Iran as the Iranian Revolution intensifies. The plan is to use the guise of a feature film shooting in Iran as an excuse to casually inject the Americans into the crew and extricate them before danger arises. It’s a blend of cinema history, complex foreign affairs and action thriller that will ultimately test the Academy’s acceptance of Affleck as more than just an actor. If critics can be impressed and forgive things like Gigli, the Academy should have little trouble doing so. The film is poised for key nominations in Best Picture and Screenplay along with Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design and Makeup with some other tech categories possible. Yet, the big question is “will Affleck net his first Oscar nomination since Good Will Hunting?”
That answer depends on the prominence and success of his competition. A number of prominent directors, most of them Oscar winners, will have to make way for the young helmer and while the Academy has favored actors-turned-director before, it’s been some time since one managed to make a blockbuster epic that appealed to their senses. While Argo is performing well at the box office in its opening weekend and critics are in its corner, it may not be as epic an undertaking as the likes of Gandhi, Dances With Wolves or Braveheart, three films that the Academy had little trouble granting Oscars to their directors in spite of their tenuous credentials behind the camera.
Affleck may net that first Oscar nomination as a director, but a win seems unlikely with this feature.