This week marks the wide release of one of the very big Best Picture contenders, Ben Affleck's Argo, but through sheer chance I've managed to catch up with four major Oscar movies in the last week. Argo is among them, so we'll start there, but there's plenty else to go over, even if the rest of these movies won't emerge in theaters for a few weeks yet. Exciting times to be a moviegoer!
Argo. I finally caught up with this thriller at the Hamptons International Film Festival over the weekend, after missing it in Toronto, and I was thrilled that it absolutely lived up to the hype. Expertly plotted and acted, with one of the best ensemble casts put together in this or any year, Argo pulls off that magic trick of telling a story with an ending you already know and making you bite your nails through the whole thing. Of all the films I've seen this year, it seems the strongest contender to win the whole thing. At the very least a Best Picture nomination is a guarantee, as should Affleck be for Best Director-- I know, I know, I too watched Chasing Amy enough times to believe that would never happen. Affleck is far less likely for a Best Actor nomination, and the film in general may struggle to get an actor out of the pack-- the ensemble is too wide-ranging and good for any one person to stand out. Plenty of other technical nods, like costumes (those glorious 70s duds) and score (from Alexandre Desplat), seem likely. In short, this is a big, big winner that I'll be excited to root for this season.
Anna Karenina. Already open for a month in Britain, with a solid but unspectacular 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, this is the lavish period piece we have while we wait for Les Miserables, but it requires a little more imagination than your average fancy literary adaptation. Director Joe Wright, never afraid to go a little overboard with the camera, sets much of the film within a dilapidated old theater, and takes a lot of artistic liberties in freshening up the old Tolstoy novel, including several scenes that are choreographed as intricately as a musical would be. I adored it, but I can see why some audiences don't buy in-- though I wonder if the Academy might be a little friendlier. The best hope seems to be for Keira Knightley as a Best Actress nominee, but I wonder if the movie itself might sneak into Best Picture as well-- we'll have to wait to see how it opens in the US to know that, though.
Lincoln. I wrote a lot about this movie last night after it premiered it unfinished form at the New York Film Festival, so you can click here to read about all that in more detail. In short, Lincoln is looking strong for awards season, but I'm not seeing the surge of support that could help it wins any prizes-- and yes, that includes Daniel Day-Lewis's very good but muted lead performance. It's not like War Horse, which stayed hidden for so long throughout the season and seemed to be nominated for Best Picture by default. Lincoln is a smart movie that can prove its worth-- but I'm not sure how many people are going to be willing to see it.
Silver Linings Playbook. Finally, the other big awards contender I missed at Toronto and caught up with in the Hamptons over the weekend. Like David O. Russell's previous hit The Fighter, it's an appealingly messy, sometimes very funny and genuine movie about chaotic blue collar families, though this one subbing out the sports angle for some seriously dark descents into mental illness. The performances here are actually better than in The Fighter, with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence totally magnetic in the center of a maybe-possibly-romance, and supporting players like Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver adding a lot of great texture, though both may have uphill fights for nominations. A Best Picture nomination seems a guarantee as well, though I wonder if, like The Fighter, it's a little too small and scrappy to go all the way.
So now on to the charts, where I can make a few changes with all this new screening-earned knowledge. Next week we'll be able to take a look at Argo's box office and see how that affects its chances, though I'll be very, very surprised if this movie is anything short of a massive hit.
Lincoln and The Master have effectively switched places, with Spielberg's film revealing itself as at least strong enough to be part of the conversation, while Paul Thomas Anderson's (much better, if you ask me) film fades in the face of a ton of other movies. It's not out of the picture entirely, of course-- and the actors are another question entirely-- but with more easily digested prestige movies coming forth with strong reviews, it will be much harder for The Master to stake a claim in Best Picture.
STILL IN THE RUNNING