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TORONTO — Each of the past five best picture Oscar winners played the Toronto International Film Festival, which begs the question: Is the next best picture Oscar winner playing here right now?
Based on the enthusiastic reception that Argo is receiving from both audiences and critics, the Ben Affleck-directed drama has as good a shot as any of going the distance. Why? In addition to being a well-made film, the Warner Bros’ release has several advantages heading into awards season. Here are five:
1. The film was directed by and stars someone who has experienced the highest of highs (he and his buddy Matt Damon won an Oscar for their first screenplay, Good Will Hunting) and lowest of lows in the business (he starred in the critically-lambasted Gigli), and for whom a victory would be a truly feel-good story. The Academy, whose largest contingent is actors, often rewards thesps who become filmmakers—see best picture winners Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood), Braveheart (Mel Gibson) and Dances With Wolves (Kevin Costner).
2. It chronicles real events of historical importance. Argo tells the story of Hollywood’s role in the 1979-1981 Iranian hostage crisis, when the CIA concocted a scheme to use the cover of a fake movie to extract Americans who had escaped from the American embassy and were hiding in the Canadian embassy. From 2001’s A Beautiful Mind to 2011’s The King’s Speech, fact-based dramas tend to score with voters.
3. Hollywood plays a heroic role in the film. One thing that The Artist‘s best picture win last year reminded us is that the industry loves to see itself reflected positively in films. (This factor also helped Hugo, an homage to the silent era and call for movie preservation). Hollywood, which often is stereotyped as being anti-military, comes across as the exact opposite in Argo, and that message might be pleasing to voters.
4. It features an ensemble cast of first-rate veterans. In addition to Affleck, Oscar winner Alan Arkin, Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Kyle Chandler are just a few of the well-respected veterans who appear in the film. Academy voters often reward longevity, as well as films that tickle a wide variety of emotions, which the performances in this film — which is, at one time or another, an edge-of-your seat thriller, a tearjerker, and a laugh-out-loud comedy — certainly do.
5. It’s tailor-made for the fall festival circuit. At Telluride, Argo was the fest’s one and only notable world premiere (Hyde Park on Hudson disappointed and the rest of the major films were all Cannes carryovers or docs). And at Toronto, its Telluride momentum and Canada-connection (the Canadians play a heroic role in the film) will only spur it to play stronger here — indeed, I think it stands a strong shot of taking home the fest’s Audience Award, which has predicted a best picture Oscar win on four occasions over the 34 years in which it has been presented. Moreover, it opens a week after the first presidential debate and a day after the only vice presidential debate, at which the current relationship between the US and Iran — which is more strained than it has been at any time since the era chronicled in the film — will surely be discussed.
Of course, there are still obstacles. A considerable number of contenders have yet to screen anywhere — Life of Pi and Flight will play at the New York Film Festival later this month, and Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables and Django Unchained are still to come after them. So, to a large extent, this is all premature. But, that being said, it may be fun to look back at this six months from now, at the end of the awards season, and realize that the signs of an Argo win were right in front of our eyes from the start.
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