For Playboy‘s 60th anniversary issue, the magazine needed an iconic subject for the Playboy Interview, and I hit the lottery. I got to talk with actor-writer-director-producer Ben Affleck about his life and the remarkable second act that he wrote for himself as writer-director of Gone Baby Gone and The Town, which culminated in the Best Picture Oscar for Argo. Naturally, the first topic on the menu was his surprise decision to become the latest in a long line of actors to play the Caped Crusader in Batman Vs. Superman. At the time we met, Affleck was watching as the Internet exploded negatively to his Bat-candidacy. Having weathered career hardship before and come back stronger for it, Affleck was unconcerned by the Bat-zealots who actually started online petitions against him.
The Casting Society of America’s 29th annual Artios Awards celebrating outstanding achievement in casting were handed out last night in simultaneous ceremonies in LA and NY. On the West Coast, CBS Entertainment boss Nina Tassler received the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Linda Lowy the Hoyt Bowers Awards, while Michael J Fox was given the New York Apple Award. Here are this year’s winners in categories covering film, TV and stage:
Related: Casting Society Unveils Artios Nominees
2013 ARTIOS AWARDS WINNERS
Big Budget Feature – Comedy
“Silver Linings Playbook,” Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham, Diane Heery (Location Casting), Jason Loftus (Location Casting)
Big Budget Feature – Drama
“Argo,” Lora Kennedy
Feature – Studio or Independent – Comedy
“Moonrise Kingdom,” Douglas Aibel, Henry Russell Bergstein (Associate)
What a difference a little bit of time and a new regime make… or do they? Earlier this year, Iran was mulling litigation over how it was portrayed in Ben Affleck’s Academy Award winner Argo, and it boycotted the 2012 Oscars in protest over the Innocence Of Muslims video that was made in the U.S. Now that a new government led by perceived political moderate Hassan Rouhani is in place, the Argo lawsuit has lost steam and Iran has entered Asghar Farhadi’s The Past as its Oscar candidate for 2013. Those and other recent moves had led some to wonder if a new era of tolerance for freedom of expression was afoot. But, in just the past day, it’s emerged that Manuscripts Don’t Burn director Mohammad Rasoulof had his passport confiscated on a recent return home to Iran, and is still blocked from leaving the country.
Does that mean that despite the possible thaw of relations between Iran and the rest of the free world, tolerance for freedom of expression at home hasn’t really budged? Folks I’ve spoken with agree that Iran’s reopening of the House of Cinema film guild in September, after a 20-month closure, gave rise to hope that banned filmmakers like Jafar Panahi might see their sentences eased. At the time, Deputy Culture Minister Hojatollah Ayoubi said, “When a cultural issue — like the one about the House of Cinema — becomes a political one, that is (because) the situation was not managed properly.” That makes this latest turn with Rasoulof even more “paradoxical” as one person put it to me today.
The submission of Farhadi’s The Past to the Oscar race even seemed to push against typical conservative mores. The choice wasn’t entirely unexpected — Farhadi’s A Separation won the Foreign Language prize in 2011 — but the movie was made in France with French coin and deals with moral issues and intimate relationships that might have once run afoul of state authorities. Instead, it reportedly rubbed some conservatives the wrong way, but only because they felt it wasn’t Iranian enough.
EXCLUSIVE: 20th Century Fox has made a two-year first-look pact with Epic, a fledgling online platform designed to be a catalyst for film-centric investigative longform journalism that had formerly been the domain of national magazines. The venture was launched by Joshua Davis and Joshuah Bearman, who between them have made 18 movie option deals for their magazine work, with another two in negotiation. Most memorably, Bearman wrote the Wired magazine story that became the basis for the Ben Affleck-directed Best Picture Oscar winner Argo; and I just wrote recently about Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski signing on to script a Warner Bros movie about software pioneer John McAfee for John Requa and Glenn Ficarra to direct, based on a Wired story written by Davis after he spent weeks with McAfee on his compound in the Belize jungle before the computer wiz was accused of killing a neighbor.
After Davis and Bearman smartly christened their new venture with a column last week by influential New York Timesman David Carr, it put studios in hot pursuit. According to the guys, five studios and one monied indie company met with them before Bearman’s UTA agents and Davis’ agents at Resolution closed the Fox deal with Circle of Confusion’s Rick Jacobs, who manages both journos. I’m told this pact will include first looks on articles that Davis and Bearman do on their own, even those not on the Epic site.
Lawyer For Iran Mulling ‘Argo’ Suits In France, Switzerland, U.S.; Says Obama Oscar Appearance Seen As Government Strategy
Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, the lawyer investigating possible litigation over Argo’s portrayal of Iran, tells me she is weighing options on how to proceed and is considering bringing suit in France, Switzerland or the U.S. The French attorney traveled to Tehran last week at the “urgent” request of the culture minister and speaking by phone today, she called Argo “the cherry on top” of a string of movies that Iranian officials consider an affront to their nation and people. Authorities, she said, are concerned historical facts and the way in which Iranians are depicted are distortions and want “to be able to give their point of view so that they are not seen as mad men.”
Argo is based on the story of how the CIA and Hollywood orchestrated the escape of six Americans from Iran in 1979, but when I asked if it was understood by officials that the Ben Affleck-directed film is a fictionalized account, Coutant-Peyre countered, “It claims to be a sort of documentary… In the beginning of the film it says it is taken from declassified documents.” She called it a “report” on an event “which is distorted in the film.” She further said it was part of what is considered a “strategy of strong pressure from the American government” which was made clear “via Mrs. Obama” when she announced Argo‘s Best Picture Oscar win on February 24. When I suggested that the names of Academy Award winners are kept secret until the envelopes are opened on Oscar night, Coutant-Peyre responded, “You think they didn’t know? That’s not true. The president knew.”
UPDATE, 3:51 AM: It turns out that French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, wife and defender of Carlos the Jackal, is not only angling to sue Hollywood over Ben Affleck‘s Oscar-winning Argo, she’s attempting to mount a case against a series of U.S. films that Iran believes have portrayed it in a distorted and unrealistic manner. Coutant-Peyre, according to local media, is looking to bring suit in international court against directors and producers who local officials believe have promoted “Iranophobia,” The Guardian reports today. The attorney is quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying, “I’ll be defending Iran against films that have been made by Hollywood to distort the country’s image, such as Argo.” Other films that have gotten under the skin of Iranians are understood to include 2006′s 300, 1991′s Sally Field-starrer Not Without My Daughter, and Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-nominated The Wrestler. An attendee at Monday night’s “Hoax Of Hollywood” conference in Tehran, Mohammad Lesani, is reported to have said the gathering was intended to “unify all cultural communities in Iran against the attacks of the West, particularly Hollywood.” The real possibility of a lawsuit is thought dubious, but if brought, it would not be in the U.S., New York defense attorney Stuart Slotnick tells Deadline. “Perhaps those in power in Iran will decide to bring a lawsuit in another country where the movie received distribution”, he said. Iran and the U.S. severed diplomatic ties after the 1979 hostage crisis which is the focal point of Argo. Warner Bros. had no comment on the matter.
Even as tonight’s Governor’s Ball was winding down, Ben Affleck was still off in a corner of the room celebrating his Argo‘s most unlikely Best Picture victory in becoming only the second film in 80 years to win the top prize without even a nomination for its director. Affleck’s roller coaster ride has been remarkable this season and as he told me earlier this weekend, and tonight after the Best Pic triumph, it has been filled with hills and valleys, but it all came together at the Dolby Theatre when First Lady Michelle Obama (from the White House) opened the envelope and announced his film as the winner.
Related: Nikki Finke’s Oscar Live-Snark
When he was left off the list of Directing nominees on January 10th he said he was really depressed, but that same night he won the Critics Choice Movie Award as Director and Best Picture, then the Golden Globe three days later, then the PGA, SAG, DGA, WGA and BAFTA honors to name a few. Suddenly Argo was the one to beat and it never wavered. Affleck’s emotional acceptance was heartfelt and perfectly described the personal journey of this actor turned first-rate director. And his acknowledgement of Steven Spielberg from the stage was a nice touch. He won, with Matt Damon, for Best Original Screenplay in 1997 for Good Will Hunting, but this was different as Affleck told me and he was going to savor this moment as long as he could before moving on into the night. It was the same for Argo’s winning screenwriter Chris Terrio who also was hanging late at the Govs Ball even though he had to catch a flight back to his New York home where he is currently writing a new script based on the Greengrass story. As he was just exiting the Ball at the Hollywood and Highland Grand Ballroom, he told me someone gave him advice that he should just try to enjoy this moment first. He seemed to have a hard time soaking it in, but he was going to give it at least this one night before getting back to work.
Argo, after vitually a clean sweep of awards season since the directing snub (which in retrospect could not have hurt), won a respectable three Oscars (also for Editing and Adapted Screenplay), tying Les Misérables for that number of Oscars. But the big winner of the night (if you can call it that) was 20th’s risky box office success Life Of Pi which nabbed four statuettes including a biggie, Best Director for Ang Lee. Had Affleck been nominated, he likely would have won since Best Picture and Director usually go hand in hand, but for whatever reason in a year with an embarrassment of riches it somehow seems totally appropiate that there was a split and Lee was given this award. If anything, Life Of Pi was a directorial achievement like no other and this Oscar was acknowledgement of that. In fact, right after Affleck was snubbed, I predicted Lee would take it, and in the last couple of weeks it was apparent a tide was building for him among Academy voters. It became one of the easiest calls of the night despite the fact that many pundits were calling it for Lincoln‘s Steven Spielberg. At the Govs Ball, Lee, who has won two previous Oscars (for Best Foreign Language Film for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Director for Brokeback Mountain), told me this one means as much or probably more because of the extreme challenges Pi provided. He was clearly thrilled with it and I told him he becomes the first director since George Stevens in the 50s with A Place In The Sun (1951) and Giant (1956) to win two Best Director Oscars for two films that did not win Best Picture, a rare occurence.
When George Clooney received his eighth Oscar nomination as a producer of Argo – he shared producing credits on the Best Picture nominee with Ben Affleck and Grant Heslov — he marched into the Academy Award record books in a very unique way. It was the sixth different category in which he was nominated, an unprecedented feat for the 24 categories currently handed out each year. It’s also a nearly-unprecedented feat in all 85 years of the Oscars — but that’s with an asterisk and we’ll get to that.
Clooney knocked off three of those categories in 2005, the first year he was nominated for anything, with Directing and Original Screenplay (with Heslov) nominations for Good Night And Good Luck and winning Best Supporting Actor for Syriana. Then there were those Best Actor nominations he seems to get every other year: Michael Clayton (2007), Up In The Air (2009) and The Descendants (2011). That’s four different categories, to which he added a fifth in 2011, when he also was nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay race for The Ides Of March (with Heslov and Beau Willimon). This feat with five ties him with Warren Beatty, Stanley Kubrick, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen and Kenneth Branagh — however, only Clooney’s and Beatty’s noms all came in Oscar’s marquee top eight races (Picture, Writing, Acting, Directing). For the record, in addition to their writing, producing, directing and/or acting nods, Kubrick won in Special Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Branagh was nominated for a Live Action Short, Swan Song (1992); and the Coens have shared Film Editing nominations twice under their pseudonym Roderick Jaynes.
With Best Picture frontrunner Argo, the versatile Clooney has now passed them all in this particular — and particularly impressive — Oscar statistic. Although some could say acting, directing, writing and picture are just four categories, I would argue they are very specific disciplines which is why the Academy separates out lead and supporting acting as well as Adapted and Original Screenplays. I would also point out Beatty’s feat of earning Picture, Actor, Directing and Screenplay nominations in the same year — not once but twice (Heaven Can Wait, Reds) — is a Herculean feat in itself. He won the Directing Oscar for Reds as well as the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award and has 14 nominations in all, but none of them were in the Supporting Actor category and that’s where Clooney topped him. In fact, Beatty has yet to play a supporting role in any film.
So in terms of sheer numbers of categories nominated, is George Clooney now the King of the Oscars?
David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor
Leaving artistic issues aside, you could—at first glance—say that the competition for best original score isn’t a fair fight this year. Three of the nominees—Mychael Danna (Life Of Pi), Alexandre Desplat (Argo), and Thomas Newman (Skyfall)—have never won an Oscar, and one of them (Danna) is enjoying his first nomination. Dario Marianelli won once before, but his nom for Anna Karenina is only his third. So who’s the heavyweight in the ring? None other than John Williams (Lincoln), who has won five Oscars for original score, as well as one for adapted score.
Williams is basking in his 39th nomination for original score. His first was for The Reivers (1969), starring Steve McQueen. His closest competitor within this group is Newman, who is savoring his ninth nom since 1994, when he earned two—for Little Women and The Shawshank Redemption. Desplat is suiting up for his fifth round since 2006, when The Queen first brought him close to Oscar gold.
OSCARS: As Final Deadline Approaches Academy Urges Members To Vote; Studios Launch Last-Minute Ad Blitz
Okay Academy members, this is your last chance to vote.
And by all indications from my own admittedly unscientific survey over the weekend there are many who are choosing to wait, despite the Academy’s emails encouraging them to vote early in this final round. Part of the reason seems to be a desire to catch up on the Documentary Feature, Live Action and Animation Shorts which have been sent to the entire Academy membership for the first time, instead of requiring voters to attend special screenings. One voter told me he received his late and was trying to watch them all before submitting his ballot.
With today being a holiday, those voters who opted for paper ballots and still haven’t mailed them are out of luck if they hope to do that and still have it reach the downtown Los Angeles offices of the Academy’s accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, or the Academy lobby at its Beverly Hills headquarters in time before Tuesday’s 5 PM deadline. If you are a paper voter, not electronic, the best you can do at this point is have the ballot delivered in person to one of those locations before 5 PM tomorrow. And every year there are usually many that do just that. It has even numbered up into the hundreds in past years. But with the new, sometimes awkward, transition to online voting this year, that number will probably be significantly decreased.
Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor
The film editing race is both diverse and expected. All five nominated films are also up for best picture, and the individual editors range from three-time Oscar winner Michael Kahn to several first-time nominees and one nominee, William Goldenberg, nominated for work on two separate films. We talked with the nominated editors and asked them to run through a key scene from their films—one that was crucial to making the picture work, either from a tone perspective or a more technical one. The results were as diverse as the nominated films themselves.
Goldenberg says Argo’s incongruous quality was epitomized in an often bizarre sequence that cuts from the elaborate table-read of the fake screenplay at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the houseguests trying to entertain themselves in their long isolation to Iranian forces frightening hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran with a mock execution.
“When I read the script, I thought this was a scene where if we can make this work tonally, the movie will work”, says Goldenberg. “Because it’s all these different tones colliding together, and if all these expositions can work as a scene, then I think what we’re trying to do with the movie will be successful”.