With each outing in his evolving filmmaking career actor-turned-director Ben Affleck has amped up the scope. Gone Baby Gone was a character drama woven into a hard-boiled mystery. The Town saw Affleck dabble in action pulling off bank heists many compared to the expertise of Heat. In Argo the director pulls off his most daring effort melding one part caper comedy and two parts edge-of-your-seat political thriller into an exhilarating theatrical experience.
At the height of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 anti-Shah militants stormed the U.S. embassy and captured 52 American hostages. Six managed to escape the raid finding refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home. Within hours the militants began a search for the missing Americans sifting through shredded paperwork for even the smallest bit of evidence. Under pressure by the ticking clock the CIA worked quickly to formulate a plan to covertly rescue the six embassy workers. Despite a lengthy list of possibilities only Tony Mendez (Affleck) had a plan just enticing enough to unsuspecting Iranian officials to work: the CIA would fake a Hollywood movie shoot.
There's nothing in Argo or Affleck's portrayal of Mendez that would tell you the technical operations officer has the imagination to conjure his master plan — Affleck perhaps to differentiate himself from the past plays his character with so much restraint he looks dead in the eyes — but when the Hollywood hijinks swing into full motion so does Argo. Mendez hooks up with Planet of the Apes makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to convince all of Hollywood that their sci-fi blockbuster "Argo " is readying for production. With enough promotional material concept art and press coverage Mendez and his team can convince the Iranian government they're a legit operation. A location scout in Tehran will be their method of extracting the bunkered down escapees.
Without an interesting lead to draw us in Affleck lets his eclectic ensemble do the heavy lifting. For the most part it works. Argo is basically two movies — Goodman and Arkin lead the Ocean's 11-esque half and Affleck takes the reigns when its time to get the six — another who's who of character actors including Tate Donovan Clea Duvall Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane — through the terrifying security of the Iranian airport. Arkin steals the show as a fast talking Hollywood type complete with year-winning catchphrase ("ArGo f**k yourself!) while McNairy adds a little more humanity to the spy mission when his character butts heads with Mendez. The split lessens the impact of each section but the tension in the escape is so high so taut that there's never a moment to check out.
Reality is on Affleck's side his camera floating through crowds of protestors and the streets of Tehran — a warscape where anything can happen. Each angle he chooses heightens the terror which starts to close in on the covert escape as they drift further and further from their homebase. Argo is a complete package with the '70s production design knowing when to play goofy (the fake movie's wild sci-fi designs) and when to remind us that problems took eight more steps to fix then they do today. Alexandre Desplat's score finds balance in haunting melodies and energetic pulses.
Part of Argo's charm is just how unreal the entire operation really was. To see the men and women involved go through with a plan they know could result in death. It's a suspenseful adventure and while there's not much in the way of character to cling to the visceral experience tends to be enough.
The Devil Wears Prada beauty plays British-born Emma in the film, but many critics have been left unimpressed with Hathaway's regional dialect.
However, David Nicholls, who wrote the hit 2009 novel on which the movie is based, is adamant Hathaway has done his literary creation justice.
He says, "I just really hope that people can go into the cinema open-minded. Loads of British actresses go in the other direction and put on an American accent and we don't even notice.
"Anne is wonderful in the film, very sweet and funny, and has brought Emma to life in a way that I couldn't have anticipated."
The Devil Wears Prada star plays Yorkshire-born Emma in the film, an adaptation of David Nicholls' 2009 novel, and some critics have been left unimpressed with Hathaway's regional dialect.
But the actress insists her accent is accurate, as Emma spent her formative years moving from place to place.
Hathaway tells Britain's Grazia magazine, "Emma is from Leeds but has been at university, and then goes to London, so the accent is designed to change the way it does when you leave home, particularly in the U.K.
"I met 10 people from Yorkshire and nine of them didn't sound like they were from Yorkshire any more."
The Devil Wears Prada star fell in love with the role of Yorkshire-born Emma in the film, which is an adaptation of David Nicholls' 2009 novel.
Hathaway convinced director Lone Scherfig she was perfect for the part - but the American actress admits she initially doubted her ability to tackle the regional dialect.
She tells Britain's Marie Claire magazine, "I've never been so nervous about playing anyone as I was to play Emma.
"There were many reasons to say no to this part. One, because I didn't think I could pull it off. Two, I was very nervous about the Yorkshire accent."
A little back story - the Black List is not a “best of” list by any regard. Instead it is referred to as a “most liked” list. Each year Franklin Leonard asks several members of the entertainment industry elite - top agents, managers, executives, people like that - to vote for their favorite unproduced screenplays and each year he publishes the resulting list. Several of your favorite unique movies of the past few years (Juno, 500 Days of Summer, Lars and The Real Girl) appeared on the list and it has helped launch quite a few careers.
Having said that, there is a caveat. While the criteria calls for the screenplay to be “unproduced” several of these works have either been optioned and/or are in production. In fact, a few have already been made. And there have been whispers that some agencies and managers stack the list for their own clients so this is by no means a fair or accurate list. But alas, that’s Hollywood baby.
Anyway, on to the most promising sounding scripts!
College Republicans - Wes Jones. Taking the top spot this year is the true story of Karl Rove running for the presidency of the College Of Republicans under the guidance of Lee Atwater. Rove is one of the most devious little bastards of the American political system in the past two decades. It’ll be interesting to see this story translated to screen. Shia LaBeouf and Paul Dano are loosely attached to the project.
Jackie - Noah Oppenheim. The second place script follows Jackie Kennedy in the immediate week following JFK’s assassination. While the nation mourned the loss of its leader, she mourned the death of her husband...intriguing to say the least. Sounds heartwrenching. Steven Spielberg is on board to executive produce through Amblin, with Rachel Weisz in talks to star.
All You Need is Kill - Dante Harper. Third place goes to the first skeptical inclusion, an adaptation of a graphic novel. Its high ranking somewhat ensures that it is indeed good, but still the fact that it isn’t original isn’t promising. The story follows a soldier in the future who finds himself caught in a time loop after dying on the battlefield. His tactical skills become more concise after each "death". Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) to direct.
999 - Matt Cook. A group of corrupt cops have to shoot a fellow officer in order to get away. How can you not like the sound of that? John Hillcoat to direct, Chris Pine in talks to star.
Margin Call - JC Chandor. Our first produced screenplay! This one stars Kevin Spacey and a gaggle of gifted performers. You’ll be able to see it next year as it premieres at Sundance.
American Bullshit - Eric Warren Singer. Another true story of an FBI sting in the US Congress. This is a perfect example of the unwritten rule of the Black List: if you want your film on it, give its title a little dirty word.
The Last Son of Isaac Lemay - Greg Johnson. An aging outlaw is convinced his children are evil and sets off to kill him. However, his worst fears come to life when he meets his last remaining son. Sounds a lot like Dexter and I’m completely okay with that.
Die in a Gun Fight - Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari. A contemporary take on the Romeo & Juliet tale. This one just had Zac Efron attached to it and has a good chance of getting made.
Imagine - Dan Fogelman. You’ll be seeing this one soon enough with Steve Carell as the son of an aging rockstar discovers the life of his father he never knew existed.
Chronicle - Max Landis. Three teens discovers they have gained superpowers after contact with a mysterious substance in the woods. Things start off all fun and games until they start to turn on each other. Finally! Something not involving politics!
Your Bridesmaid is a Bitch - Brian Duffeld. A guy agrees to be a groomsman for his sister’s wedding only to discover the woman who broke his heart is also a part of the wedding. Why the guy (or the sister for that matter) didn’t see this coming remains to be seen. But again, put a dirty word in your title = recognition.
What Happened To Monday? - Max Botkin. A group of identical septuplets has to investigate the disappearance of one their siblings when the government forces families to only conceive one child due to population overcrowding. The possibilities of this seem amazing and due to the title it seems likely each sibling is named after a day of the week. Go me.
The Butler - Danny Strong. A black butler in the White House services eight US Presidents. Could be Forrest Gump. Could be TMZ. Either way, I’m there.
One Day - David Nicholls. Here’s the official Black List summary, “Dexter and Emma meet for the first time on college graduation day in 1988 and proceed to reunite one day a year for the next 20 years.” Here’s my official reactiong, “Bluuuuurgh.” This one is in post-production with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess starring. Lone Scherfig (An Education) directs.
Murder of a Cat - Christian Magalhars & Robert Snow. A dark comedy about a guy investigating his cat’s death? Why hasn’t this been made sooner?
Can You Keep A Secret - Megan Martin. A woman spills all of her secrets to the stranger on a rough plane ride. Turns out the stranger is the CEO of her company. This logline actually made me laugh out loud. I really hope it gets made.
Cinema Verite - David Seltzer. “Based on the PBS series ‘An American Family,’ cameras follow a family as they go about their daily life.” I’m sorry, I couldn’t make it through that sentence. I had to copy and paste.
The Girl With Something Extra - Terrence Michael. A girl enters high school and suddenly realizes she’s a boy who has been raised his whole life to believe he is a girl? Talk about an awkward first day of gym class.
Ricky Stanicky - Jeff Bushell. Three childhood friends invent someone to take the blame for all of their shenanigans. Eventually their wives demand to meet this person and they hire and actor to play him. Sounds like a Farrelly Brothers movie and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. James Franco is attached.
Zombie Baby - Andy Jones. You don’t need to know anything other than the title. Trust me.
Boy Scouts Vs. Zombies - Carrie Evans & Emi Mochizuko. Again, no other information necessary.
Prom - Katie Wech. “High school students prepare for their prom.” No, seriously. That is all there is to it.
Fucking Jane Austen - Blake Bruns. Again, use a dirty word, get Black Listed. But this one actually lives up to its title. Two men are pissed at Austen for creating unrealistic expectations about love among women (preach it brothers!) so they get sent back in time. Unfortunately the only way for them to get back is to have Jane Austen fall in love and sleep with one of them.
Paint - Brit McAdams. From the list, “A Bob Ross-esque PBS painting show host must fight for his career when his station brings in a rival painting host.” Stop, you had me a Bob Ross-esque.
The second installment of his life story, The Fry Chronicles, was named Biography of the Year at the London ceremony, seeing off competition from former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair with his recently released memoir A Journey.
David Nicholls landed the Popular Fiction Book Of The Year honour for One Day and American author Jonathan Franzen collected the International Author of the Year trophy for Freedom, while literary veterans Terry Pratchett and Martin Amis were handed outstanding achievement awards.
The winners of the ceremony's eight categories will now be put to a public vote to determine the Galaxy Book of the Year. The final will be announced on 13 December (10).
Hathaway is currently in the British capital working on an adaptation of David Nicholls' novel, One Day, and has spent her time off relaxing in the Prince Arthur pub in Hackney, East London.
The Devil Wears Prada star impressed the bar staff and regulars at a recent late-night party when she took the microphone and performed an impromptu cabaret set into the early hours.
But the 27 year old has kept up her professionalism - by turning up on set ready to work despite her late nights.
A source tells Britain's Daily Mail, "She's built up quite a reputation since the performance. But whatever she does in the pub, Anne has an enviable knack of showing up for filming the next morning as fresh as a daisy, as though she'd gone to sleep at 9pm with a mug of cocoa."
The bonds of friendship, especially deep-rooted relationships that span decades, are central to the human experience. While most simply think of the high school or college buddies we see so infrequently in our daily lives, it is the friendships that go sour over incidents from years ago that always seem to leave the deepest marks and are the more decidedly difficult to overcome.
Director Matthew Warchus taps into this deep, lingering hurt in his adaptation of Sam Shepard's play "Simpatico." Set against the backdrop of thoroughbred horse racing in Kentucky, "Simpatico" tells the intertwining stories of three close friends whose foray into the world of fixing horse races leads them down a dark and dangerous path.
In the midst of young love and blissful delusion, Carter (Jeff Bridges), Rosie (Sharon Stone) and Vinnie (Nick Nolte) worked together switching bad horses for good ones, thus inflating the odds and allowing them to make huge payoffs on long-priced horses. When racing commissioner Sims (Albert Finney) discovers their cheating, the three try to pay him off. When that fails, they trick him into a life-altering set-up that ruins his life.
Decades later, the three are living very different lives. Vinnie has relocated to a small California town, where he lives in virtual poverty among the bits and pieces of his life with Carter and Rosie. By great contrast, Carter has become a very wealthy horse breeder in Kentucky, where he has married Vinnie's old love, Rosie.
A strange and paranoid call from Vinnie puts the friends' lives in Turmoil, however, on the eve of Carter's biggest horse sale to date: the Triple Crown-winning thoroughbred "Simpatico." Jumping the first flight to L.A., Carter is led to believe that Vinnie has been arrested for harassing a young woman named Cecilia (Catherine Keener).
Still uneasy over the terrible crime they committed so long ago, Carter reveals that the man they set up has returned to Kentucky under an assumed name. When Carter agrees to speak to the woman who had Vinnie locked up, he discovers he's been tricked. Vinnie takes Carter's car, wallet and plane ticket back to Kentucky.
It seems the need for redemption is too much for Vinnie to let go of. His part in destroying the racing commissioner's life has haunted him for too long, and now, he decides, is the time to make amends. All the while, the sale of Simpatico grows nearer and Carter's acceptance of what Vinnie's actions might do to him becomes clearer. Whether Vinnie can track down the commissioner or make up for what he's done is irrelevant. What matters to him is the ability to try to alter the future and undo the past.
Director Warchus does a fine job of using the strengths of his players as well as the material he's adapting. From the genial melancholy of Bridges to the misplaced enthusiasm of Nolte to the seething repulsion of Stone, Warchus gets powerhouse performances from his cast in roles that very easily could have drifted into over-the-top cartoons under less steady hands.
As expected, "Simpatico" is a beautifully shot picture, thanks to award-winning cinematographer John Toll ("Braveheart," "The Thin Red Line"), as well as being a smart and engaging work that really begs the question of audiences: Can the past ever really be laid to rest?
* MPAA rating: R, for some strong sexuality and language.
Jeff Bridges: Lyle Carter Nick Nolte: Vinnie Webb Sharon Stone: Rosie Catherine Keener: Cecilia Albert Finney: Simms
A Fine Line presentation. Director Matthew Warchus. Screenplay Matthew Warchus and David Nicholls. Play Sam Shepard. Director of photography John Toll. Editor Pasquale Buba. Music Stewart Copeland. Production designer Amy B. Ancona. Costume designer Karen Patch. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.