Before their 1997 Best Original Screenplay win for Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were steadily finding acting work (albeit costarring roles in Kevin Smith films and fluff like Mystic Pizza, but hey, work is work). But when the Academy Awards bestowed them with gold, that's when they transformed into bonafide stars. Matt and Ben were Hollywood Renaissance men — they could do anything! And thankfully, they have.
In the past decade, Damon has gone on to become one of the biggest, brightest stars, earning an Oscar nomination for Clint Eastwood's Invictus in 2010. Affleck has made a name for himself as a director, helming prestigious dramas like Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and the upcoming Argo. Now the duo is adding another role to their roster: producer. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that, through their new company Pearl Street (housed at Warner Bros., the studio that touts the Oscar-friendly Argo), Affleck and Damon will produce Race to the South Pole, an original screenplay pitch that will chronicle the lives of Englishman Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen as they attempted to outrun each other on their quest to reach the South Pole in the early 1900s.
Making the film even more of a family affair is the involvement of Casey Affleck, who is attached to star as Scott. Does Damon have a Norwegian cousin?
Race to the South Pole marks the beginning of what should prove to be a fruitful reunion harkening back to Damon and Affleck's collaborative days. Along with the period drama, Pearl Street produced the upcoming Gus Van Sant film Promised Land (co-written by and starting Damon), and is developing another Affleck-directed picture based on Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger, with Damon planning to star. If anyone thought Good Will Hunting was a stroke of luck, think again.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Eric Charbonneau/WireImage]
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You spent the summer watching superheroes battle evildoers, foul-mouthed bears crack jokes, and Channing Tatum show off his finest assets, but now that it's Fall, you're looking for something a little meatier (that is, if there's anything meatier than Channing Tatum's assets). No problem there: the autumnal season is overflowing with dramatic films to balance out your year. But which one is for you? Here's a rundown of everything coming your way in the next two months with a handy rundown to decide which tearjerker, which ripped from the headlines tale, which artsy exploration of the human condition fits your personal criteria:
Release Date: Sept. 14
You should see it if…: You missed Richard Gere as a leading man. You're looking for more reasons to hate the 1 percent. You don't know what the word "arbitrage" means.
Release Date: Sept. 14
You should see it if…: You're in the mood to take in a cinematic existential crisis. You're looking for greater understanding in the world. You know what 70mm is. You find beauty in the soothing sounds of Philip Seymour Hoffman's voice.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Release Date: Sept. 14
You should see it if…: You fondly remember the '90s. You continue to loathe the '90s. You barely remember the '90s, but you still have all your old mix tapes from the '90s. You were born in the '90s but are eager to see what all the fuss was about. You love feelings.
End of Watch
Release Date: Sept. 21
You should see it if…: You're ready for Jake Gyllenhaal to stop being such a nice boy. You want the first person action perspective of a video game without all the finger blisters. You want an inside look at the underbelly of South Central, Los Angeles. You want an inside look at the underbelly of quinceaneras.
Trouble with the Curve
Release Date: Sept. 21
You should see it if…: You need a reminder of Clint Eastwood's day job. You miss baseball. You're having trouble with your curve. You need a feel good drama to make you warm and cuddly as Fall really begins to set in.
Release Date: Oct. 5
You should see it if…: You want a period drama stripped of its stuffiness. You like fog. You recall reading the book in high school but would much rather have someone else re-read to you. You need a day off from your Pride and Prejudice/Mr. Darcy obsession.
Release Date: Oct. 10
You should see it if…: You want to see Zac Efron do some aaaaaacting! You're committed to witnessing Matthew McConaughey climb every rail of the comeback ladder. You loved Precious. You're curious about that whole "peeing on Nicole Kidman" thing.
Release Date: Oct. 12
You should see it if…: You're a Gone Baby Gone and The Town fan. You own a t-shirt with Ben Affleck's face on it. You're fascinated by '70s era poltico thrillers. You're wondering what an "argo" is (note: it's not an arbitrage).
Release Date: Oct. 17
You should see it if…: You want to see an artist's interpretation of ultimate despair. You don't need your movies to bogged down by "narrative." You're sticking with creativity as your drug of choice.
Killing Them Softly
Release Date: Oct. 19
You should see it if…: Brad Pitt. You love crime films. Brad Pitt. You love political metaphors. Brad Pitt. You're a die hard fan of Sopranos actor James Gando—ok, Brad Pitt.
Release Date: Oct. 26
You should see it if…: You want to see how an iron lung really works. You love poetry. You want to see Helen Hunt bravely bare all. You want your mind blown by actor John Hawkes, who transforms himself to play a paraplegic.
On the Road
Release Date: Oct. 31
You should see it if…: The only people for you are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.
Release Date: Nov. 2
You should see it if…: You've long awaited the return of Denzel Washington's prestige drama side. You want to be more scared of flying in planes. You want to see if Robert Zemeckis still remembers what working with real people is like.
Release Date: Nov. 9
You should see it if…: You want to see the real Abraham Lincoln star in a Spielberg movie. Wait, that's Daniel Day-Lewis?! No way!!! That's insane! He looks just like the real Lincoln. You want to know how they did that. Immediately.
The Silver Linings Playbook
Release Date: Nov. 11
You should see it if…: You want to know if Bradley Cooper is a guy you actually like or just really want to like. You want to see what everyone was raving about at TIFF. You need to fill time between Catching Fire. You love the Eages — go Eagles!!
Release Date: Nov. 16
You should see it if…: You want to see a romantic epic brought to life. You want see if Keira Knightley still has something to add to the "costume drama" genre. You want to see what all the fuss is about.
Life of Pi
Release Date: Dec. 14
You should see it if…: You read that book! You roomed with a tiger once. You love high seas adventures. Visual spectacle is an immediate draw. You want to see what a guy like Ang Lee can do with 3D (and the guess is, a ton).
In 2008, a Best Picture nomination for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight looked like a sure thing. Though "popcorn cinema" didn't have a track record for nabbing spots on the list — between 1999 and '08, only The Sixth Sense and the Lord of the Rings trilogy stood out as both "prestige" and blockbuster fare — many considered Nolan's second Batman movie to be the real deal. Amazing visuals, poignant themes, a standout performance by the late Heath Ledger, and rave reviews across the board were the perfect awards equation. Then, after months of speculation, the nominees were finally announced. The Dark Knight was noticeably absent from the Best Picture list.
Ledger went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while the film itself won a Sound Editing award and earned nominations for Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Makeup, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. But even four years later, the missing nominations for The Dark Knight and Nolan are widely considered one of the Academy's more egregious snubs. Now it's The Dark Knight Rises' time to run the Oscar race — will it fare any better? Once again, the evidence for Best Picture success is there, but award season prognosticators are playing it safe. No one wants another 2008.
"Without factoring in any films that might pop up on the schedule between now and December, there are probably, realistically, 19 films that could be in the Best Picture conversation," says Erik Childress, Vice President of the Chicago Film Critics Association. The consistency of Academy members to nominate films that fit the "Oscar bill" — often dramas, usually star-studded, and with source material or talent behind the camera that gives it an evident Hollwood pedigree — allows savvy award seers to accurately predict what may or may not be fodder for consideration. With that mind, Childress believes we've only seen a few movies so far that could wind up in conversation by year's end. "Only four of those films have been released as of yet: The Avengers, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom and The Dark Knight Rises. If The Avengers isn't rewarded for being the biggest hit of the year (not to mention one of the best reviewed), voters can look to Nolan's film as being the more serious of the two and reward it as part of a larger landscape."
In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (the enterprise behind the Oscars) threw Hollywood a curveball with a rule that dramatically changed the award season. For the first time, ten films were nominated for Best Picture allowing more movies with less votes slip into the category. The impact of the rule was immediately apparent: In '09, indie darlings like Precious and A Serious Man made the cut, while two sci-fi flicks — Avatar and District 9 — breached the top ten. In 2010, the Best Picture race finally had room for a Nolan epic, with a nomination for the mind-bending heist picture Inception (although the nod was bittersweet — the filmmaker was still left off the five-slot Best Directors list after garnering wins). 2011 saw the rule evolve once more, the set ten nominations transitioning to a sliding scale that gave greater weight to the vote count. The potential for a large roster opens up the playing field for a Dark Knight Rises nomination (it will be hard for the Academy to ignore a movie that's already eclipsed the $500 million worldwide box office mark), but inevitable comparisons to The Dark Knight and Inception may leave Nolan's trilogy-capper out of top tier of 2012.
"The question is whether the Dark Knight trilogy is really one that has had that same kind of support among Academy members up until this movie," says Ed Douglas of ComingSoon.net. "The answer is 'no.' Neither Batman Begins nor The Dark Knight received Best Picture nominations … Since The Dark Knight Rises is closer to Batman Begins than The Dark Knight, we're probably going to see another Best Picture snub, and probably only technical awards once again." Childress doesn't see Batman's lack of Best Picture nominations standing in the way of The Dark Knight Rises — in fact, it might work in the movie's favor. "Because of The Dark Knight's association with its big snubbing in 2008, despite getting eight nominations, there's a make-up factor that the Academy doesn't shy away from, especially when the films are of great quality and deserve to be in the conversation anyway." Nolan's lack of Best Director nominations adds to the "we owe him one" mentality found in the Academy thinking. "There's an inside track for it that is only accentuated with it being one of the best-reviewed films of 2012."
It's hard to believe, but Oscars voters are people too. And like anyone with Internet at their fingertips, ears and eyes to pick up on the latest campaigning, and minds that have to make sense of it all, they're aware of the almighty buzz. Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience puts it into perspective: "Though I am weary of the internet's strange obsession with The Academy owing Chris Nolan for The Dark Knight (most filmmakers would kill to be snubbed to the tune of eight nominations and two wins for a single blockbuster in a non Oscar-friendly genre), I do recognize the sheer force of its angry wall of fandom and the estimable endurance of the mainstream media's bandwagon bitching about the self same "snub." AMPAS is not an impermeable monolithic fortress but an organization made up of people with different opinions who are, like any other people, subject to influence by way of public opinion."
History aside, The Dark Knight Rises has found ample footing for an Oscar run in positive feedback. Critics and moviegoers alike laud the film. On the popular polling site Metacritic, The Dark Knight Rises holds a score of 78/100 from critics and an 8.7 from users, compared to The Dark Knight (82/100 from critics and an 8.9 from users), and previous Best Picture winners like The Artist (89/100 from critics and an 7.9 from users), The King's Speech (88/100 from critics and an 8.4 from users), and The Hurt Locker (94/100 from critics and an 7.0 from users). Ropes of Silicon founder Brad Brevet believes positive reviews swing voters, and The Dark Knight Rises has won over the right people. "[Roger] Ebert's review didn't help but [New York Times critic Mahnola] Dargis loving it is pretty big. [LA Times critic Kenneth] Turan was big on it as well. It's probably a no-brainer for a Best Pic nom, but probably a pat on the back and a placement outside the top five when all is said and done."
Many believe the comic book foundation of The Dark Knight Rises, its predecessors, and its successors is the fatal flaw that will keep the genre from ever finding Oscar gold, but if there's anyone who can pull through, it will be Nolan. The Artist won the hearts of cineastes with its throwback to the Golden Age. Nolan does the same thing with his Batman films, employing old school stylings of grandeur in the vein of David Lean and Stanley Kubrick, albeit with a dark, superheroic edge." The Dark Knight series has elevated the superhero genre to art in the same way that the Godfather did for gangster films and The Lord of the Rings did for fantasy," an anonymous Oscar voter tells Hollywood.com. The Academy member, in his 60s, put his vote with Nolan in 2008 and is more than ready to do it again with The Dark Knight Rises. "I personally nominated the Dark Knight for Best Picture and as of now, will certainly do the same for The Dark Knight Rises. It has all of the brilliant filmmaking elements that Dark Knight had, minus of course the remarkable performance of Heath Ledger. If Dark Knight Rises falls short in any way, it might simply be that no performance stands out to the extent of Ledger's. However, Gary Oldman's portrayal of Commissioner Gordon has consistently been the heart of these films and Anne Hathaway is easily the best Catwoman ever."
In a discussion between two vets of the Oscar race, Anne Thompson of Indiewire/Thompson on Hollywood and Kris Tapley of In Contention, Tapley questions whether Warner Bros. will even campaign for The Dark Knight Rises. The studio has a full slate of potential awards contenders, including Ben Affleck's Argo, Clint Eastwood's Trouble with the Curve, and Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. Is there room for TDKR? Thompson is confident they will. "They're going to go for it because they went for Inception. You can tell: Nolan worked it. He went everywhere, he accepted every award from every guild. He could not be more eager and I think he was very disappointed." A "For Your Consideration" campaign for Dark Knight Rises has a lot to offer: after all, Nolan has yet to be honored and this is the grand finale of a massive franchise. The triumph could swing both ways — 2011's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 went out with a bang but failed to hook voters. On the other side, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings found success in its final installment (but that was after three consecutive years of LOTR, unlike the four-year gap between Dark Knight and 2012's sequel). There's a solid case for why the film should take a Best Picture nomination.
If history repeats itself, Batman's last act should walk away with at least one gold statue. "The Dark Knight Rises should have no trouble finding a handful of technical nominations," says Rogers. "Contrary to the Internet's belief system, the Academy actually likes Batman and especially The Dark Knight. His past seven films have shared 15 Oscar nominations and three wins and roughly half of that tally comes from the movie everyone claims was snubbed." But if The Dark Knight Rises doesn't swoop in and pick up the big award of the night this time around, fans shouldn't fret: there's always the reboot.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros.]
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