Christened Benjamin Géza Affleck-Bold, but more commonly known by his other moniker, Ben Affleck is the name on most film critics’ lips right now.
After rapturous reception at Telluride and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) for the Affleck directed (and acted in) Argo, Oscar talk is in the air — and, for once — unfettered with undeserved hype.
Those who’ve seen the film are calling it a milestone moment for Affleck and, more, exactly the kind of material likely to get Academy voters’ juices flowing.
Nutshelled: Argo is a thriller about a mission to rescue six US hostages from a besieged Canadian embassy in Tehran, by pretending to cast them as actors in a sci-fi film. The cast features solid names — John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Scoot McNairy — and a smorgasbord of others.
Reasons vary, but the consensus is Argo delivers on all fronts: tense, funny, and compelling. Based on the real life events of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and an operation imagined, and led, by CIA agent Tony Mendez — it’s a smart movie for a smart moviegoer.
This is all great news for Affleck.
After coming to most people’s (of a certain age) attention in 1997’s Chasing Amy, Affleck also got his first taste of Oscar nectar in 1997 with his friend Matt Damon, for Good Will Hunting. The duo shared ‘Best Original Screenplay’, Robin Williams nabbing ‘Best Supporting Actor’ to bring home two Oscars. A Golden Globe in 1998 for ‘Best Screenplay’ capped a great run.
Enter the paycheck gigs, amid some worthy fare. Lead roles in chest-thumping commercial hits like Armageddon (1998), the exception to that being Dogma (1999), then Pearl Harbor (2001.) The more muscular Changing Lanes followed, but, then, so too did The Sum of All Fears in 2002.
Not a wholly bad crop. But perception, as they say, is everything. The thinking that Affleck had failed to live up to his promise and was now treading water, cemented by the lamentable Daredevil (2003). 2004’s Jersey Girl only underlined the rot.
But the origin of that meme wasn’t just Affleck’s films, it was his personal life. A high profile relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow in 1998 (a liaison that ultimately floundered), the same year Armageddon struck box office gold, appeared to confirm that the actor was becoming what Deadspin’s Tim Grierson called, “A celebrity tabloid figure—the hunk who had somehow won an Oscar.”
Then, came ‘Bennifer.’
A seemingly vacuous, paparazzi-happy-hour relationship with Jennifer Lopez, then at her most blingtastic, made the pair easy targets for ridicule. Who can forget the horror that was 2003’s Gigli? Or Affleck’s spellbindingly, cheesy cameo in Lopez’s “Jenny From The Block” video. The latter, coming off like an unconscious plea for an intervention.
Maybe someone did. Mercifully, ‘Bennifer’ imploded in 2004. With the advent of Jennifer Garner at the tail end of 2004, and marriage in June 2005, Affleck got serious.
2006 saw him deliver a numinous performance in Hollywoodland. His directorial debut came a year later with Gone Baby Gone and signaled the beginning of a definitive turnaround. Affleck’s brother, Casey, starred alongside Amy Ryan, who scored an Oscar nomination for her efforts.
Supporting roles In 2009’s State of Play and 2010’s The Company Men didn’t rock the boat, but they didn’t capsize it either. The Town, also released in 2010 saw Affleck direct again and star. It produced another Oscar teaser, this time for Jeremy Renner. In Hollywood’s eyes, Affleck was now a director of note.
And so, full circle, to Argo. Last month, renowned critic Roger Ebert unequivocally declared:
“The winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture will be Ben Affleck’s tense new thriller “Argo.” How do I know this? Because it is the audience favorite coming out of the top-loaded opening weekend of the Toronto Film Festival.”
Success at TIFF, seen as a litmus indicator for the Oscars [see The King’s Speech, The Artist, No Country For Old Men] is a fantastic place for a contender to make its mark. And Argo did.
As 2012 nears to a close, Affleck’s name is now spoken of as it was back in 1997. But this time, with respect not for an ingenue, but as someone for whom the way back was no certain thing. He might not be talking Oscars, but everyone else is. ‘Bennifer’ who?
Affleck joined by wife, Jennifer Garner, Argo producer George Clooney, Stacey Keibler, and ex-CIA agent Tony Mendez at the AMPAS Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Thursday (October 4) in Beverly Hills, Calif.