Argo and Zero Dark Thirty win top WGA Awards

Political thriller Argo continues to sweeps top awards, winning the best adapted screenplay at the Writers Guild of American awards this evening for Chris Terrio. Argo beat Perks of Being a Walilower, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook.

The Best Original Screenplay went to Mark’s Boal’s screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty, topping Flight, Looper, The Master and Moonrise Kingdom.

Both screenplays are nominated for Oscars, where they will be facing other screenplays that were ineligible for WGA awards, such as Amour and Django in the Original Screenplay category and Beasts of the Southern Wild in the adapted screenplay category. Looper, The Master and Perks of Being a fWallflower are not nominated for an Oscar in their respective categories.

In television, Breaking Bad won for best drama and Louie won best comedy, while Girls took the best new series trophy.

Oscar nominated Searching for Sugar Man grabbed the best documentary award for Malik Bendjelloul.

The WGA awards are voted by its 12000 members. Writers represent about 6% of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences votes, hence they are considered a reliable predictor of the Oscars for Screenplays.


Ben Affleck talks politics: Argo, The Middle-East and Hollywood.(Video)



In this interview, I discuss with Ben Affleck his Golden Globe winning movie, Argo, which revolves around the rescue of 7 American, who took refuge at the Canadian Ambassador home, after their embassy was stormed by angry Iranian demonstrators in 1979.

Ben Affleck, who graduated from Harvard in Middle-Eastern studies, reflects on the state of the Middle-East these days and the US involvement there. He also comments on Hollywood’s portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in the movies.

Brits Shine at the Golden Globe Awards Nominations

Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt earn Golden Globes nominations for their roles in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

British pictures and talent dominated the 70th Golden Globe Award nominations, which were announced this morning at The Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Comedies The Best Exotic Hotel and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Tom Hooper’s musical Les Miserables each gained a nomination in Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. They will be competing against Silver Linings Playbook and Moonrise Kingdom in the same category.

Salmon Fishing in The Yemen, also earned two nominations in the Best Performance by An Actor and Actress in Comedy or Musical for British actors Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt respectively. Two dames, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, joined Blunt in the same category, which also included Meryl Streep (Hope Springs) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook).

Ewan McGregor will be competing against Jack Black (Bernie), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and Bill Murray (Hyde Park On Hudson).

British actors were also featured in the Drama section of the Golden Globes nominations. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) led the nominations in the Best Performance by An Actor, which also included Richard Gere (Arbitrage), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Denzel Washington (Flight), while a third dame, Helen Mirren (Hitchcock), and Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea) were joined by Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible) in the Best Performance By An Actress in A Motion Picture.

There were no surprises in the Best Motion Picture in the drama section, which included Spielberg’s Lincoln, Ang Lee’s  Life of Pi, Tarantino’s Django Unchained, Ben Affleck’s Argo, and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Each one of the above pictures also garnered a nomination for Best Director and Best Screenplay, except Life of Pi, which lost to the script of Silver Linings Playbook.

Django Unchained also took two nominations in the Best Performance By An Actor in A supporting Role for Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. They were joined by Alan Arkin from Argo, Philip Seymour Hoffman from the Master and Tommy Lee Jones from Lincoln.

The nominations in The Best Performance by Actress in A Supporting Role category were bestowed on Nicole Kidman (Paperboy), Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) and Helen Hunt (The Sessions).

British pop star Adele lead the nomination in the Best Original Song for Skyfall in the recent Bond movie. She was joined by Keith Urban (For You – Act of Valour), Jon Bon Jovi (Not Running Anymore – Stand Up Guys), Claude-Michel Schonberg (Suddenly – Les Miserables) and Taylor Swift (Safe & Sound – The Hunger Games).

Counting nominations per movie this year reveals that Lincoln is the frontrunner with 7 nods, followed by Argo and Django Unchained, both of which have 5 nods.

The Golden Globes also honours TV in similar categories, namely it splits the awards into Drama and Comedy/musical. Like in Films, the TV nominations were dominated by British talent.

British series, Downton Abbey, which won the Golden Globes last year, gained 3 nominations including in the Best Television Series – Drama alongside Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, The Newsroom and Breaking Bad; and in The Best Performance by an Actress in Television Series – Drama for Michelle Dockery, who will be competing against Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Claire Danes (Homeland), Glenn Close (Damages) and Connie Britton (Nashville); and in The Best Performance By An Actress In a Supporting Role for Dame Maggie Smith, who was joined by fellow Brit Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife), Sarah Paulson (Game Change), Hayden Panettiere (Nashville) and Sofia Vergara (Modern Family).

BBC drama The Hour was honoured with a nomination in the Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television alongside Game Change, The Girl, Hatfields and McCoys and Political Animals.

In the same category, Brit Sienna Miller received a nod for Best Performance By an Actress for her role as Tippi Hedren in The Girl. She was joined by Nicole Kidman (Hemingway & Gellhorn), Jessica Lange (American Horror Story: Asylum), Julianne Moore (Game Change) and Sigourney Weaver (Political Animals). In the meantime, Miller’s co-star Toby Jones earned a nomination for Best Performance by an Actor, as Alfred Hitchcock. He will be competing against fellow Brits Clive Owen (Hemingways & Gellhorn)  and Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), and  Woody Harrelson (Game Change) and Kevin Costner (Hatfield & McCoys).

British Actor Damian Lewis (Homeland) led the nominations in the Best Performance By an Actor in Television – Drama, which also included Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom).

Musical Smash and Comedies The Big Bang Theory, Episodes, Girls and Modern Family each won a nomination in the Best Television Series – Comedy or Musical.

Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), who will be hosting the Golden Globe awards show next month, were among the nominees in the Best Performance by An Actress in a Television series, which also included Lena Dunham (Girls), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep) and Zooey Deschanel (New Girl).

The Golden Globe Awards are the most important awards in the film industry after the Oscars. They are voted for by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which is composed of 90 Hollywood-based journalists, who represent international media outlets. The awards will be announced at the Golden Globe Awards show, which will be broadcast live in the US on NBC on 13 January, 2013.

Argo finally tops the US box office

Ben Affleck in Argo

Critical darling and Oscar hopeful, Argo rose to the top of the US box office in its 3rd weekend of play, grossing $12.4 million to a North American total of $60.8 million. It’s the first film to reach the top spot for the first time in its third week of release since The Blind Side, three years ago. It also opened in the 2nd place, behind Skyfall, in the international market with $5 million.

Directed by and starring Ben Affleck, the political thriller tells the story of a CIA agent who contrives a plan to rescue 6 Americans, who took refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s home after escaping the US embassy, when it was taken over by Iranian demonstrators in 1979.

Halloween themed animation Hotel Transylvania claimed the 2nd spot with $9.5 million in its fifth weekend for a total of $130.4 million in the US. It also performed well overseas, settling in the 3rd spot in its 4th weekend with $18.1 million to a foreign total of $68.8 million.

The news wasn’t as rosy for the $100 million Cloud Atlas, which failed to live up to expectations, debuting in the 3rd spot in North America with a measly $9.4 million.

Directed by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer and starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant, the 3 hour meditative epic is based on David Mitchell’s book of the same name that follows characters as they reincarnate in 6 stories spanning over 500 years. In spite of the massive marketing campaign the film has failed to impress critics and audience alike.

More horror movies filled the top of the US box office list in this Halloween weekend. Holdover Paranormal Activity 4 captured the 4th spot in the US and overseas with $8.7 million for a total of $42.6 million and $14.1 million to a total of $48.3 respectively.  It was followed in the US by Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, which debuted to $8 million.

Overall the US box office delivered a mediocre performance over the weekend, which has been attributed to the Halloween parties, baseball and above all Hurricane Sandy, which lead to the complete shutdown of New York city and other cities along  along the US east coast.

In the meantime, the biggest success story was unfolding overseas, where the new Bond movie Skyfall debuted to a staggering $77.7 million, breaking records in several countries, including in the UK, where, having grossed $32.4 million – just over £20 million – it smashed the all-time Saturday attendance record as well as posting the 2nd opening weekend in history just behind Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows – Part 2.

Skyfall opens in the US in two weeks.

Paranormal Activity 4 scares off competition at the US box office

Paranormal Activity 4

Horror sequel Paranormal Activity 4 shot to the top of the box office in the US and abroad with ease, scoring $30.2 million and $26.5 million respectively for a worldwide debut of $56.7 million. The low budget film has failed to match up to its predecessor Paranormal 3, which opened to $52.6 million in the US last year, but it ‘s still an enormous profit generator considering it cost only $5 million to make.

Critical darling, Ben Affleck’s political thriller Argo held to the second place, drawing $16.6 million for a domestic total of $43.2 million. It was followed by the 3D animation Hotel Transylvania, which took $13.5 million. The film was ranked 4 in the international market with $14.5 million for a total of $68.3 million.

In the meantime, Liam Neeson’s starrer Taken 2 dropped to the 4th place in the US and second overseas, earning $13.4 million and $23.6 million respectively. The thriller has grossed $301 million worldwide.

A new thriller Alex Cross, starring Tyler Perry as the fabled Washington D.C. detective popularized in James Patterson’s book series, landed in the 5th spot with $11 million debut.

Animation movie Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, which has been playing overseas for 20 weeks, scored 3rd, eliciting $14.9 million, lifting its international total cume to $482.9 million.

Taken 2 beats Argo in the box office

Liam Neeson in Take 2

Critical darling and Oscar buzz king, Argo, failed to dethrone Taken 2, which held to the crown of domestic and foreign box offices for the second consecutive weekend, drawing $22.5 million (total 86.8) and $41 million (total $132.8) respectively.

Starring Liam Neeson, the action sequel follows a CIA agent, who has to rescue his kidnapped wife from his enemies while vacationing in Istanbul.

Ben Affleck’s political thriller Argo was not far behind in the second spot, opening in the US to a strong $20.1 million.  The critically acclaimed historical film is based on the real-life story of CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Affleck) who contrived a plan to rescue 6 US embassy employees, who had escape to the Canadian Ambassador’s house when their embassy was invaded by Iranian demonstrators following the 1979 revolutions.

The third spot was claimed by horror flick Sinister, which debuted to $18.3 in the US. The film centers on a true-crime writer (Ethan Hawke) whose family plunged into danger after he finds a box of gruesome home movies.

Animated family comedy Hotel Transylvania showed no sign of slowing down in its third weekend, capturing the fourth spot and grossing $17.3 million in the US and taking the third spot with $13.7 million overseas. The film’s total so far has reached $100 million in the US and $49.3 million in foreign markets.

Voiced by Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez and Kevin James, the 3D film seas classic monsters gathering at a Hotel in Transylvania to celebrate Dracula’s daughter birthday.

Another Kevin James starrer, Here Comes the Boom, which was also produced by Adam Sandler, opened soft in the fifth spot with $12 million. The comedy follows a high school biology teacher, who takes on mixed-martial art fighting in order to raise money to prevent extra-curricular activities.

In the meantime, the international market witnessed a smashing debut of Tsunami disaster movie, Impossible,  which shot to the second spot with $13.4 million. Starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, the film, which tells the real-life story of a family reunification after a shattering experience during the 2003 Tsunami, made all its money in Spain, where it had been produced.

Politics and controversy at Toronto Film Festival

Ben Affleck’s Argo was universally hailed as a clear winner at TIFF

There is no other film event that transforms its host city the way Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) does. During the 11-days, the sleepy city of Toronto becomes the thriving epicentre of the film industry, hosting thousands of industry professionals and film fans from all over the world, who come to savour the new offerings of world cinema.

Walking down the streets of downtown Toronto, you are bound to see long lines of film goers snaking around the block, waiting patiently in the scorching heat to see one of the 375 movies screened in the festival or hear the deafening screams of lucky star-spotters as they catch a glimpse of one of the hundreds of attending stars.

Thanks to the large number of premieres, TIFF attracts more  stars than any other festival. They parade the red carpet, shake hands, sign autographs and mingle with the swooning fans. Feeling at ease in Toronto, the celebrities are everywhere: in the bars, restaurants, hotel lobbies and the ubiquitous parties.

But TIFF is not only about stars and parties. Since its inception, 37 years ago, the festival has become one of the best barometers for Oscar contenders. Almost every executive, publicist, critic or reporter in Hollywood descends on Toronto in order to be the first to get a sneak preview the likely champions of the upcoming award season. This year a few contenders have risen above the dizzying foray.

Top of the list is the political thriller Argo, which was universally hailed as the forerunner in next year’s Oscar race.  Directed by and starring Ben Affleck, the film tells the true story of a CIA operative who contrives an audacious plan to smuggle out of Iran 6 US embassy employees, who managed to flee when the embassy was raided by Iranian demonstrators and take refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s house.

The movie received a rapturous applause and a standing ovation from the audience. Later, Ben Affleck was joined by his wife Jennifer Garner, his best friend Matt Damon and the rest of the cast to celebrate the success of the film at a glamorous restaurant.

Coincidentally, the morning after Argo’s premiere, Canada announced the closing of its embassy in Tehran, and a day later the American consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo were stormed by angry demonstrators, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador to Libya.

The main competitor for Argo was another socio-political movie, The Master, which has been creating a lot of buzz since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the best director for Paul Thomas Anderson, and co-stars Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman shared the best actor prize.

The Master has reportedly sparked hostility from angry Scientologists, who urged its producer Harvey Weinstein to cancel its release. Based on the life of Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard, the film tells the story of a WWII veteran, who gets manipulated by a charismatic sect leader.

Jennifer Laurence captivating performance at Silver Lining Playback made her a frontrunner at the Oscar’s race

Notorious for his uncanny ability to sense award-worthy projects, Harvey Weinstein offered another yet different potential Oscar contender: the light-hearted Silver Lining Playbook, which was applauded by critics and audiences alike.

Directed by David O’Russell and starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, the dark comedy centres on a bipolar former teacher (Cooper) who is taken under the wing of a widow (Lawrence) as he struggles to fit back in society. The captivating performances of Cooper and Lawrence make them natural frontrunners in the upcoming Oscar race.

Other movies dealing with disabilities that attracted attention were The Sessions, in which Helen Hunt bares all as a sex surrogate therapist who helps a comatose poet lose his virginity.  And Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone, in which Marion Cotillard delivers a riveting performance as a whale trainer who finds love after losing her legs in an accident.

Tom Hanks was also in town promoting the highly anticipated Cloud Atlas, six interwoven stories and grand themes of karma and compassion. The film, directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski brothers,  didn’t live up the hype, leaving the audience confused and critics divided.

Keira Knightley failed to impress in Anna Karenina

The Brits were here in force too but, unlike the previous few years, their movies didn’t dominate the festival. Keira Knightley, accompanied by director Joe Wright, attended the premiere of Anna Karenina, which benefited from sumptuous production design but was short on character development and performance, leaving critics and audiences unimpressed.

Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts hit the parties to promote The Impossible, a harrowing story about a family who reunite after being ruptured by the 2003 Christmas tsunami. While Olivia Williams was accompanying her co-stars in Hyde Park On Hudson, Bill Murray and Laura Linney, while promoting the movie about the love story between the American president Franklin D Roosevelt and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley.

Harry Potter’s Emma Watson also delighted her fans as she marched down the red carpet at the premiere of her new teen movie, Perks of Being A Wallflower, in which she falls in love with an introvert freshman.

But the star who provoked the loudest screams and most attention from fans was Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, who endowed Toronto with her first public appearance since the revelation of her love affair with the director of Snow White and the Huntsman. She arrived in Toronto to attend the premiere of her new movie On The Road.

While stars glittered on red carpet and at glitzy parties, studio executives and other buyers were hunting treasures in the darkness of screening rooms. But it seems that

Helen Hunt bares all in The Sessions

treasures were in short supply this year.

Nancy Utley, the head of Marketing at Fox Searchlight, told me that she had watched 20 movies, but nothing had tickled her fancy, leaving the festival empty handed. Her sentiment was echoed by the other studio executives, such as Stacey Snider from DreamWorks who came looking for new talent. “I was impressed by a Danish director, and the director of Impossible, and the David Geffen documentary,” she told me when I bumped into her in the hotel lobby. The lucky directors will most likely be invited to the studio, which is headed by Steven Spielberg, for a chat.

By contrast, however, the co-chairman of Lionsgate, Rob Friedman, told me that he felt good about the movies that his company had acquired during the festival, including Thanks For Sharing, Much Ado About Nothing and Emperor.

By the second week of the festival, many of Hollywood’s big players have left Toronto, which gradually fades back to normality as the festival begins to wind down.

Ben Affleck’s Argo fires up Canadians at TIFF

Argo, one of the most talked about movies at Toronto International Film Festival was premiered last night at the Roy Thompson Hall.

Ben Affleck in Argo

The political thriller is based on the true story of the 6 Americans who succeeded in fleeing the US embassy in Tehran when it was stormed by Iranian demonstrators, following the toppling of the Shah in 1979. The escapees took refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home, until they were smuggled out of Iran by CIA operative Tony Mendes (played by Ben Affleck).

Ending with a thank you note to Canada for assisting in saving the 6 Americans, the film received a rapturous applause by the Canadian audience. The nail-biting, suspenseful film was also praised by critics and is predicted by many to dominate the upcoming awards season.

Before the screening, director Ben Affleck, accompanied by his wife, actress Jennifer Garner, walked down the red carpet followed by the rest of the cast, which includes Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler, Alan Arkin and Taylor Schilling.

Just as the Argo premiere after-party began in earnest a few blocks away in Terroni, another movie that created a lot of buzz, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, was having its own premiere. It centres on an unsettled naval veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who is manipulated by a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Later at midnight, Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths received its world premiere, which was attended by the director and his cast, including Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko and Sam Rockwell.