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Ben Affleck Director: Political Thriller is Awards Season Runaway Favorite

Ben Affleck DGA Awards
Ben Affleck director: DGA Award winner.

Ben Affleck tops DGA Awards

Ben Affleck, not nominated for a Best Director Academy Award this year (or any other year), has won the Directors Guild of America’s 2013 DGA Award in the feature-film category. Vying for the same award were multiple DGA Award winner Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, Ang Lee for Life of Pi, and Tom Hooper for Les Misérables. (Image: Argo director Ben Affleck, who also stars in the film, opposite Bryan Cranston.)

Ben Affleck was not only a first-time DGA Award nominee, but he was also competing with filmmakers who have all taken home DGA Awards. Thus, it’s not surprising that when Affleck was handed his DGA Medallion (for his nomination), he told the crowd gathered at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles, “This is very intimidating to me … I feel like I should be auditioning.”

Affleck then proceeded to thank Kathryn Bigelow for being a shining example to his daughters, to thank his wife Jennifer Garner, and to say something or other about his daughters and body tattoos. “Having twice now [here and in Toronto] heard Ben Affleck say he is not going to give a long speech,” tweeted Variety‘s Jon Weisman, “… I wonder what his idea of one is.”

In his DGA Award acceptance speech, Ben Affleck continued to present a humble persona: “I don’t think this makes me a real director, but I think I’m on my way.” Maybe that’ll happen with his next directorial effort, Live by Night, for which he dropped out of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s Focus, and co-star Kristen Stewart.

‘Argo’ and ‘Apollo 13’: Similar awards-season paths

Argo has topped the Producers Guild Awards, the SAG Awards, and now the DGA Awards. Only one movie has won all three guild awards and failed to win the Best Picture Academy Award: Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, back in early 1996. Howard, by the way, much like Affleck, had been bypassed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Directors Branch.

In fact, Ben Affleck is only the third director ever to win the DGA Award without having at least an Academy Award nomination. Fellow celebrity filmmakers Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg, the latter for The Color Purple (1985), are the other two. Something else: for the first time since early 2003, when Rob Marshall won the DGA Award for Chicago but Roman Polanski won the Oscar for The Pianist, the Academy Awards and the DGA Awards will have mismatched winners.

Argo director Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston photo: Warner Bros. All DGA Awards 2013 quotes via Variety‘s Dave McNary.

Below are the other DGA Awards 2013 winners, via Variety‘s Dave McNary’s Twitter account: (Image: Ben Affleck at the DGA Awards 2013.)

Jay Roach received the DGA Award for Best Director of a Television Movie or Miniseries for Game Change, about former U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (played by Julianne Moore). Roach had previously won a DGA Award for another TV movie about an American presidential election: Recount (2008), which starred Kevin Spacey, Bob Balaban, and Laura Dern in this dramatization of the 2000 Florida recount that ultimately resulted in George W. Bush winning the election despite having lost the popular vote.

Lena Durham was the winner in the Best Television Comedy Series category for Girls; Paul Hoen won in the Television Children’s Program category for Let It Shine; and Brian Smith won in the Television Reality Show category for Master Chef. And as expected, Producers Guild Award winner Malik Bendjelloul won in the Best Documentary category for Searching for Sugar Man.

Looper director Rian Johnson took home the DGA Award in the Best Television Drama Series category for Breaking Bad, starring Bryan Cranston, who also stars in Argo and was a DGA Award nominee for Modern Family. (Cranston lost to the aforementioned Lena Durham.)

The DGA Award for Best Television Variety Program went to Glenn Weiss for The 66th Annual Tony Awards, while Jill Mitwell won in the Best Daytime Serial category for the soap One Life to Live. Both Weiss and Mitwell are now four-time DGA Award winners.

And finally, Alejandro González Iñárritu, a DGA Award nominee for Babel in early 2007, won this year’s award in the Television Commercial category for “Best Jobs,” which ran during the London Olympic Games.

In the special categories, veteran Milos Forman (The Fireman’s Ball, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Hair, Amadeus) received the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award (Motion Pictures), while Michael Apted, whose latest documentary, the “Up Saga” entry 56 and Up opened in the United States earlier this year, was given the Robert Aldrich Achievement Award. Forman was unable to attend the ceremony as he was bed-ridden.

DGA Awards nominees

Steven Spielberg, whom Martin Short introduced as the director of the “magnificent movie ‘Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer [sic]’,” told his fellow nominees that “yours are some of finest films in recent memory.” Spielberg, initially an awards-season favorite for Lincoln, then lamented that his competitors’ movies shouldn’t have been that good.

Kathryn Bigelow, whose Zero Dark Thirty has been widely criticized for its depiction of torture, recycled a segment from her various The Hurt Locker declarations when she was handed her DGA Medallion for her nomination: “Remember the sacrifice of those who fought and died for our rights.” More original was Hugh Jackman’s line while introducing Les Misérables director Tom Hooper: “Believe us when we say that Tom Hooper is absolutely bat-shit crazy.”

Ang Lee, for his part, told the crowd: “It means more to me than Oscar because it’s from my peers, who know how hard it is.” Lee has won two DGA Awards – for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain; the latter movie also earned him an Academy Award.

Now, if the “it” found in Lee’s speech was referring to his winning the DGA and Academy awards, it makes perfect sense; after all, every Academy member votes for the winners. But if Lee was referring to his DGA Award nomination this year, then it’s total nonsense, as the directors nominated for the Academy Awards are selected solely by the Academy’s Directors Branch.

Director Ben Affleck DGA Awards 2013 image: © Directors Guild of America. All DGA Awards 2013 quotes via Dave McNary.

Ben Affleck Directors Guild Awards

DGA Awards: Ben Affleck to win again?

Feb. 2: Ben Affleck has never won a Directors Guild of America Award. In fact, Affleck had never even been nominated for the DGA Award until this year. Yet, the Argo director is the clear favorite to win the 2013 DGA Award simply because he failed to be shortlisted for the Academy Awards – one of the most surprising “snubs” in Oscar history. (Image: Argo director Ben Affleck.)

True, Kathryn Bigelow was also “snubbed” for Zero Dark Thirty, but Bigelow’s political thriller has been enmeshed in some nasty controversy regarding the film’s depiction of torture and its role in the U.S. government’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. Argo, on the other hand, is just an audience-friendly political thriller about the rescue of U.S. personnel held in Iran during the hostage crisis in the late 1970s. That’s probably why Argo, not Zero Dark Thirty (or Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln), has won top awards at the populist awards shows – the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globes – in addition to the Producers Guild Award. (Note: Ben Affleck co-produced Argo, alongside George Clooney and Grant Heslov.)

Also worth mentioning is that Kathryn Bigelow has already won a DGA Award: for The Hurt Locker in early 2010. She made history then as the first woman to top the DGA Awards shortlist, and many probably think that’s enough for the time being.

And finally, DGA voters like to honor well-known talent bypassed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Directors Branch: Steven Spielberg, “snubbed” for The Color Purple in early 1986, and Ron Howard, “snubbed” for Apollo 13 in early 1996, both won DGA Awards.

Put all that together and that’s why Ben Affleck and his movie are the most likely candidates to take home the DGA Awards later tonight.

If Ben Affleck wins the DGA Award…

If Ben Affleck does win the 2013 DGA Award, it’ll mark the first time in a decade – since Rob Marshall’s victory for Chicago – that the DGA Award and the Academy Awards will go their separate ways. It’ll also mark only the third time in the history of the DGA Awards, following Spielberg and Howard, that a director “snubbed” by the Academy won the DGA’s top prize.

For the record, the other 2013 DGA Award nominees are the aforementioned Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, Ang Lee for Life of Pi, and Tom Hooper for Les Misérables. Replacing Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, and Tom Hooper at the Academy Awards were David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, Michael Haneke for Amour, and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Other DGA Awards 2013 predictions

The documentary field is tricky, but I’m betting on U.S. critics’ and Producers Guild of America favorite Malik Bendjelloul for Searching for Sugar Man. Jay Roach, the guy who brought you Meet the Fockers, also brought you Game Change, the likely DGA Award for Best TV Movie or Miniseries.

A handful of other movie directors are in the running for the DGA’s television awards: Adventureland‘s Gregg Mottola for The Newsroom, Looper‘s Rian Johnson for Breaking Bad, and Tiny Furniture‘s Lena Durham for Girls. Although they’re all possibilities, I’m betting on Bryan Cranston for Modern Family in the Comedy Series category and Michael Cuesta for Homeland in the Drama Series category.

Argo director Ben Affleck photo: Warner Bros.

Argo Ben Affleck director awards
Ben Affleck director: Argo is awards season favorite.

Ben Affleck’s Argo tops ACE & WGA Awards

Ben Affleck’s Argo, a political thriller about the rescue of several U.S. hostages held in Iran in the late 1970s, continues to lead this awards season. Following wins at the Producers Guild Awards, the Directors Guild Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, this past weekend Argo won the American Cinema Editors Award for Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic (William Goldenberg) and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio).

Argo has now come out on top in the four major guilds: producers, directors, actors, and screenwriters – not to mention editors, the key wins leading to an eventual Best Picture Academy Award. If Argo does win Best Picture, it’ll be the first film since Bruce Beresford’s Driving Miss Daisy (1989) to achieve that feat without a matching Best Director nomination.

Prior to Driving Miss Daisy, only two Best Picture Oscar winners failed to have a matching Best Director nomination: William A. Wellman’s Wings in the Academy Awards’ first year (1927–28) and Edmund Goulding’s Grand Hotel (1931-32). At times, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters have split their Best Picture / Best Director choices, but apart from the three aforementioned films, the Best Picture Oscar winner invariably had a matching Best Director nomination, e.g., in recent years: John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love (1998; Steven Spielberg won Best Director for Saving Private Ryan), Rob Marshall’s Chicago (2002; Roman Polanski won for The Pianist), and Paul HaggisCrash (2005; Ang Lee won for Brokeback Mountain).

Zero Dark Thirty, Skyfall among other awards winners this past weekend

Besides Argo, among the other award winners this past weekend were the following:

The Kathryn Bigelow-directed political thriller Zero Dark Thirty earned Mark Boal the WGA Award for Best Original Screenplay – even though both Bigelow and Boal have been under fire for the depiction of torture in their film. The other winner in the WGA Awards’ feature film categories was Searching for Sugar Man, which earned director-writer Malik Bendjelloul the Best Documentary Screenplay Award.

The American Cinema Editors’ Best Edited Feature Film – Comedy/Musical winner was the David O. Russell-directed Silver Linings Playbook (Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers). Russell’s comedy-drama is in the running for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and nods in all four acting categories (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver).

The ACE’s Best Edited Documentary – Feature was Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul), while the Best Edited Feature Film – Animated was Disney / Pixar’s Brave (Nicholas C. Smith and Robert Grahamjones).

The top winners of the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ Golden Reel Awards were Sam MendesSkyfall (Sound Effects and Foley in a Feature Film), Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (two wins: Music in a Feature Film, and Dialogue and ADR in a Feature Film), Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables (Music in a Musical Feature Film), Jessica Yu’s Last Call at the Oasis (Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue, ADR and Music in a Feature Documentary), and Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone (Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue and ADR in a Feature Foreign-Language Film).

The Cinema Audio Society Awards, which focuses on sound mixing, went to Les Misérables (Sound Mixing for a Motion Picture – Live Action) and Brave (Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Motion Picture – Animated).

Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Jonathan Demme, Chris Newman honored

Additionally, Lincoln‘s Steven Spielberg was given the American Cinema Editors’ Golden Eddie – the ACE’s Filmmaker of the Year Award. Ang Lee, for his part, received his own Filmmaker Award from the Motion Picture Sound Editors.

The Cinema Audio Society’s Filmmaker Award went to Jonathan Demme, whose credits include Melvin and Howard (1980), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Rachel Getting Married (2008), and the upcoming Wally and Andre Shoot Ibsen, featuring My Dinner with Andre‘s Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, in addition to Larry Pine, Julie Hagerty, and Lisa Joyce.

CAS’s Lifetime Achievement Award was given to veteran sound mixer and frequent Jonathan Demme collaborator Chris Newman, whose credits include some of the top American movies made in the last four decades. Among those are Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969), William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973), Milos Forman’s Hair (1979), Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979), Alan J. Pakula’s Klute (1971) and Sophie’s Choice (1982), Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987), Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1996), Mike NicholsPrimary Colors (1998), and Demme’s Philadelphia (1993) and The Manchurian Candidate (2004).

Ben Affleck Argo image: Warner Bros.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Fellowship competition

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that it is currently accepting entries for the 2013 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition. According to the Academy’s press release, up to five $35,000 fellowships will be awarded in November. (Image: Gerard Butler Olympus Has Fallen.)

The AMPAS release adds that “the Nicholl Fellowships competition is open to any individual who has not earned a total of more than $25,000 from the sale or option of screenplays or teleplays, or received fellowships or prizes of more than $25,000 that include a ‘first look’ clause, an option or any other quid pro quo involving the writer’s work.”

Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition requirements

In order to enter the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition, screenwriters must fill out and submit an online application; upload one PDF copy of their original, English-language screenplay; and pay the entry fee before 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on May 1, 2013.

Entry fee schedule is as follows:

Early deadline: March 1; entry fee US$35
Regular deadline: April 10; entry fee US$50
Final deadline: May 1; entry fee US$65

More information on the Nicholl Fellowships competition rules and dates can be found here.

The Academy states that the Nicholl Fellowships “are awarded with the understanding that the recipients will each complete a new feature-length screenplay during the fellowship year. The Academy acquires no rights to the works of Nicholl fellows and does not involve itself commercially in any way with their completed scripts.” Since the Nicholl Fellowships’ inception in 1985, 128 fellowships have been awarded.

Previous Nicholl Fellowship recipients: Short Term 12 writer-director, Olympus Has Fallen co-screenwriter

Among the previous recipients of the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowships are Destin Cretton, who directed Short Term 12 from his fellowship-winning screenplay; Cretton’s film, featuring Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr, and Stephanie Beatriz, will premiere in competition at the SXSW Film Festival next month. Additionally, Nicholl Fellowship recipient Creighton Rothenberger co-wrote (with Katrin Benedikt) the action thriller Olympus Has Fallen, which is scheduled to open in March; Antoine Fuqua directed, while the film’s cast includes Gerard Butler, Dylan McDermott, Ashley Judd, Radha Mitchell, Melissa Leo, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Cole Hauser, and Robert Forster.

On the television front, Nicholl Fellowship recipient Andrew Marlowe is the creator and executive producer of the ABC series Castle, starring Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, and Susan Sullivan; Castle is currently in its fifth season. And Rebecca Sonnenshine is the executive story editor on the popular CW series The Vampire Diaries, starring Ian Somerhalder, Paul Wesley, Nina Dobrev, and Steven R. McQueen.

Gerard Butler Olympus Has Fallen photo: FilmDistrict.

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