By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 1, 2012 at 3:00PM
Synopsis: Based on a true story, in which a CIA operative (Ben Affleck) hatches a plan to extract a group of American diplomats from Tehran in the midst of 1979’s Iranian hostage crisis, using the filming of a fake movie as their cover.
What You Need To Know: If you were to travel back in time a decade or so ago and tell someone that Ben Affleck -- then star of "Gigli," "Paycheck" and "Jersey Girl" -- would direct and star in one of the most acclaimed films of the year, and a likely Best Picture nominee, you'd have been laughed right back into the present again. But the renaissance of Mr. Affleck -- which began with small character roles in films like "Hollywoodland" and "Extract," and was reinforced by his terrific directorial outings "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town," (the latter of which he also starred in) -- certainly seems to be complete with his gripping Iranian hostage/inside Hollywood saga "Argo." Once set to be directed by George Clooney (who retains a producing credit), most critics to date have agreed that the film is Affleck's most satisfying to date, a thoughtful, entertaining piece of cinema that should be a hit both commercially and awards-wise. Our own review, from Telluride, certainly agreed, saying that the film was "extraordinarily suspenseful, extremely well-told and effortless in its complex tonal balance." With a cast including Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Kyle Chandler, Scoot McNairy and Christopher Denham, among others, we're certainly there for another watch opening day.
When? October 12th
Synopsis: A frustrated screenwriter finds himself in trouble when two of his friends kidnap a dog belonging to a psychotic mobster.
What You Need To Know: Like Andrea Arnold, Martin McDonagh is one of the relatively few winners of the Best Live Action Short Oscar who've gone on to bigger things in the features world. Of course, he was an established name even before "Six Shooter" picked up the gold in 2005, as an award-winning playwright behind Broadway hits like 'The Beauty Queen Of Leenane" and "The Pillowman." McDonagh confirmed his directorial chops with 2008's "In Bruges," a raucously funny, yet curiously soulful hitman comedy with Colin Farrell, and the Irish actor returns for McDonagh's post-modern follow up, along with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken (who starred in his last play, "A Behanding In Spokane"), and an exciting round-up of other talent like Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko and, best of all, a bunny-wielding Tom Waits. If our TIFF review is to be believed, the new film isn't quite up to its predecessor -- we said it "has a lot of narrative balls to juggle, and doesn't always handle them satisfactorily," as well as being "overlong and baggy" and "by turns manic and exhausting." But others have been more enthusiastic, and there's still a lot to like about the film, not least the performances of Walken and, in particular, the always-welcome Rockwell.
When? October 12th
Synopsis: Kate and Charlie, a hard-partying, borderline alcoholic married couple, have their relationship tested when Kate decides to get sober.
What You Need To Know: On the surface, "Smashed" seems to have a fairly similar premise to Playlist favorite short film "Successful Alcoholics," but where that film ended with one of the central couple giving up the bottle, that seems to be the starting point for its feature-length cousin, which comes from James Ponsoldt, who directed Nick Nolte-starrer "Off the Black," and co-writer Susan Burke ("Important Things With Demetri Martin"). And they've certainly assembled an enticing cast, with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally, and Nick Offerman (aka RON FUCKING SWANSON) supporting the two leads, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul. And the film turned out extremely well, according to James Rocchi, who saw the film at its Sundance premiere, particularly with regard to its young leads. The former gets to "show dark rot underneath" her usual charms, while Paul is "loving, gentle, lightly hammered [and] in a very different key" to his work on "Breaking Bad." But they're not the only thing that the film has to offer as Offerman gives "a performance that in a just world would be an Oscar contender," while the "editing is particularly adept" and "the script has a sense of humor, but also a sense of honor."
When? October 12th.
Synopsis: After her husband is sent to prison, Ruby dedicates herself to making sure he, and their marriage, survives his incarceration, but as his release approaches, she becomes drawn to an attractive bus driver.
What You Need To Know: It's difficult enough to break out of Sundance for any picture, and even harder when your movie doesn't star a bunch of white people (remember 2006 Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner "Quinceañera"?). But given the critical raves that greeted "Middle Of Nowhere" back in January, we'd say it has as good a chance as any of this year's crop of making an impact. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay (who won the Directing Award at Park City, the first African-American to do so), and featuring photography by rising star Bradford Young ("Pariah"), the film has picked up great reviews on the festival circuit to date, not least for its performances, from the near-omnipresent David Oyelowo ("Lincoln," "The Paperboy"), Omari Hardwick ("Miracle At St. Anna," "Sparkle") and newcomer Emaytzy Corinealdi (one of our picks to be a breakout star of the season). Whether it manages to reach a wider audience remains to be seen, but we reckon it'll announce DuVernay as not just an exciting talent in African-American cinema, but in indie film in general.
When? October 12th