By Martin Grove,

Argo arriving: October's only just begun and it's already sizzling on both the box office and awards fronts.

Fox's $50 million launch last weekend's of Taken 2 starring Liam Neeson has the multiplexes humming while the spy thriller Argo, arriving this weekend from Warner Bros., GK Films and Smoke House Productions, has Oscar pundits buzzing about its best picture prospects.

Argo is directed by Ben Affleck, who stars with Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Also starring are: Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler and Chris Messina.

The film's screenplay by Chris Terrio is based on a selection from the book The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez and the Wired Magazine article 'The Great Escape,' by Joshuah Bearman.

Produced by Grant Heslov, Affleck and George Clooney, Argo was executive produced by David Klawans, Nina Wolarsky, Chris Brigham, Chay Carter, Graham King and Tim Headington and co-produced by Amy Herman.


Based on true events, Argo is the story of a life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. On Nov. 4, 1979 as the Iranian revolution reached its boiling point militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Six other Americans managed to find refuge in the nearby home of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) where they were in constant danger of being discovered and executed.

In response, CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) devised a risky plan to get them safely out of Iran about three months later. Mendez's idea was to create a fictitious sci-fi movie called Argo, whose production the six endangered Americans were supposedly working on scouting filming locations in the Iranian desert.

To help him carry out his seemingly crazy plan, Mendez turned to Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Arkin). To give the fake movie project credibility, Mendez placed ads in Hollywood trade publications announcing that filming would start soon and also staged a reading of Argo's screenplay.

Argo premiered to great word of mouth and reviews at the Telluride Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival in September. Affleck had previously done well at Toronto in 2007 as a best first feature nominee for Gone Baby Gone.

In 1998 Academy voters and Hollywood Foreign Press Association members awarded Affleck an Oscar and Golden Globe for co-writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon. He received a supporting actor Globe nom in 2007 for Hollywoodland.

Post-Toronto, a big Oscar buzz has been building for Argo, including what many Academy watchers consider likely noms for best picture, director, adapted screenplay (Chris Terrio, for whom this is his first produced feature screenplay) and supporting actor (Arkin).

Arkin won the supporting actor Oscar in 2007 for Little Miss Sunshine and was a supporting actor nominee for a British Academy BAFTA. Arkin was a best actor Oscar nominee in 1969 for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and in 1967 for The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming. He also won the Golden Globe for best actor – musical or comedy in 1967 for Russians.

Argo, which is opening at more than 3,000 theatres, is tracking best and equally well with men and women over-25.

"Tony was friends with a famous makeup artist named John Chambers," Affleck said, "and knew it was a viable prospect for movie people to be traveling around, checking out different locations. He came up with an idea no one else would ever have thought of."

That plan was for the six to pose as a Canadian filmmaking team on a location scout in Iran and then to simply fly home.

"This was a game with no rules," Mendez explains, "so it was extremely risky. The most dangerous thing about it was the capriciousness of the people we were trying to get around. We had no way of predicting what would happen if we got caught--to us or to those already held hostage."

"When I read the article, I was riveted, and I was especially curious about Tony Mendez, about what kind of guy could think outside the box enough to come up with this plan and then undertake it," screenwriter Chris Terrio said.

"If I had pitched this as an original concept, brows would furrow and people would say, 'No audience will ever believe that.' But Tony managed to convince the United States government to attempt something that was even crazier than what most Hollywood studios would dream up.

"The structure of the film is a rescue, with people’s lives hanging in the balance. The stakes couldn’t be higher. But in my communication with Tony, I wanted to know about his day-to-day life, because if you understand the nuts and bolts of what the life of a CIA officer was like at this time, there’s a more complex drama there, which takes you beyond the action and suspense. Whenever I started to get lost in the scale of the story--how these men and women were swept up by historical events--I would remember that, underneath, it’s just a human story about people trying to do the best they can against overwhelming odds," adds Terrio.

Bottom line: With its enviable early Oscar buzz, Argo seems headed for a best picture nomination.


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