This year's AFI Fest positioned itself as a strategic showcase for Awards contenders, and made true on that promise around the final day of the festival when David O. Russell's "The Fighter," served as the festival's secret screening on Tuesday night, opening speculation concerning the film's chances as an Oscar contender. This is Russell's first film since 2004's "I Heart Huckabees," and it's sudden premiere at AFI Fest seems to have given strong momentum to the latest effort from the "Three Kings" director.
As Jeff Sneider reported over at The Wrap, the screening was a hot ticket given the awards buzz surrounding the film, writing, "it was a packed house, as more than 100 people were turned away at the door, and other important invitees weren't seated until well after the picture started."
Russell's long gestating project went over well with the majority of the audience, according to the majority of positive reviews that hit the web the following day. Anne Thompson meanwhile offered her take on whether the film has a shot at the Oscar race, stating, "Will the movie make the best picture top ten? If all goes right (reviews/box office/critics and guild prizes), it’s possible. The actors shine in this and should be rewarded."
Of the other films to screen at the festival that are generating fall awards chatter, Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" made a big impression. Hooper was on hand, along with stars Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush for the Los Angeles premiere of their royal drama at Grauman's Chinese Theater. Screenwriter David Seidler, the film's producers, and the Weinsteins were also in attendance.
As The Odds' Steve Pond reported on the screening, "Director Tom Hooper’s deft, sure-handed telling of the relationship between Britain’s King George VI and his Australian-born speech therapist (Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush) played as fast, as funny and as touching at Grauman’s Chinese Theater at it had in Toronto and reportedly in Telluride. And with a number of Academy members in attendance, the packed screening and ensuing ovation reinforced that Harvey Weinstein had good reason to be beaming as he stood at the entrance to the Weinstein Company’s post-screening party at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel."
Edward Zwick's foray into romantic comedy, "Love and Other Drugs," meanwhile screened before "Speech" as the festival's opening night selection, hoping to court some awards buzz of its own. And as Mark Olsen at The Envelope offered, the "Drugs"'s world premiere at AFI was a calculated move akin to the majority of the films at the festival. "Love" isn't the only film rolling into AFI Fest hoping to get something out of it," he writes. ""The King's Speech," "Blue Valentine," "Rabbit Hole," "Made in Dagenham" and next week's closing night film "Black Swan" all have premiered elsewhere and are looking to keep the ball rolling for their awards drives. (Considering the wealth of potential acting nominees in the festival's lineup, AFI Fest may shrewdly sell itself in the future on its abilities as an actors' showcase.)"
Despite the plethora of studio awards contenders on display, the festival was also notable for appealing to the international film enthusiast. The World Cinema Audience Award went to "Boy," from New Zealand director Taika Waititi, while the New Auteurs Audience Award was awarded to Cheol-soo Jang's South Korean horror, "Bedevilled."
See below for the full list of winners, with synopses provided by AFI Fest 2010:
"Boy": When his absent father returns home, a young boy in 1980’s New Zealand must confront the man he thought he remembered. DIR/SCR Taika Waititi. New Zealand.
"Bedevilled": An island vacation turns deadly for Hae-won when she tries to help her abused childhood friend and her daughter escape. DIR Cheol-soo Jang. SCR Choi Gwang-young. South Korea.
"Littlerock": When her car breaks down on a sightseeing tour of California, a Japanese student discovers a different America than the one in her dreams. DIR/SCR Mike Ott. USA.
Breakthrough (award accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize)
"Hamill": Inspired by the life of deaf UFC fighter, Matt Hamill, this film tells the story of what it takes to be a champion, on and off the mat. DIR Oren Kaplan. SCR Joseph McKelheer, Eben Kostbar. USA.
Short Film Awards
Live Action Short Film
"Quadrangle": An unconventional documentary about two “conventional” couples who swapped partners and lived in a group marriage in the early ‘70s. DIR Amy Grappell. USA.
Animated Short Film
"Marcel the Shell with Shoes On": Voiced and written by SNL alum Jenny Slate, this short about a shell took the Internet by storm. DIR Dean Fleischer-Camp. SCR Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer-Camp. USA.