‘The Master’ and ‘Argo’ roar onto awards track

Making their festival debuts within 24 hours of each other were Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” and Ben Affleck’s “Argo.” The former has gotten a bit-more pre-fest publicity, but the latter showed it is ready to throw its weight around in the awards race, at least according to Peter Debruge’s review for Variety from Telluride:

“White-knuckle tense and less self-congratulatory than it sounds, Ben Affleck’s unexpectedly comedic third feature has the vital elements to delight adult auds, judging by the enthusiastic response to this Oct. 12 release’s Telluride sneak,” Debruge writes. “(Chris) Terrio delivers a script that crackles with Paddy Chayefsky-like acerbity in parts, and includes plenty of punchy patter.”

Debruge has some quibbles, including Affleck’s performance coming across “softer in-character than the script demands,” but calls the film’s final-act “breath-stopping.”

Meanwhile, from Venice, Variety critic Justin Chang offers this take on “The Master” that is perhaps even more enthusiastic than the positive-but-chin-stroking responses offered elsewhere …

“Anderson’s longtime fascination with souls in extremis achieves a teasing, richly unsettling apotheosis in ‘The Master,'” Chang writes. “The 1950-set story of a troubled WWII veteran drawn to and repelled by a mysterious community that strikingly resembles the Church of Scientology, the writer-director’s typically eccentric sixth feature is a sustained immersion in a series of hypnotic moods and longueurs, an imposing picture that thrillingly and sometimes maddeningly refuses to conform to expectations. …

“Even when the narrative drifts into increasingly ambiguous waters, the sheer brilliance of the filmmaking holds one rapt.”

In an awards-season landscape that has mainly featured little-engines-that-might such as “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Amour,” it looks like a couple of freight trains have blasted onto the track.

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