Just as the Kentucky Derby signals racing’s Triple Crown sweepstakes, the Hollywood Film Awards herald the film industry’s annual awards derby. As the awards’ founder and exec director, Carlos de Abreu, is quick to point out, 85 Oscar noms and 32 Oscars have gone to the recipients of a Hollywood Film Award. Now in its 16th year, HFA covers the cinema waterfront, and this year is no exception with the many honors going to directing/writing vets like Quentin Tarantino (Hollywood Screenwriter Award, “Django Unchained”) as well as behind-the-camera debutantes like Dustin Hoffman (Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award, “Quartet”).

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” receives the Ensemble Award. Increasingly, these cast kudos — whether they be given by the HFA, SAG or other orgs — tend to presage Oscar’s best picture winner.

Affleck’s thriller tells story of the real-life rescue of six Americans from Tehran in 1980, a mission that was accomplished with Hollywood’s assistance. Affleck plays the CIA agent who hatched the plan, with Bryan Cranston on board as a CIA topper, Tate Donovan and Clea DuVall as two of the American diplomatic staffers trapped in Tehran, Alan Arkin and John Goodman as the film folk enlisted in the plan’s moviemaking ruse and Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador.

“I’ve learned you can’t make a movie that works without really good writing and good acting,” Affleck says of “Argo,” his third directorial effort.

Cranston, in turn, credits the writing and direction. “The easiest work for an actor is done on well-written material,” he notes. “Alan’s been asked, ‘How much did you improvise?’ You don’t. You just don’t want to mess this up. It’s easy to see where you can expand your character and just go. Ben sets a tone that is relaxed and comfortable, and allows actors and crew to do their best work.”

Arkin says of Affleck, “He’s as meticulous as any director I’ve ever worked with. It was clear from seeing his first two films (‘Gone, Baby, Gone’ and ‘The Town’) that (he wasn’t) a tyro. The first one looked like someone who had done 15 films already.”

Affleck turns the compliment back on his cast. “The movie works better than anything I’ve been involved with because of the amazing cast and the script and the producers. I didn’t have to push the rock up the hill.”

Hollywood Film Awards 2012
Ensemble kudo’s big impact
The Awards
Producers | Actors | Comedy | Spotlight | New Hollywood & Breakout Performance | Animation | Career Achievement | Breakthrough Director | Director | Below the Line