It’s official: Ben Affleck is back in the Oscar race. Four years after Affleck’s third directorial feature, Argo, barreled through awards season only to see Affleck be left out of the Best Director Oscar race, he’s firmly back in the fray with the Prohibition-era crime thriller Live by Night. The film was originally intended to start production not too long after Argo won Best Picture, but then the prospect of working with David Fincher on Gone Girl pushed the start date back a bit, Batman v Superman pushed it back a lot, and Affleck got one more acting gig in with The Accountant before finally turning his attention to rolling cameras on Live by Night.
Warner Bros. first set this film for release in the fall of 2017, but this summer the studio moved it up to January 2017. Pretty much everyone knew this meant Live by Night would get an Oscar-qualifying release at the end of December, but WB held firm, maintaining the film’s release date was January 13th. Now, the studio has undone the worst kept secret of this awards season, as Live by Night will officially get a limited release on December 25th before going wide on January 13th, making it eligible to compete in this year’s Oscar race.
Based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, the film takes place during Prohibition and stars Affleck as Joe Coughlin, the prodigal son of a Boston police captain who works his way up from bootlegger to notorious Florida gangster. Affleck adapted the screenplay himself, and recruited Oscar-winning The Hateful Eight and The Aviator cinematographer Robert Richardson to pull DP duties, so this thing has prestige to spare.
Warner Bros. doesn’t really have an Oscar contender this year beyond Clint Eastwood’s Sully, so one imagines they were very keen on getting Live by Night ready in time for release. This isn’t exactly a new notion—Martin Scorsese is still working to finish Silence while Paramount is readying that film’s December release—but it’s certainly a different route than Argo took, which debuted on the fall film festival circuit in September and carried that momentum through to the Oscar ceremony.
Will Affleck land a Best Director nomination this time around? Well we’ll have to see if the movie’s any good first, but it’s a crowded field this year with folks like Scorsese, La La Land’s Damien Chazelle, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halfitme Walk’s Ang Lee in the mix. For now, only one thing is certain: Affleck and Live by Night will officially be contenders in the upcoming awards fray.