Director Sacha Gervasi sat at the back of Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theatre last year when "Shame" enjoyed its centerpiece gala screening at the 2011 AFI Fest. He returned to the historic theater Thursday night with his own movie, "Hitchcock," and during a tearful introduction, Gervasi repeatedly acknowledged he could scarcely believe he was there.
"We actually just finished the film 20 minutes ago," Gervasi joked while acknowledging the movie's editor, Pamela Martin. "Can we still take notes, Pam?"
"Hitchock" was a late addition to this year's awards-season calendar and, judging from the reaction of the packed house at the 2012 AFI Fest's opening night, it appears a welcome inclusion. The film focuses on the marriage of the famed director (Anthony Hopkins) and wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) during the period when the couple gambled their own money to self-finance "Psycho." The cast also includes Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel playing Vera Miles and James D'Arcy as a twitchy Tony Perkins.
D'Arcy was the only lead on hand Thursday night. Hopkins and Mirren sent a taped message from London where they're shooting "Red 2." Johansson is rehearsing "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in New York. And Biel, fresh off her wedding to Justin Timberlake on Oct. 19, is honeymooning.
Not that anyone seemed to mind their absence. "Hitchcock," with its deep, abiding movie love and lore, plays as a can't-miss festival crowd-pleaser. Hopkins fills the master's shoes and jowls as capably as you'd expect and his frustrations with the Production Code head Geoffrey Shurlock, agent Lew Wasserman and Paramount Pictures President Barney Balaban should resonate with many Oscar voters.
"They just want the same thing over and over and over," Hopkins' Hitch rails. "They've put me in a coffin and now they're nailing down the lid."
But it was Mirren who earned the evening's biggest ovation, drawing a huge round of applause after a speech in which the long-suffering Reville dresses down Hitchcock, detailing the ways she tirelessly and endlessly supported her husband through their marriage.
Hopkins and Mirren have enjoyed equal success with the academy over the years, each owning four nominations and one win. Given their stellar work in "Hitchcock," it would be no surprise if they remain even-Steven when noms are announced in January.
"Hitchcock" opens Nov. 23 in a limited platform release.