‘Modern Master’ Ben Affleck dishes on career, Oscars at SBIFF

SANTA BARBARA -- Ben Affleck’s body language during his two-hour career tribute at Friday night’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival told you all you need to know about his self-described “bifurcated” career.

Affleck was receiving the festival’s Modern Master award, and the lengthy and freewheeling retrospective featured paired clips from the highs and lows of his body of work. It included the good (Affleck’s recent directorial efforts “Argo” and “The Town” along with early career milestones “Dazed and Confused” and “Chasing Amy”), the great (“Good Will Hunting” and “Shakespeare in Love”) and the ugly (“Pearl Harbor” and “Daredevil”).


“I’m just relieved they didn’t sneak in ‘Gigli,’” Affleck told me, swirling the ice cubes in his glass of Jack Daniels at a party after the event at the Arlington Tavern.

Watching the clips with moderator Leonard Maltin on stage at the Arlington Theatre, Affleck would either lean forward with keen interest or slump down in his easy chair, almost averting his eyes from the monitor.


“I watch those now,” Affleck said, “and I’m watching them as somebody who’s directed three movies, so I’m seeing them and … it’s even more painful.” He laughed and took a long sip from his drink. “Those scenes from ‘Pearl Harbor’ and ‘Daredevil’ should have been half as long. At the very least!”

Affleck’s appearance in Santa Barbara was the latest stop on a journey that began when “Argo” premiered Aug. 31 at the Telluride Film Festival and continued through the movie’s strong commercial and critical success, culminating in its recent nomination for seven Academy Awards, though famously not one for its director. “Argo” was nominated for best picture, and its Oscar prospects will become clearer after Saturday night’s Producers Guild awards, where it is vying for top honors.

“We’re still a long shot,” Affleck said, his underdog sentiments clashing with the words of his old friend Matt Damon, who presented Affleck with the Modern Master award, saying, “No one’s going to be surprised if [‘Argo’] wins the Oscar for best picture.”

Receiving the weighty trophy, Affleck spent several minutes extolling Damon’s “genius,” prompting Damon to crack at one point, “Who’s getting the award?”


“I was just feeling really grateful about Matt’s speech,” Affleck said a bit sheepishly afterward. “His friendship and support have meant a lot. I wouldn’t be here without him.”

Entering the Arlington Tavern, Affleck began a spirited debate with several Oscar bloggers, crunching the academy’s numbers, good-naturedly upbraiding those who note that Oscar history isn’t on his movie’s side and relishing a spirited give-and-take that few filmmakers would engage in.

“The analytical part of me really enjoys burrowing into the odds,” Affleck told me. “That said, one of the least appealing things in this process is its competitive aspect. That’s why I’ve gone out of my way to do things ... like I emailed [‘Silver Linings Playbook’ distributor] Harvey [Weinstein] today and I’ve talked to [‘Silver Linings’ writer-director] David O. Russell and I made sure to run into Steven Spielberg at AFI ... just to appreciate them and support their work too. That’s important.”

Without prompting, Affleck said not receiving an Oscar nomination for director has been “freeing,” giving him the chance to focus fully on the prospects for the movie itself and its many nominees, which include actor Alan Arkin and writer Chris Terrio.


“Of course, it was disappointing at first,” Affleck said. “But I’m over it. And I’m happy to still be out here talking about the movie. I’m having fun.” He finished the rest of his drink. “Except for watching those ‘Pearl Harbor’ clips again. I wasn’t expecting quite so much of that, especially at an awards show.”


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