Clint Eastwood is an enormously capable filmmaker who, like any filmmaker who works non-stop, is capable of turning out films that are polished and considered and carefully calibrated, and equally capable of turning out nearly inert movies that are forgettable and barely register. What I find most interesting about his career is the way it took him a while to win critics over to his side, but once he did, he's been almost untouchable ever since. Any other filmmaker coming off of "Jersey Boys" would have been greeted on their next film with open skepticism, but it's a real sign of just how esteemed Eastwood is that he could release that film to near-universal indifference at the start of the summer, and yet his next film can be greeted like an event that sends seismic waves through the already-crowded Oscar season.
One of the things that I tend to avoid in my writing about film is weighing in on awards prospects and the way one film stacks up against another, but an event like Tuesday night's back-to-back screenings at the Egyptian create the direct sense of a horse race. First up was a work-in-progress screening of the sure-looked-finished-to-me "Selma," and then the not-terribly-secret "secret screening" was Eastwood's latest, "American Sniper," and both films were heavily attended by the people who spend their time handicapping the various awards ahead. While I'm still not going to wade into that conversation, it was interesting to see just how nakedly the AFI Fest has now become part of the strategic thinking about when and how to show things.