Argo, in that it is about an American misadventure in unstable foreign climes.
This year's …
Possibly also this year's Cast Away, in that it features an unshaven, imperiled Tom Hanks adrift in open water.
What's it all about?
In April 2009 the Maersk Alabama, a US cargo ship, was seized by Somali pirates in the ocean south-east of the port city of Eyl. Spoiler alert: the ship was later freed by a the US Navy. Captain Phillips is the fact-based account of the hijacking and rescue, adapted from Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty's book A Captain's Duty.
How did it happen?
British director Paul Greengrass showed his prowess with the resonant, true-life American crisis on his 2006 film United 93 and his action expertise with the Bourne pictures. He shot Captain Phillips in locations around Malta and off the coast of Virginia Beach, working off a screenplay by Billy Ray (who adapted The Hunger Games). Tom Hanks takes the lead as Richard Phillips, the paunchy old sea dog at the centre of the storm.
Nominations it wants
Executives at Columbia, the film's distributors, will be crossing their fingers for a sixth acting nomination for an on-form Hanks (who was last shortlisted for Cast Away back in 2001). The other big prizes (best picture and director) are also conceivably within reach, bobbing tantalisingly on the near horizon.
What it might win
Look for Captain Phillips to mop up a number of the technical awards, with a prize for the brilliantly sinuous editing looking the most likely bet. Plus Billy Ray's taut, unflashy script deserves to at least be considered for the best adapted screenplay Oscar. And Hanks will be looking to join Daniel Day Lewis with a hat-trick of best actor Oscars.
Reasons to fall for it
Captain Phillips rolls into contention on the basis of Hanks's potent performance and Greengrass's sweaty, expert handling of a story that's been torn from the headlines. Academy voters love Tom Hanks and they love a true-ish tale in which everyday Americans face once-in-a-lifetime challenges.
Reasons it might fail
Does this true-life story have the scope and the weight the Academy requires? Argo's skill was in finding a left-field route through a major crisis with ongoing global implications, yet Captain Phillips offers a straightforward account of a standalone, free-floating event. If the coordinates are even slightly out, the film may find itself filed as just another scaremongering Hollywood disaster movie - a debased film genre that is typically regarded as just one step up from the slasher flick.
When can we see it?
Captain Phillips has its maiden voyage at the New York film festival this weekend, before popping into port to open the London film festival on 9 October. It opens in the US on October 11 and anchors in UK cinemas just one week later.
In four words
Stormy weather, troubled waters
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