Sight unseen, Clint Eastwood's upcoming J. Edgar Hoover biopic has already been deemed a best picture contender by a number of Oscar prognosticators. Pundits will officially be able to back up -- or back off of -- those claims at AFI Fest 2011, as event coordinators announced Wednesday that "J. Edgar" will be the opening film at the annual festival. Celebrating its 25th year, AFI Fest will kick off in Hollywood on Nov. 3 and run through Nov. 10.
"J. Edgar," slated for limited release the week following its AFI premiere, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the respected-but-feared FBI director who was often controversial. Beyond its A-list director and star, the film also boasts a well-known cast that includes Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts. The movie's script was written by Dustin Lance Black, whose screenplay for "Milk" earned him an Academy Award in 2009.
Last year, AFI Fest launched with "Love and Other Drugs," the romantic drama starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal that fared decently at the worldwide box office but failed to spark any awards buzz. It remains to be seen whether Eastwood's latest effort will follow a similar fate. While the 81-year-old filmmaker has long been a critical darling, his most recent film, last year's "Hereafter," garnered only one Oscar nomination, for visual effects. Eastwood does, however, have a long-standing relationship with AFI, and took home the festival's Life Achievement Award in 1996.
For the third year in a row, AFI Fest will offer patrons free tickets to the majority of its screenings. But those who want to guarantee their seat in the theater for Eastwood's film will have to pay a hefty sum for that opportunity. To reserve a spot at the gala screening of "J. Edgar," one must purchase either a Star Patron or a Marquee Patron Package -- the prices of which range from $1,500 to $5,000.
-- Amy Kaufman
Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio stars in "J. Edgar." Credit: Warner Bros.