×

Venice Joins Oscar Race With ‘Philomena,’ ‘Gravity’

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in Stephen Frears' 'Philomena,' pictured above

Four days ago, the 2013 Oscar race was mostly a matter of crossed fingers and speculation, but things have quickly shifted into high gear. The Venice Film Fest has served up two home runs in its first few days: Warner Bros.’ “Gravity” and the Weinstein Co.’s “Philomena.”

Add in a few other strong possibilities here — including Sony Pictures Classics’ “Kill Your Darlings,” starring an outstanding Daniel Radcliffe, and “Tracks,” the John Curran-Mia Wasikowska drama — plus Telluride’s enthusiastic reception for Fox Searchlight’s “12 Years a Slave” and WB-Alcon’s “Prisoners,” and it’s already shaping up to be a hot year.

Gravity” was stirring up buzz here in Venice even before it opened the fest Aug. 28, but it’s still generating talk, even after many other films have opened and would theoretically suck up some of the “Gravity” energy. And “Philomena” got an enthusiastic reception at Saturday’s press screenings.

Both films seem likely contenders in multiple categories. The first is a dazzling showpiece for its director and below-the-line workers, while the latter is a great vehicle for Judi Dench. But as the season progresses, strategists will need to remind voters that these films are much more than that.

Technically, “Gravity” is a groundbreaker, as much as “Avatar,” “Hugo” and “Life of Pi.” Like those pics, it’s garnering praise for the director, in this case Alfonso Cuaron. But even more than the earlier 3D trio, this one in inspiring awards talk for its script (by Cuaron and his son Jonas Cuaron) and the acting. There is bravura work by Sandra Bullock, at a level not usually seen in “tech movies,” and George Clooney, even with limited screen time, proves that nobody can play certain roles as well as he can. (Perverse question: It’s got a small cast, but everybody does great work, so would SAG voters consider this for an ensemble award? Just asking…)

After two morning screenings for the media, “Philomena” had an SRO press conference, with journos stumbling over themselves to praise the film as they asked silly questions. One reporter asked director Stephen Frears if he thought this film could repeat the path of his “The Queen,” which bowed at Venice and went on to Oscar glory. He gave a rumpled, deadpan stare and said simply “I’ve no idea.” Steve Coogan, best known as a comic actor, not only was a producer and writer of the film, onscreen he holds his own with Dench (no small feat).

A lot can happen between now and March 2, but the crystal ball looks very good for both film at this point.

Daniel Radcliffe is the main attraction in “Kill Your Darlings,” proving again that he’s not just a star, but a real actor. Below the line here is also impressive, re-creating the world of young Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. It might be a challenge to market, but the SPC gang love good challenges.

And the big question with “Tracks” is its release date. So far, the film doesn’t have a U.S. distrib. But since it’s here, in Telluride and Toronto, a domestic buy seems imminent. The only other question is whether it will be released this year or next.

On the fall fest circuit, Venice is not as kudos-centric as Telluride or Toronto. But given the strong showings here and in Telluride, and a jaw-dropping lineup for Toronto, this is shaping up as an exciting, and crowded, year.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

  • Female Filmmakers in Germany Make Progress

    Female Filmmakers Surge Forward in Germany, But Still Face Obstacles

    Four feature films by German filmmakers screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and three of them were directed by women – Angela Schanelec’s “I Was at Home, But…,” winner of the Berlinale’s best director prize, Ina Weisse’s “The Audition,” and Katrin Gebbe’s “Pelican Blood,” the latter two both starring Nina Hoss. Germany’s Oscar entry this [...]

  • Bull

    Annie Silverstein's 'Bull' Takes Top Awards, Robert Pattinson Starrer 'The Lighthouse' Wins Jury Prize at Deauville

    Annie Silverstein’s feature debut “Bull” swept three awards at the 45th Deauville American Film Festival, including the Grand Prize, the Revelation Prize for best first film and the Critics’ Prize. “Bull,” a portrait of a rebellious teenage girl from South Texas, world premiered at Cannes’s Un Certain Regard and marks Silverstein’s follow up to her [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content