×

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.

Popular on Variety

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.

More Film

  • Birds of Prey

    ‘Birds of Prey’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Warner Bros. claims the top spot in spending with “Birds of Prey.” Ads placed for the superhero film had an estimated media value of $6.94 million through Sunday for 431 national ad airings on [...]

  • The Witcher Netflix

    Film News Roundup: Netflix Developing Anime Feature 'The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf'

    In today’s film news roundup, Netflix announces a spinoff feature based on “The Witcher,” Liam Neeson’s “Honest Thief” finds a home and Sheryl Main will receive the Henri Bollinger Award. PROJECT LAUNCHED Netflix is expanding its fantasy series “The Witcher” with an anime feature film “The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.” The streamer made the [...]

  • Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL..Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel

    'Captain Marvel' Sequel in Development

    Disney has officially launched development of a “Captain Marvel” sequel. The studio is in final negotiations with Megan McDonnell, a staff writer on Marvel-based series “WandaVision” on the project. The 2019 blockbuster “Captain Marvel” starred Brie Larson as Carol Danvers and grossed $1.13 billion worldwide. Disney and Marvel have not yet set a release date [...]

  • Aviron Pictures Hit With Layoffs

    Aviron Pictures Hit With Layoffs, Joel Kinnaman Action Movie 'The Informer' in Limbo

    Fledgling distributor Aviron Pictures has been hit with a significant staff reduction less than a month after the removal of top executive WIlliam Sadleir, numerous insiders told Variety.  Almost half of a staff of 30 were dismissed last week, amid wide rumors that the company’s deep-pocketed financier Black Rock has defunded the outfit entirely, sources [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein Bill Clinton

    Harvey Weinstein's Lawyer Seeks Mistrial When D.A. Refers to Bill Clinton Friendship

    Harvey Weinstein was associated with the Clintons for years, socially and as a generous donor to both of their political campaigns. And according to prosecutors in Weinstein’s criminal trial, he bragged about his friendship with the former president to women he allegedly sexually assaulted, in an effort to intimidate them. During opening statements on Wednesday, [...]

  • Channing Tatum

    Channing Tatum to Star in 'Bob the Musical' Comedy for Disney

    Channing Tatum is attached to star in and produce “Bob the Musical” for Disney — a project that’s been in development for more than a decade. Tatum will produce through his company, Free Association, and partners Reid Carolin and Peter Kiernan. Tripp Vinson and Chris Bender are also attached to produce. No director is currently [...]

  • John Henry

    'John Henry': Film Review

    Terry Crews’ John Henry is a man of few words. “John Henry,” the folklore-cribbing, violent thriller (opening theatrically and available on demand) about a former gang member who must face his demons when two young immigrants require his help, feels like it wants to say a lot. But what exactly? Utilizing horror-movie gestures and ladling [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content