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Surprise! The Coens’ ‘Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ Is a Film and It’s Headed for Oscar Season

Oscar-winning directors Joel and Ethan Coen will be riding into the Oscar season this fall with a new film that began life as an anthology series.

Last year, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggswas announced as a Netflix original series that would feature six tales about the American frontier. The project is actually a 132-minute feature film, though one maintaining a chaptered anthology structure. It’s set for a world premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival, which has really taken off in recent years as the annual awards season starting gun, before releasing later this year.

“We’ve always loved anthology movies, especially those films made in Italy in the Sixties which set side-by-side the work of different directors on a common theme,” the Coens said in a statement. “Having written an anthology of Western stories we attempted to do the same, hoping to enlist the best directors working today. It was our great fortune that they both agreed to participate.”

Classic.

Tim Blake Nelson (pictured) stars as the eponymous Scruggs. The cast features names like Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson and Tom Waits, but little is known about the separate stories. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (“Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Darkest Hour”) shot the film with the Arri Alexa camera, making “Buster Scruggs” the Coens’ first-ever digital photography production.

The film is expected to hit Netflix’s streaming service by year’s end along with the requisite theatrical release to qualify for Oscar consideration. The Coens tapped their usual artisan department heads on the picture, including production designer Jess Gonchor, costume designer Mary Zophres and composer Carter Burwell, all former Academy Award nominees.

“Buster Scruggs” joins the fast-developing year-end glut of prestige productions taking aim at the awards circuit. The festival circuit has been roaring to life with anticipated highlights, such as Damien Chazelle’s “First Man,” tapped as the Venice opening night selection.

Toronto is set to feature a number of world premieres, including Steve McQueen’s “Widows” and Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk,” while Telluride is expected to play host to the debuts of Jason Reitman’s “The Front Runner” and David Lowery’s “The Old Man & the Gun,” among others.

The Coens’ latest also joins Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white, semi-autobiographical drama “Roma”; Paul Greengrass'”22 July,” an account of the 2011 Norway terrorist attacks; and assuming it qualifies, Orson Welles’ finally-completed “The Other Side of the Wind” in what looks to be Netflix’s most promising lineup of Oscar hopefuls to date. All are set for Venice bows.

Joel and Ethan Coen have each been nominated for 14 Academy Awards. They collectively won the original screenplay Oscar for 1996’s “Fargo” and the best picture, director and adapted screenplay prizes for 2007’s “No Country for Old Men.”

The 75th annual Venice Film Festival runs Aug. 29 – Sept. 8. Check out the full lineup here.

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