Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 08-13-12

“Looper” – In theaters September 28th

“Looper” – In theaters September 28th

Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon–Levitt

Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon–Levitt

Emily Blunt promoting “Looper” at Comic Con

Emily Blunt promoting “Looper” at Comic Con

Festival films: As summer winds down Hollywood shifts gears, turning its attention to fall and the start of the annual awards race.

In the coming weeks, the studios will begin promoting films they hope will capture festival prizes and critics groups awards and then become Golden Globe, BAFTA and Oscar nominees. The battle typically gets underway at prime fall film festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York where audiences and critics create contenders overnight.

With a few more weeks of summer still ahead of us, it may seem premature to be thinking about festival films, but behind the scenes that’s exactly what Hollywood’s doing. Meanwhile, the industry’s public focus is on getting the most out of what’s left of the summer movie season – and that could add up to a lot more at the boxoffice.

Looking at next weekend, tracking reports leave no doubt that Lionsgate’s R rated action adventure “The Expendables 2” is where the multiplex action’s going to be.

Directed by Simon West (“The Mechanic”), its ensemble cast includes: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth and Jean-Claude Van Damme with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone co-wrote its screenplay with Richard Wenk (“The Mechanic”).

“Ex 2” is tracking in double digits as a first choice. It’s tracking best with under-25 males and next best with 25-plus males.

The first “The Expendables,” which reportedly cost $80 million to produce, opened Aug. 13, 2010 via Lionsgate to $34.8 million. It wound up doing $103 million domestically and over $171 million internationally. It was directed by Stallone, who co-wrote it with David Callaham (“Tell Tale”) and starred opposite Statham, Li and Lundgren. Willis and Schwarzenegger appeared in small roles.

While “Ex 2” is likely to heat up the boxoffice, it’s a far cry from the kind of cerebral filmmaker-driven films that will be exciting festival audiences. Here’s a quick look at some of the highest profile titles that festivalgoers are likely to be talking about.

The 69th annual Venice International Film Festival with its prestigious Golden Lion award gets underway Aug. 29 and runs through Sept. 8. While Venice is a long running festival that’s a magnet for awards contenders, this is the first lineup from its new director Alberto Barbera.

Mira Nair’s international political thriller “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” starring Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber, will be Venice’s opening selection, but will not be shown in competition. Nair was a Golden Lion nominee in 2004 for “Vanity Fair.” She won the Golden Lion in 2001 for “Monsoon Wedding” and was a Golden Lion nominee in 1991 for “Mississippi Masala.”

Nair’s film is based on Mosin Hamid’s novel about a young Pakistani man chasing corporate success on Wall Street who faces a conflict between his American dream, a hostage crisis and the enduring call of his family’s homeland.

Venice will also see the world premiere in competition of Terrence Malick’s R rated romantic drama “To the Wonder,” with an ensemble cast that includes Ben Affleck, Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem and Olga Kurylenko.

In “Wonder” Kurylenko and Affleck come to Oklahoma after visiting France’s Mont Saint-Michel, known there as “the Wonder.” In love when they arrive, before long they’re facing problems and involved in other relationships – she with a troubled priest (Bardem) and he with a childhood friend (McAdams).

This is Malick’s first Golden Lion nomination. He was Oscar nominated in 2012 for directing “The Tree of Life,” which was also a Best Picture Oscar nominee, and in 1999 for writing and directing “The Thin Red Line.”

Another title playing in competition and hoping to generate an early Oscar buzz at Venice is Paul Thomas Anderson’s R rated 1950s set drama “The Master,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. It’s already a controversial high profile film after early reports calling it a thinly disguised tale about Scientology. That could help drive it at the boxoffice given the global media spotlight on Tom Cruise and his divorce from Katie Holmes.

“Master’ opens via The Weinstein Company in limited release Sept. 14 and expands Sept. 21. It’s clearly a film for which TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein has high Oscar hopes. After TWC winning the best picture Oscar in both 2011 (“The King’s Speech”) and 2012 (“The Artist”), Harvey’s hotter than ever and “Master” is a safe bet to benefit from being in his hands.

“Master” was the 18th and last film added to the Golden Lion competition at Venice. It’s a recent Venice tradition to keep one special last film in competition secret until the others have been announced. Anderson is the 12th director in that competition who is showing a film at Venice for the first time.

Anderson’s been Oscar nominated five times – in 2008 for writing, directing and co-producing the best picture nominee “There Will Be Blood;” in 2000 for writing “Magnolia;” and in 1999 for writing “Boogie Nights.”

Another high profile director with a film in competition at Venice is Brian De Palma with the thriller “Passion,” starring Rachel McAdams (also competing in “To the Wonder”), Noomi Rapace (the Swedish actress last seen in Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”) and Paul Anderson (who, to avoid understandable confusion, is not the same person as Paul Thomas Anderson).

De Palma’s history at Venice includes winning in 2007 the Silver Lion award for directing “Redacted” and being a Golden Lion nominee for that crime drama; and being a Golden Lion nominee in 2006 for the mystery “The Black Dahlia.”

Robert Redford's political thriller “The Company You Keep,’ starring Redford, Shia LaBeouf and Julie Christie, will be shown out of competition at Venice. Redford plays a civil rights lawyer and single father forced to flee when a reporter (LaBeouf) reveals his real identity as a 1970’s radical who’s wanted for murder.

Redford’s won a ton of awards over the years, including the best directing Oscar in 1981 for “Ordinary People,” but this is his first Golden Lion nomination.

Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson documentary “Bad 25” will also screen out of competition at Venice. Lee will be honored with the festival’s Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker award, which is given to “a personality who has brought great innovation to contemporary cinema.”

Lee won two awards at Venice in 2006 for his documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” He was nominated in 1995 for the Golden Lion for “Clockers” and won a special mention award in 1990 for “Mo’ Better Blues.” Among Lee’s many other awards are an Oscar nomination in 1998 for co-producing the documentary “4 Little Girls” and an Oscar nomination in 1990 for writing “Do the Right Thing.”

The 39th annual Telluride Film Festival in Colorado will run from Aug. 31 through Sept. 3. Unlike other festivals, Telluride doesn’t announce its lineup in advance to promote ticket sales. Fans just known to show up – with their hard to get tickets already in hand — in this tiny ski town expecting to see an outstanding slate of films from top filmmakers.

Past Tellurides saw the world premiere of best picture Oscar winners like “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Last year's lineup included such films as Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison documentary “Living in the Material World,” Steve McQueen’s “Shame” and David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method.”

The 37th annual Toronto International Film Festival — or TIFF as it’s known for short — will run from Sept. 6-16. This year will see 17 galas, 45 special presentations and 38 world premieres – with space here to focus on only a handful of the most interesting. TIFF’s a festival that’s become known as a great place for independent filmmakers to find U.S. distribution for their movies.

Distribution isn’t a concern, however, for TIFF’s opening night title, Rian Johnson’s highly anticipated futuristic action thriller “Looper,” which will have its world premiere at the festival. It opens soon afterwards in U.S. theatres Sept. 28 via Sony’s TriStar Pictures.

Written and directed by Johnson, it stars Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo and Jeff Daniels.

“Looper’s” set in a future world where time travel exists, but is illegal and, therefore, a black market business. When the mob wants to get rid of people, they can now send them decades back into the past where Joe (Gordon-Levitt), a “looper” or hitman, gets rid of them. When the mob decides to ‘close the loop,’ they send Joe’s future self (Willis) back to be assassinated.

Johnson was a 2006 nominee at TIFF for best first feature for his drama “Brick.” He also won the Special Jury prize at Sundance in 2005 for “Brick,” for which he was a Grand Jury Prize nominee.

Also generating an early awards buzz is Ben Afleck’s “Argo,” a political thriller set during 1979’s Iran hostage crisis, which will have its world premiere at TIFF. Afleck stars opposite Bryan Cranston and John Goodman. “Argo” goes into wide U.S. release via Warner Bros. Oct. 12.

Afleck was a TIFF nominee for best first feature in 2007 for “Gone Baby Gone.” Among his many awards over the years are an Oscar and Golden Globe in 1998 for co-writing “Good Will Hunting” with Matt Damon.

TIFF will also screen some high profile likely awards contenders that will have just unspooled at Venice – including Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” and Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep.”

Major star power will be on TIFF’s red carpet for the sci-fi mystery “Cloud Atlas,” directed by Tom Twyker and Andy and Lana Wachowski. Starring are Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant. “Atlas” opens wide in the U.S. Oct. 26 via Warner Bros.

“Atlas’s” story revolves around how individual lives impact on one another in the past, present and future and how one act of kindness over the course of centuries inspires a revolution.

Twyker was a Golden Lion nominee at Venice in 2010 for “Three” and also in 1998 for “Run Lola Run.”

The Wachowski brother-sister team – formerly a brother-brother team when Lana was still Larry – are best known for the “Matrix” franchise.

Also highly anticipated is Roger Michell’s biographical dramedy “Hyde Park on Hudson,” starring Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Olivia Wiliams as his wife, Eleanor. The setting is Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park on Hudson in upstate New York during a 1939 visit from Britain’s King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman as the present Queen Elizabeth’s mother). The story’s seen from the point of view of Roosevelt’s neighbor – well, she apparently was more than just a neighbor — Margaret Stuckey (Laura Linney).

Michell was a BAFTA nominee in 2000 for best British film for co-producing “Notting Hill.”

Also likely to attract media attention at TIFF is Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut “Quartet,” a dramedy about divas that stars Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins as retired opera singers.

Hoffman won best actor Oscars in 1989 for “Rain Man” and in 1980 for “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

After TIFF winds up Sept. 16 there’s a breather of nearly two weeks before the 50th annual New York Film Festival gets underway Sept. 28. It runs through Oct. 14 at Lincoln Center.

At this writing, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which holds the festival, has just made its first programming announcement – that its closing night film (Sept. 28) will be Robert Zemeckis’ drama “Flight,” starring Denzel Washington, Melissa Leo, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman and Don Cheadle.

Washington plays a pilot who saves nearly all his passengers when their plane goes down, after which a complex mystery emerges. “Flight” opens wide in U.S. theatres via Paramount Nov. 2.

“Flight” is Zemeckis’ first live action film in 12 years – since 2000’s “Cast Away.” Zemeckis, who’s making his first appearance at the NYFF, won the best directing Oscar in 1995 for “Forrest Gump,” which was that year’s best picture winner.

Bottom line: Fall film festivals will be the staging ground for the awards season’s first battles.