Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 08-19-13

“Gravity” – In theaters October 4th

“Gravity” – In theaters October 4th

Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in “All Is By My Side”

Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in “All Is By My Side”

Mike Myers

Mike Myers

Festival focus: After a summer of expensive event films driven by 3D and special effects, Hollywood’s moving into the Oscar season where movies succeed with critical acclaim and awards.

Since the most likely candidates for Oscars, Golden Globes and British Academy BAFTA's won't hit theatres until late this year, awards marketers need ways to put their films in a global media spotlight and create an early buzz.

Hollywood’s approach is to launch awards wanabees at major fall film festivals from late August into early October in places like Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York. These festivals have in recent years emerged as the perfect platform to attract the media attention that starts a film’s awards campaign ball rolling.

Each festival has its own personality shaped by where it is and who determines what plays in or out of competition. What’s evolved is a combination of big star power to lure the media crowd and movies from high profile indie filmmakers to attract ticket-buying audiences.

A case in point is the Venice Film Festival, which kicks off the festival season Aug. 28 with an A List opening night out of competition premiere of Warner Bros.’ “Gravity.” It's the 70th annual edition for Venice, the world’s oldest film festival.

“Gravity’s” an ideal festival opener because while it’s a high profile 3D sci-fi thriller, it’s also a potential Oscar contender from filmmakers and stars with a high awards pedigree. Directed by Oscar nominee Alfonso Curaron, the PG-13 rated Esperanto Filmoj/Heyday Films production stars Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

The film opens wide Oct. 4, which will put it in the fall marketplace a little earlier than awards contenders usually arrive. But the earlier timing should help Warner’s marketers position the movie for awards consideration. Given its star power, there’s no question that Academy members and Hollywood Foreign Press Association members, who vote for the Golden Globes, will see the film. For most awards hopefuls the biggest challenge is getting seen by the voters, but that won’t be a problem for “Gravity.”

It also will help that the film’s two stars, Bullock and Clooney, are the film’s only actors. Although two other voices are heard, no one else appears on screen, a distinction that adds to “Gravity’s” uniqueness as a festival film.

In “Gravity,” Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer doing her first shuttle mission. Clooney plays veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky. Disaster strikes while they’re doing a routine spacewalk. The shuttle's destroyed and Stone and Kowalsky are left tethered only to each other and spiraling into space. No spoilers here as to what happens next.

“Gravity” was written by Alfonso Curaron and (his son) Jonas Curaron and produced by Alfonso Curaron and David Heyman (“Harry Potter” franchise).

Alfonso Curaron was Oscar nominated in 2003 for original screenplay for “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and received Oscar nominations in 2007 for adapted screenplay and film editing for “Children of Men.”

In addition to his Oscar nominations, Curaron’s won or been nominated in many other awards races over the years, all of which enhances his potential to go the distance this year with “Gravity.” Among his other honors are winning the British Academy's BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language in 2007 for “Pan’s Labyrinth,” whose producing team included Curaron and director Guillermo del Toro. “Gravity” producers Curaron and John Heyman were BAFTA nominees in 2004 as producers of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

That Curaron’s no stranger to the Venice Film Festival adds to his luster as director of its opening night presentation. He won Venice’s Laterna Magica Prize in 2006 for directing and co-writing “Children,” which also was nominated for Venice's prime award, the Golden Lion.

In 2001 Curaron was at Venice with “Y Tu,” for which he was a Golden Lion nominee and won the Golden Osella.

Clearly, Curaron has the right filmmaker pedigree to nail down an opening night slot. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that both of his film’s stars, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, are Oscar winners.

Bullock won the best actress Oscar and the Golden Globe for best actress – drama in 2010 for “The Blind Side.” Clooney’s won two Oscars – supporting actor in 2006 for “Syriana” and as a producer of the 2012 best picture winner “Argo.” He’s also been nominated over the years for six other Oscars.

Clooney’s also enjoyed success at Venice in the past. He won the festival's Brian Award in 2011 for “The Ides of March,” which also was a Golden Lion nominee. In 2005 for “Good Night, and Good Luck” he won the FIPRESCI (foreign press), Golden Osella, Human Rights Film Network and Pasinetti awards and was a Golden Lion nominee.

Of course, there’s much more on tap for Venice festivalgoers to see. Some 53 movies will be shown, of which 51 are world premieres. Twenty films will compete for the Golden Lion and a jury headed by Oscar winning director Bernardo Bertolucci will pick the winner. Bertolucci, who won Oscars for “The Last Emperor” in 1988 for directing and co-writing its adapted screenplay, won a Career Golden Lion Award in 2007. In 1997 he won the festival’s Pietro Bianchi Award.

Some of the higher profile films hoping to capture this year’s Golden Lion are: Stephen Frears’ drama “Philomena,” starring Judi Dench; Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi drama “The Zero Theorem,” starring Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon; Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi thriller “Under the Skin,” starring Scarlett Johansson; and Peter Landesman’s post-JFK assassination drama “Parkland,” starring Zac Efron and Billy Bob Thornton.

Venice’s closing night film Sept. 7 will be in sharp contrast to opening night’s big stars/major studio/3D event. The festival’s closing presentation, “Amazonia,” is a French documentary directed by Thierry Ragobert about a monkey raised in captivity and then left on his own in the Amazon jungle.

It’s always prestigious to win the Golden Lion, but it doesn’t always translate into Oscar nominations. That’s what happened last year with the South Korean drama “Pieta,” directed by Kim Ki-duk, and also with 2011’s winner, the Russian drama “Faust,” directed by Aleksander Sokurov.

There were high hopes in 2010 but also no Oscar noms for the Golden Lion winner “Somewhere,” directed by Sofia Coppola, whose 2003 drama “Lost in Translation” brought her an Oscar for original screenplay plus best picture and directing nominations.

On the other hand, 2008’s winner, Darren Aronofsky’s drama “The Wrestler,” went on to be Oscar nominated for best actor (Mickey Rourke) and supporting actress (Marisa Tomei). In 2005 Ang Lee’s drama “Brokeback Mountain” won the Golden Lion, putting it on track for eight Oscar nominations and three wins – for best directing, original score and adapted screenplay.

Bottom line: The day after Venice kicks off with “Gravity,” the Telluride Film Festival gets underway in a sleepy Colorado mountain village. It runs through Sept. 2 and no one knows in advance what will be showing because Telluride’s policy is to keep its schedule secret. What festivalgoers do know when they buy their passes is that they’ll see some major indie films that are likely to receive major awards attention. Since beginning in 1973, Telluride’s given its audiences a first look at such films as “Juno,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Crying Game” and “Blue Velvet.”

On the heels of Telluride comes the much higher profile Toronto International Film Festival, which will run from Sept. 5-15. Unlike Venice or Telluride, Toronto’s also a major film market where Hollywood distributors compete around the clock to pick up rights to the festival’s hottest titles.

Among the many hopefuls looking for distribution deals at Toronto are two whose stories involve music — John Ridley’s biographical drama “All Is By My Side,” starring Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix; and Mike Myers’ directorial debut with the documentary “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” about the legendary music manager for such artists as Alice Cooper, Blondie and Luther Vandross

Many awards hopefuls will be screening at Toronto and I’ll focus on the festival in an upcoming column.