Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 09-06-11

“Contagion” – In theaters September 9th

“Contagion” – In theaters September 9th

Chin Han as Sun Feng in “Contagion”

Chin Han as Sun Feng in “Contagion”

“Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star” – In theaters September 9th

“Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star” – In theaters September 9th

Film festivals: Hollywood’s awards season, which culminates in late February’s Oscars, kicks off in September with global film festivals that are now the launch pad for Academy Awards consideration.

In recent years the studios have realized that the global media exposure they can generate at fall festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York can instantly create a high profile for Oscar-hopefuls.

The first of these prime events is the 68th annual Venice Film Festival, which began Aug. 31 and runs until Sept. 10. Its opening night selection, the political thriller “The Ides of March,” is directed and co-written by George Clooney, who also stars opposite Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.

“Ides,” opening wide Oct. 7 via Columbia Pictures, got Venice off on the right foot, sparking lots of talk about the movie’s Oscar prospects. I’ll be focusing here in the coming months on movies that like “Ides” are potential contenders for Oscars, Golden Globes, British Academy BAFTAs, the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA).

“Ides” could wind up in the best picture race and bring Clooney nominations for best director and adapted screenplay (shared with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon).

Clooney, by the way, is no stranger to the Oscars. In 2006 he was nominated for best director and screenwriter (shared with Grant Heslov) for “Good Night, and Good Luck.” That same year he won best supporting actor for “Syriana.” In 2009 he was a best actor nominee for “Michael Clayton.” And in 2010 he was a best actor nominee for “Up in the Air.”

“Ides” is competing for Venice’s top prize, the Golden Lion. Among the other high profile titles hoping to take that honor home are:

  • Roman Polanski’s comedy drama “Carnage,” starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly, opening in New York and Los Angeles Dec. 16 via Sony Pictures Classics.
  • Thomas Alfredson’s thriller “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and John Hurt, opening wide Nov. 18 via Focus Features.
  • David Cronenberg’s drama “A Dangerous Method,” starring Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Vincent Cassel, opening in New York and Los Angeles Nov. 23 via Sony Pictures Classics.

Of course, winning the Golden Lion is no guarantee of Oscar success. Last year’s Golden Lion winner, Sofia Coppola’s drama “Somewhere,” starring Stephen Dorf, Elle Fanning and Chris Pontius, received no nominations for Oscars, Globes or BAFTA’s.

On the other hand, Darren Aronofsky’s dramatic thriller “Black Swan,” which was the opening night film at the 2010 Venice Film Festival, became one of the year’s most celebrated awards contenders despite losing at Venice.

“Swan,” starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, was Oscar nominated for best picture, directing, cinematography, film editing as well as best actress, which Portman won. The film also received Globe noms for best motion picture - drama, best director, best supporting actress (Kunis) and best actress in a motion picture - drama, which Portman won. “Swan” also was honored with a dozen BAFTA nominations, including best film and director, with Portman again winning best actress.

In any case, not every film playing at Venice is competing for the Golden Lion. A case in point is Steven Soderbergh's PG-13 thriller “Contagion,” whose all star cast includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Jude Law. “Contagion” screened out of competition at Venice, but nonetheless generated a huge amount of global media coverage that will help position it for awards season consideration across the board.

“Contagion,” opening this weekend via Warner Bros., is tracking strongly as a double digit first choice. Its strongest showing is with over-25 males, but it’s almost as solid with under-25 males and is also doing well with females under and over 25. Another good sign is that it’s tracking strongly across the board with all major ethnic groups, including African Americans, non-African Americans, Caucasians and Latinos. All that plus a killer storyline about a deadly global flu epidemic should translate into strong boxoffice business.

Also arriving this crowded weekend are: Columbia’s R rated comedy “Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star,” which is tracking best with under-25 males; Lionsgate’s PG-13 action drama “Warrior,” which is also tracking best with under-25 males; and The Bubble Factory’s R rated horror thriller “Creature,” which is doing best with over-25 males.

They’ll come into a marketplace where DreamWorks and Disney’s PG-13 drama “The Help” continues to perform solidly and is a huge hit with nearly $125 million already under its boxoffice belt; and where Focus Features’ R rated Holocaust theme thriller “The Debt” just opened to a way better than anticipated gross of about $14 million for its first six days in theatres and should play nicely into the fall.

Meanwhile, on the festival front there’s also action underway in Colorado right now at the 38th annual Telluride Film Festival where George Clooney’s other potential awards contender, “The Descendants,” just had its world premiere.

“Descendants,” directed and co-written by Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) and starring Clooney, Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard, opens Nov. 23 in limited release via Fox Searchlight Pictures. The comedy drama got off to a sensational start at Telluride that should propel it into the top awards races.

Among the other most talked about films playing at Telluride are:

  • Rodrigo Garcia’s drama “Albert Nobbs,” starring Glenn Close in a gender-bending performance in the title role, Mia Wasikowska, Jonathan Rhys Myers and Aaron Johnson, opening later this year via Roadside Attractions.
  • Lynne Ramsey’s thriller “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller, opening later this year via Oscilloscope Pictures.
  • Jim Field Smith’s comedy “Butter,” starring Olivia Wilde, Jennifer Garner and Hugh Jackman, opening later this year via The Weinstein Company.

Telluride, which doesn’t announce the films it’s showing in advance of the festival, is much more laid back than Venice’s high glamour event or Toronto’s ultra-commercial mid-September session where distribution deals are done around the clock or New York’s legendary late-September festival produced by the Film Society of Lincoln Center where cinema as high art is on everyone’s mind. I’ll be focusing on the Toronto and New York festivals in the coming weeks.

Last year’s Telluride festivities included much talked about early screenings of “Black Swan” and Tom Hooper’s biographical drama “The King’s Speech,” starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. Both films benefited greatly from their Telluride Oscar buzz.

“Speech,” of course, went on to win Oscars for best picture, directing, actor (Firth) and original screenplay (David Seidler). It also received eight other Oscar noms. It won a Globe for best actor in a motion picture - drama (Firth) and received six other Globe nods, including best motion picture - drama and best director. And it enjoyed tremendous success in the BAFTA’s with seven wins, including best film, actor and screenplay as well as seven other noms.

Bottom line: Fall film festivals are a great springboard into the Oscar race and Hollywood’s making the most of them.