Though it is still only July – and the summer movie blockbuster season is still in full force – all eyes are turning to awards season as much-awaited announcements of the four big Fall movie festivals that signal the beginning of the Oscar race are starting to drop. Following last week’s news that Fox Searchlight and New Regency’s Birdman would be launching the Venice Film Festival on August 27th, comes official word today from the Film Society Of Lincoln Center that David Fincher’s Gone Girl from Searchlight’s parent 20th Century Fox and New Regency will be launching the 52nd New York Film Festival on September 26th. This selection was absolutely no surprise as the NYFF is very Fincher-friendly and most recently opened their fest in 2010 with the director’s The Social Network. Also, 20th has a strong recent relationship with the NYFF as both last year’s Oscar flameout, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and 2012′s Life Of Pi also had major showcases there. This continues the trend. In what might be counted as the first review of the much-anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best seller starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, NYFF Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said: “Gone Girl is so many things at once: sharp as a razor about many aspects of American life that have been untouched by movies, very tough and just as funny, brilliantly acted, and 100% entertaining – a wild ride from start to finish. In short, a great American movie based on a literary phenomenon, directed by one of the best filmmakers alive. I’m so proud to have the World Premiere of this film as our opening night.” Both Pike, who I hear gives a spectacular cool and riveting performance, as well as Affleck, could be strong contenders for Oscar nods (although there are about 20 strong possibilities I see in the Best Actor race so it could be tighter for Argo’s golden boy than for Pike in the less-crowded actress race).
NYFF is becoming a good barometer for Oscar-buzzy movies. Despite Mitty last year, the festival had a strong close with Spike Jonze’s Her with Warner Bros using the fest to start the road to Oscar where the film was nominated for Best Picture and won for Jonze and his Original Screenplay. Speculation is already running rampant that Warners will go the same route this year with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice as a possible closer for NYFF. There was talk that film could show up in Venice too as Anderson’s previous film, The Master did in 2012, but I am beginning to think NYFF, if any fest, might be the more logical fit on this one which Warner’s Sue Kroll told me she thinks is Anderson’s best film since Magnolia.
But the next stop on the Fall Fest announcement circuit will be Toronto which should be beginning a torrent of press releases next week, at least if last year’s schedule is any indication (their first 2013 release went out July 23rd). Of course the Toronto International Film Festival is the biggest of them all , generally with between 250 and 300 movies overall. Don’t look for too many clues from their opening night selection. Usually it’s a Canadian title although last year they got a little higher profile and went with Dreamworks’ The Fifth Estate which quickly fizzled. With its long list of Galas though it is expected there will be no shortage of Oscar possibilities on the docket for TIFF , as there always are. And this year there is the added drama with the very public confrontation with the Telluride Film Festival which takes place over Labor Day weekend , just before TIFF gets underway on September 4th. TIFF ‘s Cameron Bailey put out word shortly after last year’s fest that any big movies that choose to first play at Telluride (which doesn’t announce its schedule in advance and does not label its films as premieres) won’t be able to play Toronto until after opening weekend, which is considered the prime real estate for Canada’s prized fest. Noses were rubbed the wrong way last year when eventual Oscar winners 12 Years A Slave and Gravity (getting its first North American berth following a Venice World Preem) both showed up in the Rockies before TIFF, effectively stealing the thunder.
Will the studios be concerned about this? Hard to say, but Telluride officials tell me they are not concerned and have been getting great cooperation, as usual, from Hollywood. Last month Telluride had a party at the London in West Hollywood to further cement that connection. Warner Bros discovered Telluride was a valuable stop the past couple of years with Argo and the aforementioned Gravity. However Kroll indicated to me they have no plans to take a film there this year, but you can bet they will have a few at TIFF (I have heard rumblings from various quarters of This Is Where I Leave You, The Good Lie and The Judge but no announcements have been made). I would expect Venice opener Birdman to hit Toronto too along with another Fox Searchlight title, Wild based on the best-seller and starring Reese Witherspoon. But that wilderness-set film about a woman’s 2000 mile journey would also seem like a prime prospect for Telluride, which keeps its lineup top secret until opening day, so I expect it will land there too. Also I expect Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman also to make a stop in Telluride between Venice and TIFF. Inarritu is a big supporter of Telluride. You can expect SonyPictures Classics to turn up at both fests with their strong lineup of films including Foxcatcher and Mr. Turner that both won raves in Cannes.
One much anticipated movie, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar , which opens in November would seem unlikely to turn up at any of these Fall fests, perhaps waiting instead for an AFI fest opening just before its release date. YET I have heard rumors it could show up earlier than that. I also heard that Telluride was dangling the carrot of a Nolan tribute which makes sense. If so, could that include special footage from the mystery movie that stars Matthew McConaughey or even the film itself? On paper it doesn’t seem likely, but you never know and if something like that were to occur with Interstellar - or any other high profile title – expect the fireworks to really explode. It’s fun to speculate. Soon we will have all the answers. Right now Gone Girl and Birdman are leading the way into Fall and that all-important Oscar race.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.