By John Horn
11:00 AM EDT, August 28, 2013
Summer's not yet over and Hollywood's annual awards race has already started — though you may have to hop a plane and travel several thousand miles to notice.
The Venice Film Festival opens Wednesday, to be quickly followed by two other high-profile gatherings: Colorado's intimate Telluride fest convenes Thursday, and Toronto's massive confab starts a week later. If history repeats itself, the Italian festival could be a launching pad for some of the top Academy Award contenders of 2014.
Among the Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated movies that have played at Venice in recent years are "Brokeback Mountain," "The Wrestler," "Shame," "The Master" and "Good Night, and Good Luck." This year, 55 feature films are being shown, with 20 in the main competition section.
A select few movies will hit all three festivals over the next two weeks, most notably Alfonso Cuarón's 3-D thriller "Gravity," which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts trying to survive a catastrophic space accident. (The Venice debut is particularly convenient for Clooney, as the actor-director is editing his next movie, "The Monuments Men," about art looted by the Nazis, at his Italian villa.)
"Gravity," co-written by Cuarón and his son, Jonas, is the opening-night film at Venice, world premiering there before rolling out to Telluride and Toronto. It's Cuarón's first film since 2006's "Children of Men." The Warner Bros. movie, the first stereoscopic production to open the 70th annual Venice fest, will arrive in U.S. theaters on Oct. 4. (Another 3-D film, "Amazonia," by Thierry Ragobert, will close the Venice festival on Sept. 7.)
Errol Morris' documentary "The Unknown Known," a look at former Secretary of Defense and Iraq war architect Donald Rumsfeld, will also hit the festival trifecta. The director famously profiled another polarizing defense secretary, Robert McNamara, in his 2003 film "The Fog of War"; that movie brought Morris and Michael Williams the Oscar for best documentary. The Rumsfeld film's U.S. release date has not been finalized.
Like Cuarón, director Jonathan Glazer hasn't had a film released in years but is back in Venice with a highly anticipated new work. Glazer, known for 2000's "Sexy Beast" and 2004's "Birth," is unveiling "Under the Skin," starring Scarlett Johansson in an adaptation of Michael Faber's sci-fi novel about an alien (Johansson) disguised as a human on a mysterious mission in Scotland.
The independently financed production, which started filming in late 2011, is looking for a U.S. distributor. Its Venice screening will happen early next week, but Telluride audiences will actually be the first to see it, as it unspools in Colorado on Thursday night. The film will also show in Toronto.
The other prominent Venice titles include "At Berkeley," a documentary from Frederick Wiseman about the University of California campus; "The Armstrong Lie," a documentary by Alex Gibney about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong; "The Wind," an animated feature from Japan's Hayao Miyazaki about the man who designed the Zero fighter plane; "Joe," David Gordon Green's ex-con drama with Nicolas Cage; "Child of God," writer-director-actor James Franco's adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel; and "The Zero Theorem," Terry Gilliam's drama about a computer hacker (Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz) searching for the meaning of life.
The Venice jury is headed by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci. Among the awards up for grabs are the Golden Lion for best film, Silver Lion for best director, best actress and best actor kudos and a new Grand Jury Prize. The Venice fest will present its Golden Lion for lifetime achievement to William Friedkin, director of "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist."
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