The 2011 awards season already looks like a bumpy road with studios strategizing to hold certain contenders out of the festival circuit ("The Fighter," "True Grit,") while others go full bore for maximum effect ("Black Swan," "The Social Network").  Now, an interesting carrot is being thrown into the mix with the new Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp thriller "The Tourist."

Described as a part drama, part espionage flick, "The Tourist" is an original conceit by a slew of well known screenwriters including Julian Fellowes (Oscar winner for "Gosford Park"), Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar winner for "The Usual Suspects"), Jeffrey Nachmanoff ("Traitor") and William Wheeler ("The Hoax") (WGA credits pending, mind you). The plot centers around Frank (Depp), who is an American traveler visiting Italy trying to mend a broken heart. He soon meets Elise (Jolie), an "extraordinary" woman who purposely engages him in order to throw agents off the trail of her former lover.

"The Tourist" is being directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who received massive critical acclaim for his last film, "The Lives of Others" which won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award in 2007.  And, of course, Jolie is a two-time nominee who won a Best Supporting Actress statue for "Girl, Interrupted" back in her blood necklace days and Depp has been nominated three times for "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "Finding Neverland" and "Sweeney Todd." So, yes, there is a wee bit of awards pedigree at work here.

With the picture in production just this past spring, it wasn't expected to be released until 2011.  Instead, GK Films, which financed the film on its own, is releasing it domestically through Sony Pictures on a just announced opening date of Dec. 10.  Not only does that put the movie in prime position to make some holiday box office, but a player in the award season mix.  And it also puts it up against another contender, David O. Russell's "The Fighter," and Walden Media and 20th Century Fox's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."

The question is whether "The Tourist" will turn out to be more "Bourne Identity" or "Talented Mr. Ripley' fare.  If it's the latter (and if there had been ten nominees that year Minghella's triumph would have been in), then it could absolutely crash the party.  If it's more akin to "Bourne" or even "Valkyrie" quality, then GK will have to live with just having its first hit on its hands.

Unfortunately, the buzz won't start at Venice, Telluride, Toronto or even during the New York Film Festivals.  But by mid November?  We'll know.

"The Tourist" is now opening nationwide on Dec. 10.