VENICE - For several years now, the Venice Film Festival has overlapped with not one but two rival North American fests. The "Toronto effect" has been felt since the two festivals started sharing a few days of September calendar space: the exodus of journalists from the Lido in the last couple of days is all too noticeable, though Venice organizers have to accept it, obligingly front-loading their schedule with their highest-profile premieres to as to allow sufficient room for the first wave of buzz and publicity (not to mention reasonable travel time for talent) before the next one at Toronto.
The owner of the best name in show business, Benedict Cumberbatch has been a ubiquitous presence this year. Hell, he's a pretty ubiquitous presence simply at the Toronto Film Festival, which opens with his turn as Julian Assange in "The Fifth Estate" tonight. He'll also be at the fest with supporting roles in two very different awards hopefuls: "12 Years a Slave" and "August: Osage County."
Noted over the weekend, Penn and Teller's "Tim's Vermeer" might be the breakout hit of this year's Telluride Film Festival. Talking to everyone from Oscar-nominated directors to casual movie-goers at the fest, it was clear to me that the film delighted just about everyone who managed to catch it, giving the film a nice boost into the Toronto Film Festival over the next week or so.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced this year's Honorary Oscar recipients, to be presented at the fifth annual Governors Awards in November.
Actress Angela Lansbury, a perennial possibility for this honor each year, will finally get an Oscar, alongside comedian Steve Martin and, in keeping with a recent dedication to the crafts branches, costume designer Piero Tosi. Actress Angelina Jolie will receive the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
And we're back! Yes, it's your favorite weekly rundown of Best Picture contenders. A snapshot of who's up, who's down, who's got it in the bag and who's a big whiny pretender.
With Venice almost completed, Telluride in the books and Toronto opening her red carpets to the world, the 2013-2014 awards season is in full swing. Last year, "Silver Linings Playbook" was the surprise at Toronto as "Argo" kept its Telluride momentum going. "Lincoln's" debut was over a month away and many pundits were getting smoke signals that "Zero Dark Thirty" might not even make its expected end-of-year release. So, yep, a lot can happen between now and Dec. 1st. Telluride, however, was quite, um, telling this year (as it increasingly steals Venice and Toronto's thunder). A number of films proved their worthiness (or not) there. With that in mind, let's review the countdown as it stands today, Sept. 5, 2013.
VENICE - I didn't intend to wait four days to review "Night Moves" -- not least because, in the wake of her last three features, a toothpaste commercial directed by Kelly Reichardt would be high on the year's most-anticipated list -- but the combination of cumulative screenings and the slackening effects of illness kept pushing it unintentionally down the to-do list.
Yet if any film on the Lido this year belongs on the back burner, it's this one. That may be the lousiest compliment I've given a good film all year, but it's a compliment nonetheless; for the more time Reichardt's latest has to let its calculatedly flat terrors work on the brain, the more imposing and guileful an achievement it seems. "Night Moves" is a pretty slow burner while it's on the screen; off it, it's stubbornly inextinguishable, the trick birthday candle of this year's Venice fest.
Ordinarily, if a film festival announced its lineup and I found I'd already seen over 60 of the selections, I'd probably strike it from the to-do list. But it's a testament to the strength and breadth of this year's London Film Festival programme, which was announced this morning, that I'm still excited to dive into it. The LFF remains one of the world's great cherry-picking festivals: only 22 of the 234 features screening over the 12-day fest are world premieres, but it's a comprehensive catch-up of highlights from Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin and Sundance, to name just its biggest suppliers. For any UK readers getting itchy over our Venice, Telluride and upcoming Toronto coverage, this should be your first port of call.
By now I imagine the well-worn quotes of glee from James Cameron regarding Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" have made it across your browser, but we might as well point to them, too.
Four years ago Cameron's "Avatar" became the highest grossing film of all time and made a huge impact as an experience, a roller coaster ride of a film. Cynicism has had its way with it since but I still think it's a major accomplishment in filmmaking, just as I do "Gravity."
Cuarón's latest is a full-on ride, as immersive an experience as you could hope for in a movie. It puts you right there with Sandra Bullock, having its way with your equilibrium. So it's high praise when a guy like Cameron calls it "the best space film ever done."
One of the reasons "12 Years a Slave" works so well is that it's rather naturally structured as a thriller. As the film follows Solomon Northup from freedom to shackles, his circumstances -- kidnapped in Washington D.C. and sold into slavery in the south -- are just terrifying, and director Steve McQueen follows that natural structure with convention and invention in equal measure.
AFI Fest has come out swinging with a pair of big premieres for the 2013 edition of the Los Angeles-based festival and a closing night selection reflective of an American indie skipping across the festival circuit like a stone this year.