Venice, TIFF Offer Early Glimpse of Awards Frontrunners

The Shape of Water - Still 1 -Publicity- H 2017
Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival

Aaron Sorkin's 'Molly's Game' and 'I, Tonya' emerge as serious contenders, while Guillermo del Toro's 'Shape of Water' gets a major boost with a Golden Lion.

The awards prospects of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water just got a big boost, and Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game and Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya both staked out claims for serious consideration as the Venice Film Festival ended Sept. 9 and the Toronto Film Festival revved up. Rather than narrow the field, the successive festivals appear to be opening up the field to prospective contenders

At Venice, Water, a sort-of interspecies love story, was presented with the top prize, the Golden Lion, from a jury headed by Annette Bening. In accepting the prize, del Toro expressed his thanks to the festival for rewarding such an unconventional tale, saying, “There is a moment in every storyteller’s life, no matter what age you are, [when] you risk it all and go and do something different.”

Venice isn’t necessarily an Oscar harbinger — the last Golden Lion winner to get a best pic nomination was 2005’s Brokeback Mountain — but the attention will help distributor Fox Searchlight argue that Water can’t be dismissed as just a weird genre entry and could also help propel star Sally Hawkins into the best actress race.

Meanwhile, at Toronto, two fact-based dramas made strong first impressions. STX’s Molly’s Game, screenwriter Sorkin’s directorial debut, tells the story of Molly Bloom, who operated a high-stakes poker game in Hollywood, and won high marks all around, especially for Jessica Chastain’s performance as Bloom. I, Tonya, which is in the market for a distributor, looks at the life of ice skating’s bad girl, Tonya Harding, and it also drew praise, with special applause for Margot Robbie in the title role and Allison Janney’s supporting turn as Tonya’s difficult mom.

Helen Mirren and newly minted honorary Oscar winner Donald Sutherland won appreciative notices for playing an older married couple on a road trip in Sony Pictures Classics’ The Leisure Seeker, and Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart respectively play a wealthy invalid and his caretaker in The Upside, The Weinstein Co.’s remake of the French film The Intouchables, which, if it doesn’t make the Academy cut, could figure in the Golden Globe comedy competition.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Sept. 10 daily issue at the Toronto Film Festival.