Clooney, Bullock's 'Gravity' to Open Venice: Is It a Major Awards Contender? (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst looks at how the fest's previous openers have gone on to fare at the Oscars and Globes.

Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, a 3D sci-fi drama that stars Oscar winners George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts lost in space, will kick off the 70th Venice International Film, the fest announced Friday morning. (The festival runs from Aug. 28 through Sept. 7, and, as always, will overlap with North America's Telluride and Toronto film festivals.)

Based on the talent involved and the way that Warner Bros. is positioning the film -- the studio is giving it an Oct. 4 release date, which is just a week earlier on the fall calendar than the slot Warners used to launch Oscar-winner Argo last year -- I am inclined to think that the long-gestating film is going to be a major player this awards season. But, one must note, the folks who schedule the opening-night slot at Venice have, in recent years, had a hit-or-miss track record of picking films that also appeal to Oscar and Golden Globe voters.

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Gravity, which will open the fest but will not be in competition for its various awards (as was the case for The Great Gatsby at May's Cannes Film Festival), will follow in some considerable footsteps:

Julie Taymor's Frida (2002) went on to Oscar wins for makeup and original score and noms for actress, art direction, costume design and original song, plus a Golden Globe win for original score and nom for actress (drama); Joe Wright's Atonement (2007) went on to an Oscar win for original score and noms for picture, supporting actress, adapted screenplay, art direction, cinematography and costume design; Ethan and Joel Coen's Burn After Reading (2008) went on to Golden Globe noms for picture (musical or comedy) and actress (musical or comedy); Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan (2010) went on to an Oscar win for actress and noms for picture, director, cinematography and film editing, plus a Golden Globe win for actress (drama) and Golden Globe noms for picture (drama), director and supporting actress; and Clooney's The Ides of March (2011) went on to an Oscar nom for adapted screenplay and Golden Globe noms for picture (drama), director, actor (drama) and screenplay.

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But it will also, however, follow in some less distinguished footsteps:

Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys (2000) went on to only a sound editing Oscar nom; Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia (2006) went on to only a cinematography Oscar nom; and Milcho Manchevski's Dust (2001), Woody Allen's Anything Else (2003), Steven Spielberg's The Terminal (2004), Tsui Hark's Seven Swords (2005), Giuseppe Tornatore's Baaria (2009) and, last year, Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012) all received no major awards recognition.

Gravity could conceivably show up in Toronto, as well, but most films play either at Telluride and Toronto or at Venice, not at some combination thereof. In recent years, far more future Oscar and Golden Globe nominees and winners have passed through the former route than the latter -- perhaps because a larger contingent of the North American press covers the former events.

Indeed, seven of the past 13 best picture Oscar winners (Crash, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, The King's Speech, The Artist and Argo) and 10 of the 26 best picture Golden Globe winners (Almost Famous, Lost in Translation, Sideways, Brokeback Mountain, Walk the Line, Babel, Atonement, Slumdog Millionaire, The Descendants and Argo) screened at one or both of those fests, whereas only one future best picture Oscar winner (The Hurt Locker) and two best picture Golden Globe winners (Lost in Translation and Brokeback Mountain) screened at Venice.