With The New York Film Festival setting David Fincher’s Gone Girl as its opener, and Toronto yesterday announcing a bevy of world premieres, the signs are getting somewhat clearer as to what to expect from Venice when it unveils its lineup in Rome tomorrow. We do know that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman is opening the festival in competition. That last fact is a pointer to how Venice wants to be perceived on the international stage. It’s the world’s oldest festival, but has sometimes been overshadowed by the other fall movie meccas Toronto and Telluride. Last year, Venice chief Alberto Barbera was miffed when films like Under The Skin got a sneak at Telluride before what was meant to be the World Premiere in Venice. Telluride, as my colleague Pete Hammond points out, does not announce its films ahead of time and does not label its films as premieres. Toronto laid down the law this year that any big movies that choose to first play at Telluride won’t be able to play in Canada until after opening weekend, and Barbera said last year that Venice competition films had to be World Premieres. Venice runs August 27-September 6, Telluride is August 29-September 1 and Toronto goes September 4-14.

birdman1Birdman’s World Premiere in competition is what I like to call a nice dovetail to last year’s opener, Gravity, which was directed by Inarritu’s longtime pal Alfonso Cuaron. That movie did not play in competition – a fact lamented across the board. It of course went on to great awards season glory. Another movie, which was low on the radar last year, but which has a chance to figure in Stateside indie races this year (it won the British Independent Film Awards screenplay prize in 2013) is Locke. The Steven Knight directed Tom-Hardy-in-a-car movie is a tour de force for the actor and a brave choice for the filmmakers. But it did not play in competition – something the crew regretted when they came to the Lido for the screening.

Image (2) philomena-venice__130903123732.jpg for post 576603One that did play in competition last year and which went on to the screenwriting prize in Venice was Philomena. After a rousing premiere filled with applause, laughter and tears, The Weinstein Co immediately set their release plans putting it firmly in the Oscar race. It nabbed four BAFTA nominations and won the screenwriting prize for Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope. It also had four nods at the Oscars, though it failed to take home any statues. One of the nominees, Original Score composer Alexandre Desplat, is the Venice jury president this year.

While his jury will be judging Birdman, some of the titles which were tipped but which we now know at least won’t be making their world premieres in Venice include The Drop with Hardy and the late James Gandolfini, and Liv Ullmann’s Miss Julie with Jessica Chastain, both going to Toronto; and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice which will be the centerpiece in New York. I also hear that movies like Suite Française with Michelle Williams will not be boarding a vaporetto. There’s been speculation surrounding Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong project. The director has a long track record in Venice with The Queen and Philomena big hits, but it looks like it’s not ready.

Manglehorn (1)So what is a possibility? While there are no dead certs until tomorrow, David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn with Al Pacino was announced as a North American premiere for Toronto, and Green was in Venice last year with Joe, so odds are it could be one of the films announced tomorrow. I’ve also heard that Peter Bogdanovich’s Squirrels To The Nuts with Jennifer Aniston has a distinct chance. Werner Herzog’s Queen Of The Desert could trek over; Fatih Akin’s The Cut has been tipped; and Abel Ferrara’s movie about the final days of Pier Paolo Pasolini is heard to be in. Footage of Susanne Bier’s long-gestating Serena was finally shown in Barcelona in June, and with backing from European powerhouse Studiocanal, they might want to shuffle it onto the Lido. Other possibilities include Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in Macbeth — Fassbender won the Volpi Cup for Shame in 2011 which put that film on the map. It’s also backed by Studiocanal. Benoît Jacquot’s Three Hearts, Xavier Beauvois’ La Rançon De La Gloire and David Oelhoffen’s Loin Des Hommes with Viggo Mortensen are understood to be heavy favorites for the French contingent. Terrence Malick’s Knight Of Cups has been mentioned. His To The Wonder premiered in 2012, but this one might be a longshot.

As always, it will be interesting to see what direction the wind blows off the Grand Canal — and into awards season.

helen mirren veniceIn past runnings of the festival, some key awards have proved prescient. A perfect example was Helen Mirren’s Best Actress Volpi Cup win for The Queen in 2006. She went on to win the BAFTA and the Oscar. A year earlier, Brokeback Mountain world premiered in Venice — after Cannes passed it over – and went on to win three Oscars from eight nominations. (Cannes and Venice have previously had something of a rivalry with other movies like Vera Drake being rejected on the Croisette then going on to Lido glory. Although, since the return of Barbera as chief, things may have calmed. At the opening night Venice gala in 2012, Barbera’s first year back, Cannes’ Thierry Frémaux was there in support. Berlin’s Dieter Kosslick was also up for a chat on the Excelsior terrace that year.)

the master veniceAlso in 2012, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master debuted in competition, then caused a stir when the jury wanted to award it more than the allotted amount of prizes. They settled for giving Anderson the Silver Lion for Best Director and splitting the actors’ Volpi Cup between Joaquin Phoenix and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. The latter two ended up receiving Oscar nominations.

But a cachet get for Venice that year was Malick’s To The Wonder — and it was not well-received. Star Ben Affleck, who had won the Best Actor Volpi Cup for 2006’s Hollywoodland, barely uttered a line in the final cut and was not on the Lido.

Some more controversial choices have also come to bear over time. Jury president in 2010, Quentin Tarantino was accused of favoritism when his panel gave Sofia Coppola the Golden Lion for Somewhere, a movie that failed to win favor with other awards season balloters. Last year, Bernardo Bertolucci awarded the Golden Lion to Sacro Gra, a movie about the ring road that circles Rome. That was a first for a documentary.

I’ll be back tomorrow from Rome with the full lineup as it’s announced.