Euro Fests Prove Prescient On Oscar Night; Is Venice The New Must?

The European film festivals, notably Cannes, have often played a role in launching what go on to be Oscar nominees and winners across varying categories come the following February. But Venice and Berlin showed increasing muscle this year. And right about now, Venice Film Festival chief Alberto Barbera has to be feeling particularly prescient, marking two years in a row that his opening film has had a huge night at the Dolby.

Last year’s winner of the most Academy hardware, Gravity, blasted off to raves on the Lido in August 2013 before heading to Telluride and Toronto. It was a major winner all throughout awards season and ultimately scooped seven Oscars including Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron.

This past August, the Sala Grande welcomed Cuaron’s amigo Alejandro G Inarritu with Birdman on opening night. Shouts of bellissimo reverberated up and down the Lido as soon as the first morning press screening let out. Birdman then flew to Telluride and myriad other fests gaining momentum all the way through to last night when it scooped four prizes including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and a second consecutive win for DP Emmanuel Lubezki, who had also shot Gravity.

Venice Biennale President Paolo Baratta touted the back-to-back performances today, saying, “If the finest and most dynamic film industry in the world entrusts the world premiere of films aspiring to the Oscars to the Venice Film Festival, this seems to me an important sign of the international prestige that our festival enjoys today.”

Although it’s the oldest film festival in the world, and arguably one of the most glamourous, Venice has sometimes been overshadowed by the North American fests that overlap it. Toronto has recently moved aggressively to secure world premieres ensuring that Telluride doesn’t steal its thunder and Barbera in 2013 was on the receiving end of surprise sneaks in Colorado that were billed as premieres in Venice. But he told me last summer, “I don’t like the idea of a war amongst festivals. I make a festival to support films and filmmakers. I don’t care at all about competition with others. I want collaboration, not competition.”

(After Birdman’s debut in Venice, I asked Inarritu if we should expect to see Guillermo del Toro, who, with Cuaron, makes up the rest of the three amigos triumvirate, on the Lido next year on opening night. “Yes!” he shouted, “It’s the Mexican cartel in Venice!” The director was asked similar questions regarding next year’s Oscars on the red carpet last night, joking that the U.S. government is probably enacting new immigration laws to stop the streak. Del Toro’s Crimson Peak is due for release in October.)

Meanwhile, the Berlin Film Festival also figured heavily in this awards season. Although Boyhood debuted in Sundance in early 2014, its introduction on the international stage came a month later in the German capital. Richard Linklater won the directing Silver Bear for his 12-year-long odyssey to capture the coming of age of a young man. While Boyhood won just one prize on Oscar night – for Patricia Arquette’s supporting actress turn – it has been one of the major fixtures of this awards season and was considered a frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar.

The Grand Budapest Hotel also started its career in Berlin last year, doing opening night duties at the Berlinale Palast. Wes Anderson’s candy-colored confection won over critics and the jury which gave it the Grand Jury Prize Silver Bear there. That movie tied Birdman for the most nominations and wins at the Oscars last night.

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