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Variety: Oscar Hopefuls Chart the Course With Venice, Telluride and Toronto Bows

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Co-Awards Editor@kristapley

The early awards season landscape is filling out as selections have been made for the Venice and Toronto film festivals, leaving clues for Telluride in their wake (where seven of the last eight best picture winners have screened).

Venice (Aug. 31-Sept. 10) kicked things off with an interesting opening night choice: Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land.” Recent films that have nabbed the slot include Oscar heavyweights like “Gravity” and “Birdman.”

Selections for the festival’s competition lineup were laid out this morning, including Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans,” Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals,” Terrence Malick’s “Voyage of Time” and Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival.”

Earlier in the week, Toronto (Sept. 8-18) announced its first wave of galas and special presentations for the 41st annual event. By parsing language that mostly serves to undercut Telluride (Sept. 2-5) — which keeps its lineup a secret until attendees arrive, and has been a bone of contention for Toronto in recent years — it looks like we can bet on a handful of films dropping at the Colorado cinephile retreat first.

Ben Younger’s “Bleed for This,” Aisling Walsh’s “Maudie” and Benedict Andrews’ “Una” were among the titles designated “Canadian Premieres,” suggesting they will debut in Telluride. “La La Land” was similarly classified, meaning it will make a quick Colorado pit stop en route to Toronto. Venice players “Arrival” and François Ozon’s “Frantz” also appear to be Telluride-bound, though they may wrap up their business on the Lido first, depending on the timing.

Also set for Canadian premieres in Toronto are Pablo Larrain’s “Neruda,” Mia Hansen Love’s “Things to Come” and Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann,” all of which played Cannes earlier this year and, since they’re not classified as North American premieres in Toronto, look to be a part of the Telluride lineup as well.

Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” is also set for a Canadian premiere, but it already debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Nevertheless, rumors continue to swirl that it will be the rare Sundance exception in Telluride this year.

Other movies that may turn up in Colorado include Cannes carry-overs “I, Daniel Blake” (this year’s Palme d’Or winner), animated contender “The Red Turtle” and the Dardenne brothers’ “The Unknown Girl.” It’s also worth keeping an eye on Berlin bows, like Golden Lion winner “Fire at Sea”; the Telluride slate is always an eclectic mix of international festival gems.

Filmmakers that would have made a lot of sense for a Telluride appearance — Andrea Arnold (“American Honey”), Paul Verhoeven (“Elle”), Jim Jarmusch (“Paterson”), Asgar Farhadi (“The Salesman”) and Werner Herzog (“Salt and Fire”) — appear to be skipping the fest, given their “World” or “North American” premiere designations in Toronto.

Also expected to skip Telluride are Ewan McGregor’s “American Pastoral,” Mick Jackson’s “Denial” and Rob Reiner’s “LBJ,” among others. Focus Features will apparently be bypassing as well, sending “Nocturnal Animals” and Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” straight to Toronto after bowing “Suffragette” there last year.

That leaves a number of spots available for Telluride co-directors Julie Huntsinger and Tom Luddy to fill, and naturally, plenty of speculating to do as well.

For instance, A24 had a great experience with “Room” at the fest last year. Might they be back with Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight?” The distributor already netted Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women” a world premiere centerpiece selection slot at the New York Film Festival (Oct. 30-Nov. 16), after Ava DuVernay’s documentary “The 13th” was announced as the fest’s opening night pick.

Speaking of which, New York appears to be slowly transitioning out of a period of big, splashy awards season drops like “The Social Network,” “Life of Pi,” “Her,” “Captain Phillips” and “Gone Girl.” It nevertheless remains a viable launching pad for Oscar hopefuls that aren’t quite ready for the Venice-Telluride-Toronto corridor, or just prefer to make their mark away from that fray.

Getting back to Telluride, which sold out passes in record time this year, Warner Bros. has leveraged the fest in the past with films like “Argo,” “Gravity” and “Black Mass.” This year the studio has Gavin O’Connor’s “The Accountant” slated for the same early-October release granted to “Argo” and “Gravity”; Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” primed for release immediately after the festival concludes; and Ben Affleck’s “Live By Night” on the backstretch with an expected December qualifying run. Certainly they’ll come with something.

Hotly anticipated awards season movies like Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” and Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” are not expected to be ready in time.

As of late, the early festival circuit has proven to be of significant importance to films vying for Oscar attention. The last movie to win best picture with a December release and no festival presence was “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004. “The Departed” skipped festivals in 2006, but it released in October, giving it plenty of time to establish itself in the race.

“Crash” and “The Hurt Locker” debuted in Toronto and Venice, respectively, the fall before their summer releases, while “No Country for Old Men” and “The Artist” began their journeys in Cannes.

Every other best picture winner from the past decade launched in Venice or Telluride before going on to Toronto. “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech,” “Argo” and “12 Years a Slave” chose Telluride for their coming out party, while “Birdman” and “Spotlight” opted for Venice. The fact that all six — plus “The Artist” — made the trip to Colorado is notable, as Telluride is a tight-knit fest teeming with Academy voters.

Is the 2017 best picture winner listed among the numerous titles above, or will this finally be the year to shake up the status quo with a latter-season thunderbolt?

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