If you want to spot the contenders at next year’s Academy Awards, take a look at the Competition lineup at this year’s Venice International Film Festival. There often is overlap.
Three of the last five Best Pictures debuted at Venice: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” “Spotlight” and “The Shape of Water.” And at February’s Oscars, three Best Picture nominees also had Venice premieres. All three garnered prizes in other categories: Olivia Colman won Best Actress for her tragicomic turn in “The Favourite,” Lady Gaga and her co-writers won Best Original Song for “Shallow” in “A Star is Born,” and Alfonso Cuarón took home Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film trophies for “Roma.”
Timing is everything. For a film to do well on Oscar night, it needs enough time to gather critical momentum, but not enough time for voters to get sick of it. And that is why the Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica of La Biennale di Venezia — to use its full title — signals the de facto start of awards season. Recently, most Best Picture winners have been shown at Venice, or at the Telluride and Toronto festivals, which get underway shortly afterward.
Sticking to Venice, which begins on Wednesday, here are a few of the films that could embark on the tumultuous journey to the Oscars.
“Ad Astra,” Best Picture
For some reason, there is a special connection between Venice and thoughtful Hollywood space-travel dramas.
“Gravity,” “Arrival” and “First Man” all appeared at Venice, and the latest star vehicle on the launchpad there is this James Gray movie.
Set in the near-future, the film features Brad Pitt as an astronaut who flies through the solar system to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones), a scientist who was lost in space several years earlier.
Those of us who are still outraged that “First Man” did not get a Best Picture nod will be watching closely.
“The Truth,” Best Foreign Language Film
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film award this year. But considering the sky-high quality of Mr. Kore-eda’s bittersweet domestic dramas over the past two decades, he deserves to have had a lot more Academy recognition.
Perhaps “The Truth” will help redress the balance, if for no other reason than that its cast is starrier than usual. Catherine Deneuve plays a Catherine Deneuve-ish legend of French cinema. Juliette Binoche plays the daughter who lives in New York with her husband, Ethan Hawke, but who returns to Paris when her mother’s memoirs are published.
What follows, says the writer-director, is a small family story of “lies, pride, regrets, sadness, joy and reconciliation.” It is Venice’s opening night film and also the first film Mr. Kore-Eda has made outside Japan. Anyone who dislikes it is asking for a cry of, “You can’t handle ‘The Truth’!”
“Joker,” Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix
The origin story of a Batman supervillain directed by the person behind “The Hangover”? You can understand why some cineastes were sniffy when Todd Phillips’s “Joker” was accepted by the world’s oldest film festival, but the trailers promise a brooding urban psychodrama that pays tribute to Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.” Robert DeNiro cameos as a talk-show host.
The Oscar contender here is Joaquin Phoenix, who reimagines the Clown Prince of Crime as an emaciated outcast with the limited social skills of his hammer-wielding vigilante in “You Were Never Really Here.”
On the other hand, he could be stymied by the Heath Ledger factor. That is, it might not seem right if two actors of the same generation won Academy Awards for playing the same role.
“The Laundromat,” Best Actress: Meryl Streep
Julia Roberts won her Best Actress Oscar for “Erin Brockovich,” Steven Soderbergh’s David-and-Goliath tale of a corporate cover-up and an unlikely campaigner. “The Laundromat” appears to be its spiritual follow-up.
Adapted from Jake Bernstein’s book on the Panama Papers, Mr. Soderbergh’s comedy stars Meryl Streep as a widow who investigates a Panama City law firm specializing in global financial chicanery.
It has now been well over a year since Ms. Streep was nominated for an Academy Award, an oversight that will almost certainly be rectified in 2020. Gary Oldman and / or Antonio Banderas, who play the law firm’s founders, could go head-to-head for Best Supporting Actor.
“Wasp Network,” Best Adapted Screenplay: Olivier Assayas
If Scott Z. Burns does not get the Best Adapted Screenplay award for “The Laundromat,” the Oscar could go to Olivier Assayas (“Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Personal Shopper”), whose espionage thriller is based on Fernando Morais’s “The Last Soldiers on the Cold War: The Story of the Cuban Five.”
Penélope Cruz and Gael García Bernal play two of the five spies sent from Cuba to Florida to infiltrate anti-Castro organizations, meaning that “Wasp Network” has the Oscar-friendly combo of heavyweight geopolitical material and superstars who scrub up well for the red carpet.
“Marriage Story,” Best Original Screenplay: Noah Baumbach
Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographnical “The Squid and the Whale” screenplay was Oscar-nominated in 2006. But since then he has either written or co-written “Margot at the Wedding” (2007), “Greenberg” (2010), “Frances Ha” (2012) and, best of all, the underrated comedy “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (2012), so it is surprising how long it has been since he has had a script on the Academy’s shortlist.
“Marriage Story” stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as an actor and a director going through a brutal divorce and custody battle. Prepare for another in-depth examination of middle-class metropolitan hang-ups. Also, prepare for lots of interviews in which Mr. Baumbach denies that the film is all about his breakup with Jennifer Jason Leigh.