Tuesday, April 16, 2024

What The Venice Film Festival Can Tell Us About The Oscar Race

As the 2023 Venice Film Festival approaches (the schedule dropped earlier today), uncertainty about how it will impact the awards race seems to be at an all-time high. Last season around this time, many of us would have said the same thing: I mean, what was going on between the cast of “Don’t Worry Darling?!” Jokes aside, this year, the film industry finds itself at a historic standstill, with ongoing strikes persisting throughout the summer and into the fall as the Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild fight for better conditions. For now, one thing (at least for film) that isn’t at a standstill is awards season; just like every year, the Venice Film Festival looms as a critical kickoff point for many hopeful Oscar campaigns. Although we won’t be treated to the slew of celebs-in-boats photos we are used to, the film festival goes on without much of the on-screen talent but with all the same stakes and awards to be given out. I have previously warned of taking the winners from Cannes too seriously in your Oscar predictions, but can the same be said for Venice? It’s that time, before we have our newest set of proper awards of the still-fledgling 2024 Oscar season, to examine what the winners of the 80th Venice Film Festival could mean for the Oscar race!

Overall, Venice has a mixed record in recent history at predicting the Oscars (I say “recent history”- I prefer to look most closely/exclusively at the most recent decade due to the rapidly-changing membership and demographics of the Academy that have occurred in that time frame, which significantly altered it as a voting body from that which happened before the mid-2010s) winners. Some categories have a reliable batch of Oscar nominees among them in the last ten years, while others have as few as only one. For the broadest overview, in the previous decade (since the 2013 Venice Film Festival), among the seven major awards (four for Picture, one for Director, seven for Acting, and five for Screenplay), there have been a total of sixteen eventual Oscar nominees. While that’s not many, there are a handful of very instructive tidbits within these- let’s go category by category.

First things first- Best Picture! Venice has two prizes for films overall: the top prize, the Golden Lion, followed by the Grand Jury Prize. In recent history, five films have placed at Venice (i.e., been awarded one of these prizes)- but four of those five have been Golden Lion winners. From 2017-2020, there was a remarkable streak of Golden-Lion-to-Best-Picture-Nominee pathways: “The Shape of Water” started its journey towards an eventual Best Picture win at Venice, followed by “Roma” in 2018 (which came famously close to repeating the feat), “Joker” in 2019, and finally Chloe Zhao’s awards season sweeper and Best Picture winner “Nomadland” in 2020. That fifth film, which placed but did not win the Golden Lion, was “The Favourite,” which won the Grand Jury Prize to kick off a strong Best Picture campaign. If this small sample size can tell us everything, it seems to suggest there’s a roughly 50/50 shot of a Venice placer making it into the Best Picture lineup in any given year (five over ten years), and to watch that Golden Lion award, particularly close, unsurprisingly. All five of these films were not only nominees but also put up real legitimate fights to win at the Oscars in different ways, so give them some weight!

Where the Best Picture category seems tantalizing for anyone in the business of predicting Oscar nominees this far out, the Best Director category offers up a serious vibe check; only once in this timeframe has a Silver Lion winner gone on to be nominated at the Oscars. Granted, that one Director was Jane Campion for 2021’s “The Power of the Dog,” who you’ll remember famously went on to win the Academy Award as that movie’s sole win. Besides Campion, you would have to go all the way back to 1990- if you can believe it or not!- to find another Silver Lion winner that went on to be nominated at the Oscars: Martin Scorsese for “Goodfellas.” Worth noting about this award, though, is the fact that a solid majority of the time, it is awarded to a non-English language or international film (fittingly, at an international film festival). Despite the Academy’s efforts in recent years, there is undeniably a Euro-Americentric aspect to the Oscars. With more and more international directors being recognized as Best Director at the Oscars, it’s never worth ruling out, but statistically, this is noise more than signal.

The acting categories are another relative area of strength when predicting the Oscars. However, a pretty substantial gender divide has emerged over the last decade: five actresses have gone from Volpi Cup winners to Oscar nominees, whereas only two actors can say the same in that timeframe. Looking at the actresses, we find ourselves in something of a hot streak; for three consecutive years, a Best Leading Actress nominee enters Oscar night with a Volpi Cup already on her shelf- Cate Blanchett for “TAR” in 2022, the otherwise major-precursor-less Penelope Cruz for “Parallel Mothers” in 2021, and Vanessa Kirby in 2020 for “Pieces of a Woman.” Before them, two eventual Best Leading Actress winners got their roads started at Venice, Olivia Colman for 2018’s “The Favourite,” and Emma Stone in “La La Land” in 2016. Interestingly, before 2013, the last Volpi winner to garner an Oscar nomination was also Cate Blanchett in 2007, who went on to be nominated for “I’m Not There”- in the Best Supporting Actress category. For the actors, the only two to successfully convert a win at Venice to an Oscar nomination in that time are Colin Farrell last year for “The Banshees of Inisherin” and Willem Dafoe, who eked out a nomination for “At Eternity’s Gate” in 2018 (Interestingly, in 2012, co-stars of “The Master” Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix shared the award, and both went on to Oscar nominations in Leading and Supporting, respectively). Colman and Stone remain the only eventual Oscar winners of the pack across both categories. For 2023, we’ll definitely have our eyes on if the Best Actress streak stays alive- but remember not to take either of these categories as surefire Oscar predictors; they’re not!

And finally, the screenplay award, the Golden Osella. A simple heuristic pattern for Venice, like Cannes and other film festivals, is that they most often award original screenplays. Hence, it carries a lot of weight when they do award adaptations. We see this in the last decade: seven original screenplay winners and three adapted. And again, those scant three adapted screenplays to win the Golden Osella, “The Lost Daughter” in 2021, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” in 2018, and “Philomena” in 2013, all went on to become Oscar nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay. If this year’s award goes to an adaptation, give that some serious consideration- even “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” which received no other major screenplay recognition the whole season, snuck in with the Golden Osella on its mantel. While original screenplays win the award significantly more often, their track record of repeating at the Oscars is not quite so strong- only two of these have been nominated at the Oscars in the last decade (both by Martin McDonagh!)- “The Banshees of Inisherin,” which dominated much of the season and came close to winning the Oscar (but could hardly be expected to surpass “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in the end), and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Again, hardly a surefire Oscar precursor, especially when it comes to Oscar wins, except for that strong link for adapted screenplays. With previous Oscar screenplay nominees (Bradley Cooper for “Maestro,” and Tony McNamara for “Poor Things“) and winners (Sofia Coppola for “Priscilla“) in competition, we may see one (or even two!) potential screenplay nominees premiere at Venice this year.

While certainly less starry, there are reasons to be encouraged about the potential of seeing some future 2024 Oscar nominees emerge from the batch of winners at Venice. Where I would have discouraged folks from being too hasty shuffling around your Oscar predictions at the wrap of Cannes earlier this spring, Venice is where the Oscar predictors of the world can start to dream or at least get a substantially clearer picture of what the race is going to look like for the months ahead. My attention will be particularly focused on those more reliable spots in the awards lineup, the Golden Lion, Volpi Cup for Best Actress, and the Golden Osella in case an adaptation wins. Even if this particular swatch of awardees doesn’t transfer at all to the Oscar nominations, at least we are one step closer to the proper fall by the end of it!

Do you think any Oscar nominees or winner will emerge from this year’s Venice Film Festival? Which films are you most looking forward to from the festival? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account. And please check out the Next Best Picture team’s latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Cole and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @CurtissOnFilm

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