George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence and a shrunken Matt Damon: Oscars race kicks off in Venice | Film

The Oscars may be seven months away, but speculation over which big names might take home the Academy’s coveted gold statuettes begins in earnest on 30 August with the opening of the Venice film festival. Once seen as a waning force in the film industry calendar, the world’s oldest film festival has regained its status as a kingmaker for award-season hopefuls, with a record of launching films that have gone on to enjoy success at the Academy Awards, including two recent best picture winners in Spotlight and Gravity,and the film that took home the highest number of Oscars this year, La La Land.

While that latter film was already considered a dead-cert for awards-season glory, even before it premiered at the festival, this year’s event boasts no such obvious frontrunner. Instead, the lineup features a clutch of films regarded as possible awards hopefuls. Such uncertainty is reflective of a notably open Oscars race, in which several of the major awards contenders, including the fashion drama Phantom Thread (with Daniel Day-Lewis) and Steven Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers biopic are not set to debut until later this year.

Festival director Alberto Barbera, who is responsible for selecting much of the festival programme, acknowledges the issue, but is confident that several of the films in his lineup will be in the reckoning at the sharp end of awards season. “There will be more contenders for sure, because some of the most interesting films were not ready in time for September,” he says. “But some of the films in our lineup still have a good chance of running for one of the major awards from the Academy next year.”

Chief among these is Alexander Payne’s sci-fi comedy Downsizing, which has the festival’s opening-gala slot. A departure for Payne, known for small-scale character-driven dramas, the film stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a couple who shrink themselves as a cost-cutting measure. Barbera describes Downsizing as a multilayered…

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