By Dave Karger
Updated August 31, 2011 at 07:12 PM EDT
Elisabetta A. Villa/

The Ides of March, George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, has just premiered at the Venice Film Festival, and if you ask me, we now have the first sure-thing Best Picture nominee on our hands. A contemporary echo of Clooney’s multi-nominated 2005 drama Good Night, and Good Luck, Ides — an inside look at a fictional presidential campaign — is smart, but not overly complicated; cynical, but not completely depressing; and timely, but not forced. Plus, it boasts top-flight acting from its entire cast, including Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. I’d call it a great bet for director, adapted screenplay, and picture nominations, even if there are only five or six nominees next year. From the cast, meanwhile, the likeliest possibilities are Clooney, who’s riveting in a supporting role as a presidential candidate with a shocking secret, and Ryan Gosling, a definite Best Actor contender as a hotshot campaign strategist. Gosling also delivers a memorable lead performance in the violent thriller Drive, which will also come out this fall, and while that film will help cement his standing as the coolest young actor working today, I’d call Ides the stronger Academy film overall and therefore his better shot at a nod. (One of Gosling’s competitors, strangely enough, could be Clooney, who’s said to be terrific in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants.)

With Venice behind it, The Ides of March now travels to Toronto, where it will need to play extremely well. If there’s one thing the film has going against it, it’s timing, since it will open in theaters on Oct. 7, weeks before most of the year’s other top contenders. But for the early part of the season at least, it will dominate much of the awards talk. Follow me on Twitter (@davekarger) for all the buzz out of Toronto and beyond.

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