2011 has been a critical dud for Hollywood so far, with no film emerging as an obvious Best Picture contender (by last September, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, and Toy Story 3 had already been released). The political thriller The Ides of March, directed by and starring George Clooney, could be that first Oscar "sure-thing." The acclaimed film, about a charismatic presidential candidate and his conflicted young campaign manager, opened the Venice Film Festival Wednesday. Is it really good enough to warrant the "O" word?

This is the year's "first slam-dunk Best Picture nominee": Expect Clooney to rack up multiple nominations for this film, just as he did when he directed and starred in 2005's Good Night, and Good Luck, says Dave Karger at Entertainment Weekly. The Ides of March is "smart, but not overly complicated; cynical, but not completely depressing; and timely, but not forced." With top-notch acting from Clooney and his co-stars Ryan Gosling, Marissa Tomei, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, expect Oscar to be calling.
"George Clooney's Ides of March: The year's first slam-dunk Best Picture nominee?"

Actually, the film isn't that good: Ides offers nothing but a few "ho-hum insights into the corruption of American politics," says Justin Chang at Variety, and mistakes those insights for "staggering revelations." It's fitting that the film centers on a press secretary who isn't as smart as he thinks, because "something similar could be said about this intriguing but overly portentous drama."
"Ides of March"

We may be jumping the gun: This is a "gripping return to form" for George Clooney, whose last directorial effort, Leatherheads, was a dud, says Oliver Lyttelton at Indie Wire. The familiar cinematic world of political campaigns has "rarely been depicted better," with Ryan Gosling offering an extraordinary turn as a wunderkind political adviser. The film, however, may play too heavily to political insiders with a plot too "convenient" to be believable. "Its early anointment as an Oscar front-runner will disappear quickly."
"Venice '11 review: The Ides of March is a gripping return to form for director George Clooney"