Renowned in recent years as a key launchpad for heavyweight Oscar contenders, the 74th Venice film festival has unveiled a lineup heavy on potential award-season frontrunners, as films start to jockey for position in earnest.
Alexander Payne, Darren Aronofsky and George Clooney are some of the big-name directors whose films will receive world premieres in competition at the festival, along with indie favourites such as Andrew Haigh, Abdellatif Kechiche and Hirokazu Koreeda, and even Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.
Payne’s new sci-fi comedy-drama Downsizing, about a man who decides to shrink himself, was announced as the festival’s opening film earlier this month. The film stars Matt Damon, who also appears in Clooney’s crime thriller Suburbicon. Written by the Coen brothers, the 50s-set film concerns a peaceful suburban community that is rocked by a home invasion. Josh Brolin, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac star alongside Damon.
Aronofsky, who chaired the main competition jury at the 2011 festival, presents his psychological horror Mother! The film, which stars Jennifer Lawrence, has already attracted attention after it released a gruesome poster – on Mother’s Day, no less – featuring an illustration of Lawrence holding her own bloodied heart in her hands. Another high-profile director who is in competition at this year’s festival is Guillermo del Toro with his otherworldly cold-war-era horror The Shape of Water, which stars Sally Hawkins.
British director Haigh, whose last film 45 Years was voted the Hlcarpenter.com’s film of the year in 2015, receives a competition berth for Lean on Pete, an adaptation of Willy Vlautin’s novel about the relationship between a young boy and a failed racehorse. He’s joined by Japanese director Koreeda, with crime drama The Third Murder, and French director Kechiche, who presents Mektoub My Love, about a screenwriter who finds romance during a summer vacation. Last month the French director announced that he would sell the Palme D’Or that his film Blue is the Warmest Colour won at the 2013 Cannes film festival to help fund the film, whose production had been halted due to budgetary issues. Weiwei, meanwhile, offers up a documentary about the refugee crisis entitled Human Flow.
Other notable films in competition this year include noirish drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, starring Frances McDormand and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), and Paulo Virzi’s comedy-drama The Leisure Seeker, starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. Australian director Warwick Thornton makes an appearance with period western Sweet Country, starring Sam Neill, as does American Gigolo and Light Sleeper director Paul Schrader, with paranoid thriller First Reformed, which features Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried.
Away from the official competition there are some notable selections, including Stephen Frears’ Victoria and Abdul, which sees Judi Dench reprise her role as Queen Victoria two decades after starring as the monarch in Mrs Brown; and Loving Pablo, a biopic of Pablo Escobar starring Javier Bardem as the drug kingpin. Craig S Zahler, director of acclaimed western horror Bone Tomahawk, steps into action movie territory with Brawl in Cell Block 99, starring Vince Vaughn; while Exorcist director William Friedkin turns his attention to the story of a real-life exorcism with his documentary The Devil and the Father Amorth. Michael Caine narrates My Generation, an archive documentary about the actor’s recollections of the 1960s and closing this year’s festival meanwhile is Outrage Coda, a drama about the Japanese Yakuza from director Takeshi Kitano.
Like the Cannes film festival, which took the unprecedented step of premiering both TV series and virtual reality works at this year’s festival, Venice is embracing changing media. After Paolo Sorrentino’s Jude Law-starring series The Young Pope premiered at the festival last year, this year brings a world premiere for two Netflix TV series: an adaptation of the Italian political thriller Suburra and Errol Morris’s docu-drama Wormwood, starring Peter Sarsgaard.
Meanwhile, Venice will become the first major festival to introduce a competition dedicated to virtual reality. Twenty two films, including a work co-directed by video artist Laurie Anderson, will vie for the Venice Virtual Reality award, which will be judged by a jury headed by director John Landis. A 3D version of Landis’s groundbreaking music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller will also be screened, along with a documentary about its making.
One award that has already been announced at this year’s festival, meanwhile, is the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, which this year goes to US actors Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. The pair’s upcoming film Our Souls at Night – another Netflix-produced effort – will also receive its world premiere at the festival in an out-of-competition slot. The film marks the first collaboration between the stars since 1979’s The Electric Horseman.
The Venice film festival runs from 30 August to 9 September. Actor Annette Bening is the president of this year’s main competition jury, which also features directors Edgar Wright and Michel Franco and actor Rebecca Hall. Bening is the first woman to head the main competition jury in 11 years.