Next week, the first of the big fall film festivals kicks off, in which hordes of international journalists will surely threaten to sink the 11km-long sandbar island that is the Lido di Venezia. The Venice Film Festival is always bracketed with the boutique-y Telluride Film Festival and the behemoth Toronto International Film Festival, and there is famously significant competition between the three for premieres and high-profile titles. But Venice has certain advantages: it comes first on the calendar; it has a long, venerable and glamorous history; and… it’s in Venice.
And since its red carpet is the first to unroll, Venice also always functions as kind of a marker for the fall season to come. If that’s true this year, we’re in for an all-timer, unless it’s simply that the 73rd Venice Film Festival has attracted more than its fair share of cinematic riches. Either way, the lineup is one of the strongest and deepest we can recall, so much so that we’ve had to increase our list of Most Anticipated Venice titles to an unprecedented 20 entries for this year.
Check them all out below and stay tuned for our reviews from the Venice Film Festival, which runs from August 31st to September 9th.
“The Age of Shadows”
In 2013, when Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon made their English language debuts with “Snowpiercer,” “Stoker,” and “The Last Stand,” it was Kim’s attempt to relaunch Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career that fared the worst. The stylistic ingenuity and bombast seen in Kim’s earlier films “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” and “I Saw the Devil” only showed up in short bursts, and audiences didn’t exactly rush out to see Ahnote back in action. Luckily, Kim has gone back home and reunited with South Korean megastar Song Kang-ho to make “The Age of Shadows.” Taking place during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1920s, the film sees Song playing a double agent sent by the Japanese to infiltrate a group of freedom fighters and who soon finds his loyalties put to the test. Sure, it sounds familiar, but Kim specializes in subverting genre expectations, and based on the trailer, it looks like he’s back in fine form with yet another elegant thrill ride.
Few directors working in the last few years have generated as much genuine enthusiasm as Canadian favorite Denis Villeneuve, who initially impressed with the scorching “Incendies” and since 2013 has made good repeatedly with films such as “Enemy,” “Prisoners” and 2015’s “Sicario.” All told, they’ve established him as an immense talent with a distinct visual style. “Arrival” sees Amy Adams star as a linguist who is tasked with communicating with an alien race having taken residence on Earth. Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg co-star, and all early indications are for a film that melds the female-led focus of “Sicario” with the otherworldliness of “Enemy” and the high-stakes human drama of “Incendies.” However, the greatest excitement is probably to see Villeneuve tackle the science fiction genre in a more direct manner than he has before: what could be a better primer for the director’s forthcoming “Blade Runner 2”?
“The Bad Batch”
Director Ana Lily Amirpour made heads spin with her thrillingly offbeat debut, the feminist Iranian western/vampire film “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” which was shot in beautifully crisp black and white. The genre cocktail made immediate fans far and wide as it sidestepped typical storytelling conventions while playing with old genres. But looking at the synopsis and crop of actors she’s rounded up for her next time at bat suggests that Amirpour’s follow-up might be even crazier. Tackling the ever-popular dystopia setting and structuring the film as a romance with a cannibalistic backdrop, “The Bad Batch” stars Suki Waterhouse, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves and Diego Luna, as eclectic a cast as they come these days. The ensemble, along with a general anticipation to see how Amirpour deals with the “difficult second album” syndrome, makes “The Bad Batch” one of the most exciting films of the Venice lineup and one of its hottest prospects.
“The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez”
Having sustained a career spanning over fifty years, Wim Wenders certainly has had his share of successes: winning big awards at Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and countless other distinctions. His recent resurgence after two of his latest documentaries, 2015’s “Salt of the Earth” and 2011’s “Pina,” were extremely well received by critics, was only slightly dented by the lackluster reception for his murky, unappealing “Every Thing Will Be Fine.” So his name still carries enough cachet to make his latest project a must-see. An experimental drama and shot in slightly counterintuitive 3D, the film depicts a summer conversation between a Man (Reda Kateb) and a Woman (Sophie Semin) that is being observed —or is it imagined?— by a writer. Cowritten by frequent collaborator Peter Handke who wrote many of Wenders’ previous works, including “Wings Of Heaven,” the film appears to be a proper lament to the passing of the season, as well as a fascinating breakdown of gender politics.
In much the same manner as a classic formulaic boxing drama in its third act, the genre devoted to the “sweet science” has fallen from its past glory. Multitudes of iterations seem to have left the category feeling quite stale and repetitive, especially in recent years, which have found a decrease in popularity and prestige but a boom in overall presence. But we can hold out hope that Canadian filmmaker Phillippe Falardeau (Oscar-nominated for 2012’s “Monsieur Lazhar”) will mix up the formula via “The Bleeder.” Aiding him as such is a talented but slightly smaller-scale cast of actors lead by Liev Schreiber (so good in last year’s triumphant Venice title “Spotlight“) as the legendary lightweight Chuck Wepner, widely cited as the inspiration for “Rocky.” Scoring Naomi Watts, Elisabeth Moss, Jim Gaffigan and Ron Perlman in support is quite the coup, but possibly the biggest wildcard here is the script, which comes from the unlikely pairing of Jerry Stahl (“Bad Boys 2”) and documentarian Jeff Feuerzeig (director of this year’s “Author: The JT Leroy Story”). Hopefully, this means we’re in for something a little different this time.
The genre Western is alive and jangling its spurs this year with the recent release of David Mackenzie‘s excellent “Hell or High Water,” and now the King of the North himself, Kit Harington enters the fray alongside Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce in “Brimstone.” Directed by Dutchman Martin Koolhoven, making his English-language debut, the film centers on Liz (Fanning) who has been accused of a crime she didn’t commit and must go to great lengths in order to protect her daughter. The cast is superb (Harington’s “Game of Thrones” costar Carice Van Houten also pops up in a supporting role), but it’s Fanning who could generate the most excitement. The young actor has been doing some quietly wonderful work of late in the likes of “Every Secret Thing” and “Night Moves,” and “Brimstone” looks like it could add a whole new string to her bow.