'Gravity' and 'Captain Phillips' among likely Venice Film Festival selections

Posted by · 7:54 am · June 21st, 2013

Next week brings a return to our film festival coverage: on Monday I’ll be traveling to the in-progress Edinburgh Film Festival for four days, followed immediately by a five-day trip to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Both are obviously lower-key affairs than the exhausting whirlwind of Cannes or Sundance, and I’m looking forward to them: these are the festivals where I can either dig around for undiscovered gems or catch up with previous festival highlights at a civilized pace. In festival-going terms, I consider it my summer vacation before the heavy work starts up again at Venice in August, kicking off the fall festival season. And while Venice currently seems a safe distance away, those 10 weeks will go faster than you think.

With that in mind, Variety’s Justin Chang has done a nice job of previewing what lies ahead at the Venice Film Festival — which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, and looks likely to have a suitably sparkly lineup. Venice may be smaller and less attended than the supersized Toronto Film Festival, with which it overlaps for a few days, but every year it offers critics first dibs on an assortment of eagerly awaited auteur titles: last year’s world premieres included Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” and Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” while recent films that began their awards journey on the Lido range from “Brokeback Mountain” to “The Hurt Locker” to “Black Swan.”

So far, all we know of this year’s festival is that Bernardo Bertolucci is heading the jury, while Paul Schrader’s “The Canyons,” written by Bret Easton Ellis and starring Lindsay Lohan, will be playing out of competition. (Schrader is also heading the jury for the festival’s Horizons sidebar.)

But what can we expect from the lineup? Top of the list, of course, is Alfonso Cuaron’s eagerly awaited sci-fi drama “Gravity,” which has been deemed a likely Venice selection from the off — not least because of the Mexican director’s friendly history with the festival. (Both “Children of Men” and “Y tu Mama Tambien” premiered there, the latter winning him Best Screenplay.) It would also return George Clooney to the festival where he’s been a near-annual presence: 2012 was his first year off after a five-year streak of presenting films there. Could Clooney also bring his star-studded directorial effort “The Monuments Men” to the Lido? Both “Good Night, and Good Luck.” and “The Ides of March” had Venice premieres.

Chang is also hearing that Paul Greengrass’s “Captain Phillips” — a film that I thought might head straight to Toronto — is in line for a Venice premiere. The true-life hostage thriller, which unveiled an impressive trailer last month, would bring Tom Hanks to Venice for the first time since “The Terminal” opened the fest in 2004 — and would also, neatly enough, premiere there a year after comparable Danish film “A Hijacking” wowed critics on the Lido.

Another A-list Oscar hopeful that looks likely to show up in Venice is Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.” The film was initially pegged as a likely Cannes inclusion, but with Fox Searchlight having made their awards ambitions for the all-star slavery drama clear (a release date of December 27 was recently confirmed), the fall festival circuit would now be the logical place for an unveiling. McQueen’s last film, “Shame,” got started at Venice with a Best Actor win for Michael Fassbender; Fassbender’s in “Slave,” as are Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch, but all eyes might be on Chiwetel Ejiofor’s lead performance this time. 

My most anticipated film of the remaining year, meanwhile, is almost certain to be in Venice: I rather optimistically put Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” on my Cannes wishlist, but he was always likelier to stick with the festival that placed his last film, the extraordinary “Birth,” in Competition back in 2004. Hopes are high for his long-delayed latest, an adaptation of Michel Faber’s dark sci-fi novel that stars Scarlett Johansson as a voracious alien in human form. (Johansson’s been on quietly resurgent form of late, and this challenging lead could cap her return to form; she’s also the best thing in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s upcoming “Don Jon.”)

Other films Chang suggests we should look out for on the Lido include Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves” (again, widely expected after Venice placed the allegedly Cannes-rejected “Meek’s Cutoff” in Competition), Atom Egoyan’s “Devil’s Knot,” Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem,” Catherine Breillat’s “Abuse of Weakness” (one of the more surprising omissions from this year’s Cannes lineup) and “Moebius” — which promises more gruesome fun and games from South Korean provocateur Kim Ki-duk, who won last year’s Golden Lion, in contentious circumstances, for “Pieta.”

Titles I would add that seem primed for Venice debuts are Austrian director Jessica Hausner’s “Amour Fou” (her last film, “Lourdes,” was a 2009 Venice highlight) and Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York” (he’s been in Competition four times, most recently with 2011’s “4:44 Last Day on Earth.” Another four-time Venice visitor is Spike Lee: he brought his Michael Jackson doc “Bad 25” to the Lido last year, so they could well welcome him back with his Josh Brolin-starring “Oldboy” remake. Stephen Frears’s “Philomena,” featuring what is said to be an awards-baiting performance by Judi Dench, could show up — Frears’s “The Queen” began its awards sweep for Helen Mirren at Venice, after all.

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s English-language double-shot of “An Enemy” and “Prisoners,” both starring Jake Gyllenhaal, are being pegged as likely Toronto premieres given the director’s nationality, but not so fast: many forget that Villeneuve’s last film, “Incendies,” first appeared quietly in Venice. By that rationale, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Xavier Dolan’s “Tom at the Farm” premiere in Italy before heading to the Canadian boy wonder’s home country. Dolan’s first three films premiered in Cannes, after all, so he has the aura of a Euro festival regular. And speaking of Cannes favorites, who knows where to expect Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” to show up? The only time von Trier has premiered a film on the fall festival circuit, it was at Venice (the film was 2003’s “The Five Obstructions”), and unveiling his high-profile latest at Cannes’s chief rival on the fest circuit would be a neat rejoinder to 2011’s “persona non grata” controversy.  

According to Chang, one auteur title not likely to be at Venice is Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut “Snowpiercer,” while we should also expect such films as Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Diana” and Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” — both of which have more of a Toronto look about them, if you ask me — to skip the Lido. Still, there should be more than enough for a 70th-anniversary feast. 

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