Venice Film Fest: 20 Projects on the Short List

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The Venice Film Festival will be under increased pressure this year to maintain its position as the go-to launch pad for award-season contenders. Last year’s Lido lineup included Oscar winners Roma, A Star is Born and The Favourite but Toronto scored a coup with the exclusive premiere to eventual best picture winner Green Book.

With Toronto reportedly putting more pressure on filmmakers to avoid Venice (and Telluride) if they want a coveted TIFF premiere, Venice might find it harder to secure some of the most talked-about films for its 76th edition.

Venice director Alberto Barbera, rightly praised for his transformation of the festival into a must-attend event, will also face increased pressure to respond to controversies, including allowing Netflix films into competition (Italian distributors are still fuming that Netflix-backed Roma won Venice’s Golden Lion last year) and the lack of gender diversity in his lineup (last year’s competition roster included just one female director: Jennifer Kent with The Nightingale).

Venice 2019 opens Aug. 28 (running through Sept. 7) and decisions over the lineup are likely to go down to the wire. Here are some possible titles likely to screen on the Venice Lido this year.

Ad Astra
James Gray’s space epic, starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones and Ruth Negga, is considered a near lock for Venice, given its high profile, awards potential, star-studded cast and Sept. 20 U.S. release date (via 20th Century Fox).

Jojo Rabbit
Venice been a lucky charm for Fox Searchlight, launching many of the distributor’s recent hits (The Favourite, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Birdman, The Shape of Water) on the Lido. Taika Waititi’s hotly-anticipated dark comedy, about a young boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi), could be this year’s breakout. It can’t hurt, either, that Waititi served on the Venice jury two years ago.

Joker
A Warner Bros. superhero movie seems an unlikely fit for the world’s oldest film festival but Todd Phillips’ darker, more cerebral take on the Batman villain could make this the first Comic-Con-friendly feature to premiere on the Lido. Star Joaquin Phoenix is a Venice regular, most recently attending for the 2018 world premiere of Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers, and WB brought A Star Is Born to the Lido last year, helping the musical drama to its box office and awards-season triumph (including eight Oscar nominations). Warner Bros. is releasing Joker in the U.S. Oct. 4, which could point to a Venice premiere.

First Cow
Scoring the world premiere of the new drama from acclaimed American indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Certain Women) would help with rehabilitating Venice’s reputation in regards to female representation. But Reichardt is known for taking her time finishing her films, so the first look at First Cow, starring John Magaro and René Auberjonois, might be at Sundance 2020.

Nomadland
Chinese director Chloe Zhao, another Sundance favorite, could make her Lido debut with this feature, featuring Three Billboards star Frances McDormand as a woman who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, decides to live as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad, traveling across the American West.

A Rainy Day In New York
Woody Allen’s latest would usually be a lock for the Lido but scandal surrounding the director, the subject of decades-old sexual abuse allegations, makes this a controversial choice. Then there is the legal dispute: Allen is in the midst of suing Amazon Studios, who bankrolled Rainy Day, for $68 million for breach of contract after Amazon pulled out of its four-picture deal with Allen. Amazon cited the 25-year-old allegations, which Allen denies, made by Allen’s daughter, Dylan Farrow that Allen sexually abused her when she was a child. Amazon has dropped its U.S. release of Rainy Day but the film will get a theatrical bow in Europe, including via Lucky Red in Italy, which is releasing the film Oct. 3.

Little Women
Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to her breakout hit Lady Bird is an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, starring Meryl Streep, Florence Pugh and Emma Watson. But it is looking likely that Little Women will bypass Venice in favor or Telluride or Toronto this year. There are even hints Sony might avoiding the fall festival circuit altogether and go straight out with the film.

Uncut Gems
Assuming Barbera doesn’t bow to pressure to ban Netflix films from this year’s lineup, several of the streamer’s titles are likely to premiere in Venice. The Safdie Brothers’ latest — a crime comedy starring Adam Sandler, Julia Fox and Kevin Garnett — would be an ideal fit for the Lido, as the sibling directors premiered Heaven Knows What in Venice Horizons in 2014 and bowed their short John’s Gone in Venice in 2010.

The Laundromat
Steven Soderbergh’s thriller, about the journalists involved in the Panama Papers expose, is another Netflix title in pole position for Venice. Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Melissa Rauch star in the feature adapted from Jake Bernstein’s book by frequent Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns (The Informant, Contagion).

The Pope
Fernando Meirelles’ papal drama has awards-season potential written all-over it. Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce star as Pope Francis I and Pope Benedict XVI with a script from Darkest Hour and Bohemian Rhapsody screenwriter Anthony McCarten, which explores the personal relationship between the two men and their opposing views of the Catholic Church.

Ema
Pablo Larrain’s Spanish-language drama, starring Gael García Bernal and Santiago Cabrera as a couple dealing with an adoption gone awry, is among the most-anticipated foreign-language films of the year and would be a fine follow-up to Roma for Netflix, which nabbed worldwide rights earlier this year. A Venice premiere would mark a return for Larrain, who has twice appeared in competition on the Lido, with Jackie in 2016 and Post Mortem in 2010.

The Irishman
The elephant in the room when it comes to Venice predictions. If Martin Scorsese’s Netflix-backed gangster epic premieres on the Lido, it will suck up much of the oxygen at the festival and immediately place the film at the top of awards hopefuls. But complex visual effects needed to de-age Irishman stars, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, who play younger and older versions of the same characters in the film, could mean the movie isn’t ready in time.

The True History of The Kelly Gang
Justin Kurzel’s Australian western, an adaptation of the Peter Carey novel, skipped Cannes but could land in Venice. George MacKay, Russell Crowe, Charlie Hunnam and Nicholas Hoult star in the story of Ned Kelly (MacKay) and his gang of 19th century Australian bush rangers.

The Truth
Hot off his 2018 Cannes Palme d’Or win for Shoplifters, Hirokazu Kore-eda is a safe bet for Venice with this French-language debut, starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ludivine Sagnier and Ethan Hawke. It’s billed as Kore-eda’s tribute to Deneuve who plays an actress whose latest role is a sci-fi film in which her character never grows old.

About Endlessness
The idiosyncratic Swedish auteur Roy Andersson — whose last film, the exquisitely-named A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, won Venice’s Golden Lion in 2014 — is poised to return to the Lido with About Endlessness. Another impossible-to-summarize feature, Andersson’s new movie promises the poignantly comic vignettes that are the director’s trademark, with a storytelling approach apparently inspired by One Thousand and One Nights narrator Scheherazade.

Qui rido io
Venice darling Mario Martone (Capri Revolution) is an odds-on favorite to return to the Lido with his latest, a biopic of legendary turn-of-the-20th century Nepalese actor and playwright Eduardo Scarpetta, played by Italian star Toni Servillo (The Great Beauty).

The Box
Lorenzo Vigas’ long-gestating follow-up to his 2014 debut From Afar, which won the Golden Lion, will definitely be heading to Venice if it is finished. Vigas, who also premiered his 2016 documentary The Orchid Seller on the Lido, shot this story of a young boy who gets sucked into the underbelly of the migrant industry in Mexico on location in Chihuahua last year.

Shirley
Elisabeth Moss stars as a famous horror writer, married to college professor Michael Stuhlbarg, who finds inspiration for her next book after a young couple —played by Odessa Young and Logan Lerman—move in with them. Josephine Decker’s feature was adapted by Sarah Gubbins from Susan Scarf Merrell’s book of the same name.

Wendy
One of the most secretive, and highly anticipated indie features of the year, Benh Zeitlin’s follow-up to 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild could be this year’s The Favourite, if Fox Searchlight decides to bring the drama, set on a mysterious island where aging and time have come unglued, to Venice 2019.

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