Last week we ran down our 20 Most Anticipated Films of the fall season, excluding those that only have festival berths planned and no wider releases as yet. But this week, the Venice Film Festival kicks off, initiating the first phase of the fall festival season, which runs into the tiny but mighty Telluride and the huge but also mighty Toronto International Film Festival. After that, everyone catches their breath for a couple of weeks before launching back into the fray for the New York Film Festival, which overlaps a little with the BFI London Film Festival, before AFI Fest takes us into mid-November and we all start to fret about the holidays.
So that’s the rest of our 2014 mapped out, which would probably be depressing if it wasn’t studded with so many mouthwatering cinematic prospects. Prior to the release of the Venice and Toronto slates, we ran down our Fall Festival Wishlist of 50, and a large number of them have found homes this season—some of them, as we predicted, at Venice. So without further ado, here are the 10 Venice titles we’re most anticipating, and a roundup of the other films we’ll be keeping an eye on. Check back for Venice coverage starting Wednesday.
Synopsis: An actor (Michael Keaton) best known for a superhero role tries to mount a Broadway production based on a Raymond Carver short story in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s film, which we’ve learned has been shot (by the peerless Emmanuel Lubezki) and edited to look like one continuous take.
What You Need To Know: A little like last year, with Inarritu’s compatriot Alfonso Cuaron‘s "Gravity," Venice‘s major coup this time comes in the form of its opening film. Never less than top-of-our-mind since January when we’ve compiled our most hotly anticipated titles of the year, we have to say everything we’ve seen from the film since has only increased our excitement. Aside from the formal daring the film displays, it also marks a most welcome pivotal lead role for the underrated Michael Keaton (I call "Keatonaissance"), playing against a stacked supporting cast including Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough. Perhaps even more crucially, it sees Inarritu, an undeniably skilled visual storyteller and hugely talented director, work in a whole new register of slightly deranged meta-comedy. It feels like it’s been forever in coming, but we’re very glad we’ve only a few days left before we can check out this major left turn from the director of "Babel," "21 Grams" and "Biutiful."
When? After a pit stop at NYFF, "Birdman" opens on October 17th.
"The Look of Silence"
Synopsis: In the follow-up to the brilliant, terrifying, Oscar-nominated documentary "The Act of Killing," director Joshua Oppenheimer tells the story of a village optometrist who, spurred into action by watching his film, tracked down and confronted the men who murdered his brother as part of the Communist "purges."
What You Need To Know: "The Act of Killing" is simply one of the most extraordinary documentaries ever made (and was this writer’s number 1 film of 2013 by quite some distance), so obviously we’re deeply fascinated to see what Oppenheimer delivers next. But we’re also, full disclosure, probably more nervous about this screening than any other—if it’s anything like his last film, we’ll need several stiff drinks afterwards. However it seems to have a more intimate scope than ‘Act,’ and was assembled in a shorter period of time, so while we fully expect Oppenheimer’s piercing intelligence to deliver something memorable, we’re hoping that our own familiarity with the terrain may save us from actual hyperventilation/anxiety-induced cardiac arrest. Flippancy aside, a continued exploration of this devastating conflict and its modern-day repercussions is vital and welcome, and the fact that this journey was inspired by Oppenheimer’s film, and the profession of the central figure, point to there being some of that same metatextual commentary about films and filmmaking that provided such rich depth last time.
When? No release date as yet, but it will play TIFF and NYFF.
Synopsis: Desperate to save his family home, an unemployed construction worker (Andrew Garfield) joins an unscrupulous realtor (Michael Shannon) in the dirty business of foreclosing on the disenfranchised,
What You Need To Know: Director Ramin Bahrani, hailed after a triptych of critically adored features—"Man Push Cart," "Chop Shop" and "Goodbye Solo"—as the "director of the decade" (by Roger Ebert, no less), stumbled a little for the first time with 2012’s "At Any Price." But while the old-fashioned rhythms of that film, which saw Bahrani work with his highest profile cast to that date (Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron both acquitting themselves very well), may not have jibed with critics or audiences, we found a lot to like, particularly an unsentimental, clear-eyed view of how the modern economic recession affects ordinary people. And that thread will carry through to "99 Homes," which promises welcome roles for Garfield out of his Spidey suit, Michael Shannon, who is among our favorite working actors anyway, and the always excellent Laura Dern playing Garfield’s widowed mother.
When? No wide release set yet; film will also play TIFF
"She’s Funny That Way"
Synopsis: Peter Bogdanovich‘s first feature film in 13 years follows a hooker-turned-Broadway-actress (Imogen Poots) who becomes entangled with her director (Owen Wilson) despite the fact that he is married to the show’s star (Kathryn Hahn). The playwright (Will Forte) also falls for her, while dating her therapist (Jennifer Aniston).
What You Need To Know: It’s been well over a decade since "The Cat’s Meow," the enjoyable, theoretical recreation of a rumored murder aboard William Randolph Hearst’s boat. Since then, Bogdanovich has done some TV work, knocked out a Grammy-winning music documentary on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and has involved himself in side projects such as the ongoing struggle to release Orson Welles‘ "The Other Side of the Wind." But as his first theatrical feature (as a director, he’s been acting more or less consistently, notably in "The Sopranos") in many years, we’re very curious to see what our blog-mate can deliver, especially if it’s even half as much frothy fun as the logline and the cast, backed up by people like Rhys Ifans, Ileana Douglas, Cybill Shepard, Joanna Lumley and Tatum O’Neal, seems to promise. Further cause for high hopes: noted Bogdanovich fans Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach are on board as producers. We do wish it was still titled "Squirrel to the Nuts," though, which is a much more memorable, goofier and less generic title.
When? No wide release slated yet.
Synopsis: An aged, eccentric man (Al Pacino) has to come to terms with a past life of crime that cost him his one true love in the latest film from prolific and eclectic director David Gordon Green.
What You Need To Know: Green may be a former indie darling, but he’s subsequently widened his niche considerably, to the point it can no longer really be called a niche. Mainstream comedies, doofus stoner movies, low-key indie remakes of Icelandic hits and taut, lean character dramas that remind us Nicolas Cage is the greatest—Green has tried his hand at them all in just the last couple of years. And he’s hunting big game of late as well, building on the positive critical reception of "Joe" with this drama starring Al Pacino (another actor in need of a new role to remind us of his greatness) as an oddball ex-con who obsesses over his mistakes and faces a come-to-Jesus moment when his dark past threatens to come to light. It’s one of two films starring Pacino in Venice ("The Humbling," below, being the other), and also boasts an eccentric supporting cast including Holly Hunter, Chris Messina and Harmony Korine, but we have to say we’re slightly more intrigued by this title. Knowing Green it’ll have some of its own eccentric, uncategorizable flourishes.
When? No wide release planned yet, but it will make pit stop at TIFF after Venice.
"A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting On Existence"
Synopsis: Two men, one of whom has a minor mental disorder, confront the absurdity of human existence in the long, long, long-awaited film from deadpan Swedish maestro Roy Andersson.
What You Need To Know: Pinch us, we must be dreaming. The third part of Roy Andersson’s "Living" trilogy—after 2000’s "Songs from the Second Floor" and 2007’s "You The Living"—has cropped up on our hopeful Most Anticipated lists for the last few years, as we’re never too sure how close or far from completion any one of Andersson’s meticulous, addictive, droll offerings are. But seven years seems to be standard, and indeed if you’ve seen either of the those previous films you might understand why. His style is to have the action unfold in a series of locations, all of which are built to Andersson’s very specific instructions, where scenes only loosely connected to each other play out, but are insanely precise within themselves. We expect more of the same from ‘Pigeon,’ which is inspired by a Breughel painting, apparently, and ordinarily "more of the same" would sound like a dampener. But if you’ve sampled Andersson’s previous work, you know it’s quite unlike anything else out there, so "more of the same" is absolutely fine and pretty damn exciting.
When? ‘Pigeon’ plays TIFF a week after its Venice premiere and already has Scandinavian distribution, so hopefully a North American distributor will pick it up soon.
"Return to Ithaca"
Synopsis: On a terrace in Havana at sunset, five friends gather to celebrate the return of Amadeo after 16 years in exile from Cuba, talking until dawn about their lives, their shared memories, their illusions and disillusions.
What You Need To Know: Since the brilliant and beloved “Time Out,” and the Palme d’Or-winner “The Class,” Laurent Cantet has only directed a segment of anthology film "Seven Nights in Havana" and a glossy but heartfelt adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates‘" “Foxfire," which was buzzed about pre-TIFF 2013, but failed to get a U.S.release. "Return to Ithaca," however, suggests a return to the talky, observant, almost fly-on-the-wall approach that made "The Class" such a deceptively absorbing and engaging watch. While details on this one remain almost as scarce as they were at the beginning of the year, we have a great deal of time for Cantet’s unshowy intelligence as a filmmaker, and expect something more than the "Big Chill"-on-a-Cuban-rooftop vibe that the scanty logline conjures up.
When? Will also play TIFF and opens in France in December.
Synopsis: A survivor of the WWI-era Armenian genocide (Tahar Rahim) learns that his twin daughters may still be alive and sets off on to find them. The epic odyssey takes him from the Mesopotamian desert to Cuba and finally to North Dakota. All, according to director Fatih Akin, without him uttering a word.
What You Need To Know: An early front-runner for the Golden Lion among those who like to gamble on such things, Turkish-German director Akin’s latest film certainly does seem to have the ingredients for success—Rahim is a brilliant, rising international star, this film has important historical themes with deep contemporary relevance and is slotted in Akin’s filmography as the cap to the "Love, Death and the Devil" trilogy that includes his two prior most well-known features, the great "Head-On" and "The Edge of Heaven." The only real question here is, why didn’t it play more obvious choice Cannes, where it was originally scheduled before Akin pulled it citing "personal reasons"? We may never know the ins and outs of that decision, but Cannes’ loss is surely Venice‘s gain, and Akin already has the track record of having "Soul Kitchen," his last narrative feature, scoop the Special Prize here. And at the very least, Akin’s style is never less than joltingly energetic and alive, so we cannot wait to see how he tackles this period tale with Western resonances, which he described as "Charlie Chaplin meets Sergio Leone." If that description doesn’t sell you, you haven’t read it right.
When? An October release date in Germany is already in the cards; if this makes good on even a little of its Venice promise, we’d expect an arthouse distributor to snap it up for the U.S.
Synopsis: A legendary stage actor who has lived inside his own imagination for too long (Al Pacino) has an affair with a lesbian woman half his age (Greta Gerwig) at a secluded country house in Connecticut in director Barry Levinson‘s tragicomic adaptation of the Philip Roth novel.
What You Need To Know: It’s one of the few Roth titles that has passed us by, we confess, but "The Humbling," by all accounts of those who’ve read it, is far from the writer’s best work. That’s not necessarily is a bad thing—truly great novels often make the transition to screen less successfully than merely ok ones, perhaps due to heightened expectations. But that’s not the only reason we’re slightly hesitant about this film’s prospects: late-period Pacino has been known to, well, ham it up a bit, and to say that Barry Levinson’s directorial career recently has been patchy is putting it kindly. However, their last pairing, the gripping HBO Jack Kevorkian drama "You Don’t Know Jack," was arguably the best work either man has delivered in a long time, and obviously, a post "Frances Ha" Greta Gerwig can do no wrong in our eyes. Flesh all that out with a supporting cast of ringers including Kyra Sedgwick, Charles Grodin, Dan Hedaya and Dianne Wiest, and we’re cautiously optimistic. If this does come together, it should provide Pacino with a nicely meta central role that he can hopefully get his teeth into without devouring whole.
When? A TIFF showing awaits after the Venice premiere, but no further distribution yet.
Synopsis: Based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pultizer Prize-winning novel, Lisa Cholodenko‘s 5-part HBO miniseries tells the story of 25 years in a small New England town as illicit affairs, crime and tragedy unfold, all seen though the eyes of the witty, sometimes harsh, middle-school math teacher Olive (Frances McDormand) and her husband (Richard Jenkins).
What You Need To Know: A passion project for star and producer McDormand, "Olive Kitteridge" is an absolutely mouthwatering project for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s Cholodenko’s first major project since "The Kids are Alright." According to Jenkins, it’s a terrific actors’ showcase too, which is exciting because we can think of few actors we’d rather see showcased than McDormand, Jenkins and Bill Murray, who will be ably supported by Zoe Kazan, Jesse Plemons, Brady Corbet, John Gallagher Jr, Rosemarie deWitt and, surprisingly, Martha Wainwright. In fact, this project easily made our list of Most Anticipated TV shows of 2014, and the fact that it has got a festival berth at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world not only speaks to the profile of the people involved and the finished product, but also further blurs the distinction between the two mediums, which continue to grow ever closer together in terms of sheer quality storytelling.
When? No airdate fixed yet.
There’s a great deal more depth to the program than this list hints at. Other Venice films we’re looking forward to/anticipating/curious about include Abel Ferrera‘s intriguing and stylish-looking "Pasolini" biopic, which stars Willem Dafoe; "Far From Men" starring Viggo Mortensen; "Cymbeline" with Dakota Johnson and Ethan Hawke; speaking of Hawke, he’s also in hit-and-miss Andrew Niccol‘s "Good Kill" with Zoe Kravitz; James Franco directs himself and Seth Rogen, among others, in his latest foray into Faulkner, "The Sound and the Fury"; Larry Clarke will look at some teenagers again, this time skateboarders in Paris in the unfortunately titled "The Smell of Us"; Quentin "Mr Oizo" Dupieux returns, no doubt to dish out some more slick oddness with "Reality"; and 2010 Cannes Grand Prix Winner Xavier Beauvois is back behind the camera for the promising "La Rancon de la Gloire, which tells the story of two men stealing Charlie Chaplin‘s coffin, and stars Roschdy Zem and Chiara Mastroianni.
Elsewhere, longtime Tarkovsky collaborator Andrey Konchalovsky returns with a spartan portrait of isolation using non-professional actors, "The Postman’s White Nights"; British director Guy Myhill‘s "The Goob" is picking up a little heat; Korean favorite Hong Sang-soo presents his latest, "Hill of Freedom" (just 66 minutes long); previous Venice winner and provocateur extraordinaire Kim Ki Duk will no doubt stir up controversy again with "One on One"; Christophe Honore‘s "Metamorphoses" plays in the Venice Days sidebar; and Joe Dante‘s kooky-looking "Burying the Ex," starring Anton Yelchin and Ashley Greene, premieres out of competition. And while we weren’t wholly sold on Ami Canaan Mann‘s "Texas Killing Fields," it certainly displayed enough directorial talent that we’re curious about her new film, "Jackie & Ryan," not in the least because it stars Katherine Heigl, who would be an intriguing prospect for a comeback, or at least a reclamation.
And on the documentary front, in addition to "The Look of Silence," we’re interested to see how Alex de la Iglesia will hold back his gonzo-horror-comedy instincts to tell the story of the modern Argentinian footballing legend that is "Messi"; Ulrich Seidl seems peculiarly perfect to deliver a look into the relationships of Austrians to their basements with "In the Basement"; and our cinephile itch will no doubt be scratched by Ron Mann‘s star-studded doc "Altman," which tells the story of the life and work of the great Robert Altman. Look for reviews and coverage of these films (and more, if we have the time) on these very pages over the next couple of weeks. Gotta pack.