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What Could Be In This Year’s Venice Film Festival Line-Up? ‘To The Wonder,’ ‘The Master,’ ‘Anna Karenina’ & More

What Could Be In This Year's Venice Film Festival Line-Up? 'To The Wonder,' 'The Master,' 'Anna Karenina' & More

With the release of a second teaser trailer of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” this morning, we got another look at one of the most anticipated films of the year. And with the picture already slated for an October 13th release, for some traveling film critics and fans, and those prepared to head to Italy, the Venice Film Festival could be where the film makes its world premiere, with artistic director Alberto Barbera suggesting a few weeks back that Anderson was heading to the Lido for the fest, which kicks off on August 29th.

With the announcement of the opening film due any day now — it was on June 21st last year and today, the fest announced their lineup of rare and restored films that will unspool — and “The Master” trailer reminding us that its one of the candidates, it seemed like a good opportunity to look at the possible contenders for a place at one of the world’s most prestigious festivals.

Venice has seen a change in leadership this year, with longtime artistic director Marco Mueller leaving for the Rome Film Festival, and former head Alberto Barbera returning, and so there’s likely to be something of a break in the way things have gone in the last few years — it’s already been announced that the size of the festival is being cut down significantly, for a quality-over-quantity approach, with only 50 movies in total, 18 of which will be in competition. But it’s still possible to take a good stab at what might be there. Fingers crossed, we’ll be there again this year to deliver our verdict, and we’ll be back with news as soon as word comes in officially, but for now, you can check out our guesses below.   

Strong Possibilities

To The Wonder”/”The Master”/”Passion (dir. Terrence Malick/Paul Thomas Anderson/Brian DePalma)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams (x2)/Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams/Noomi Rapace
The new films by Terrence Malick and Paul Thomas Anderson were rumored for Cannes, but failed to make an appearance, which certainly started to stir rumors about appearances on the Lido, and when new boss Alberto Barbera named the two, along with Brian DePalma‘s erotic thriller “Passion“, as “likely candidates” a few months back, they seem like pretty good bets. De Palma won Best Director at the fest last time at bat, for the near-unwatchable “Redacted,” and while his film didn’t start shooting til earlier this year, we’re sure he’ll be able to make the cutoff (footage was already screening for buyers at Cannes). Anderson’s a Venice first-timer, and Malick hasn’t been since “Badlands,” but given that Barbera’s out to make his mark, there’d be no better way of doing so than by bagging the duo. That being said, both filmmakers aren’t prone to be doing the expected, so don’t be entirely surprised if one — or indeed both — aren’t done, or decide to skip the festival route.

Anna Karenina (dir. Joe Wright)
Cast: Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson, Jude Law, Kelly MacDonald, Domnhal Gleeson, Alicia Vikander
Five years on from “Atonement,” which premiered at Venice, we suspect that Joe Wright‘s reteaming with Keira Knightley is a very strong candidate for an in-competition slot. The film’s set for release in the U.K. on September 7th, so a launch at Venice is likely as important for Working Title as it was for “Atonement” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” in recent years, and the film is a starry prestige effort, but with an unorthodox, expressionistic take, which would seem to make it perfect for the festival. Indeed, if it doesn’t appear, then something’s likely gone very wrong along the way.

“Argo”/”Gangster Squad” (dir. Ben Affleck/Ruben Fleischer)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Scoot McNairy/Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Emma Stone
Warner Bros. have used the festival in the last three years for out of competition springboards for their adult, commercial early fall fare, with “The Informant!,” “The Town” and “Contagion” all premiering on the Lido since 2009. This year they’ve got two major contenders, and either one could be a possibility. “Gangster Squad” opens first, on September 7th, right on the heels of the festival, but it seems to be a commercial picture first and foremost, so we wonder if the studio might rather hang on for Ben Affleck‘s “Argo,” which is released in October, and seems to be more in line with the fare from previous years, especially as Barbera has talked about the festival being “more sober” than last year. We wouldn’t be surprised either way, but we’re almost certain we’ll get one or the other (and whichever one doesn’t make it to Italy, will surely land at TIFF).

“Something In The Air” (dir. Olivier Assayas)
Cast: Lola Creton, Dolores Chaplin, Johnny Flynn, India Menuez
One of the biggest surprise absences from the Cannes line-up was Oliver Assayas‘ latest, a 1970s-set tale of a student caught up in revolutionary violence in Europe, set in France, Italy and the U.K. Being such a staple on the Croisette, we can only assume that it wasn’t done, and barring any serious problems, we’d certainly expect to see it in Venice. The director is no stranger to the fest either. His 1986 debut “Desordre” won the Critics Prize there, and his 1997 documentary on Hou Hsiao-Hsien also bowed there in 1997, and even if it’s been a while, the film being partly shot in Italy can only help his cause. That being said, Toronto and Rome might also be possibilities.

At Any Price” (dir. Ramin Bahrani)
Cast: Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Kim Dickens
Iranian/American Ramin Bahrani is a true darling of Venice: his debut “Man Push Cart” premiered in the Venice Days sidebar in 2005, while “Goodbye Solo” was in the official selection in 2008, and short “Plastic Bag” opened the Corto Cortissimo the following year. Given that only one of his films, “Chop Shop,” premiered anywhere else (the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes), we think his latest, which sees him working with a big name cast for the first time — in a drama about a race car driver (Efron) under pressure to come back to the family farm — is a near-certainty. The only question is how much of his presence in previous years came to down to a relationship with former artistic director Marco Mueller — Bahrani may be lured to Rome by Mueller instead of returning to the Lido.

“Dans La Maison” (dir. Francois Ozon)
Cast: Kristin Scott-Thomas, Emannuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet, Fabrice Luchini
Another surprising absence from the Cannes line-up, given that Francois Ozon is another stalwart there, the director’s black comedy, about the relationship between a student and a professor, did shoot quite late last year, with the director then heading for service on the jury in Berlin, which is why we suspected it wasn’t ready for the French festival in May. But given that his last picture, 2010’s “Potiche,” premiered at Venice, we think a return outing is a very good bet, likely followed by a trip to Toronto.

“Only God Forgives” (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Yayaying
With “Drive” lighting up theaters around the world last year, Nicolas Winding Refn has undoubtedly become one of the more sought-after auteurs on the circuit. And while his new film, a Thai-set actioner that, if the script is anything to go by, will be even more violent than his last film, was filming until relatively recently, the director tweeted a few months back that it was aiming to be done by the end of August, which suggested it was on the way to one of the big fall festivals. Given that he broke his Venice cherry with “Bleeder” in 1999, he might well make a return trip, although the film doesn’t necessarily fit with the “more sober” aesthetic of the new festival, so Toronto might be just as likely. 

“Gebo Et L’Ombre” (dir. Manoel De Oliveira)
Cast: Claudia Cardinale, Jeanne Moreau, Michael Lonsdale
103-years-old and still making films with the energy of a 21-year-old, Portugese helmer Manoel De Oliveira is back with his 59th film across an 80 year career, and he’s perhaps the lock for Venice this year. He’s a long-time favorite of the festival — winning the jury prize in 1991, and honored for his career in 2004 — and the Italian press have already reported that he’ll be among the line-up this year with his latest, a 19th century drama about a patriarch who sacrifices himself for his son. Festival organizers wouldn’t comment on the rumors, but we’d be stunned if this didn’t figure in the line up.

“Under The Skin” (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
Cast: Scarlett Johansson
One of our most anticipated films of the year is the return of “Sexy Beast” director Jonathan Glazer, with his adaptation of Michel Faber‘s novel about a man-eating alien, to be played by Scarlett Johansson. The director’s last film, “Birth” premiered at Venice, which might make it a good bet, adn given the movie shot last year, it should be wrapped up by then. The only question is whether Glazer would want to come back — “Birth” was received with hostility on the Lido seven years ago (although its critical standing has only grown since), and given this has every potential to divide audiences even further, he may not be keen to repeat the experience. Moreover, TIFF or the London Film Festival — also under new creative leadership looking to make a mark — may be angling for the pic as well.

“Dormant Beauty”/”Siberian Education”/”The Commander & The Stork” (dir. Marco Bellocchio/Gabriele Salvatores/Silvio Soldini)
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Alba Rohrwacher (x2)/John Malkovich, Peter Stormare, Eleanor Tomlinson/Claudia Gerini
Along with Malick, Anderson and DePalma, Barbera also mentioned three Italian directors he expected to be part of the line up, and barring any complications, there’s no reason to think that any of Marco Bellocchio, Gabriele Salvatores or Silvio Soldini will be absent. Soldini’s film, “The Commander And The Stork,” centers on a romance between a widowed father and a young poverty-stricken artist, while Salvatores’ pic has an international cast including John Malkovich, Peter Stormare and Eleanor Tomlinson for his tale, which is set in the breakaway republic of Transnistria on the Moldovan/Ukranian border. Bellocchio’s film has the potential to be the most hot-button film there, as it’s based on a case that dominated Italian headlines about an actress (Huppert) fighting to turn off life support for her vegetative daughter.

“Rhinos Season” (dir. Bahman Ghobadi)
Cast: Monica Bellucci, Beren Saat, Behrouz Vossoughi
Given that it wrapped in the spring of 2011, it was a real surprise not to see Bahman Ghobadi‘s follow-up to the excellent “No One Knows About Persian Cats” in the line-up for either Berlin or Cannes. But with the director having cast his multi-generational love story with Italian megastar Monica Belucci, Venice would seem to be an excellent bet for the premiere of the film, which looks to be a more mature effort from the director. The only possibility is if he’s having issues with the Iranian authorities with the film, but we’d wager this’ll be in there somewhere.

Pieta” (dir. Kim Ki-duk)
Cast: Jo Min-soo, Lee Jeong-jin
Korean director Kim Ki-duk (“Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring,” “3-Iron“) has been on a busy in the last year or so, with “Arirang” and “Amen” both premiering at festivals last year. His new one, the director’s 18th film, started filming in February and involves a loan shark who is reunited with a woman who claims to be his mother. Granted, for most filmmakers, that might mark a tight turn-around, but given how prolific he normally is, and his best director prize at the festival for “3-Iron” in 2004, we think this is a really strong candidate for a place in the competition.


Life Of Pi (dir. Ang Lee)
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Tobey Maguire, Gerard Depardieu, Irrfan Khan, Tabu
Ang Lee is a serious favorite at Venice: he won the Golden Lion twice in three years, for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Lust, Caution,” and headed the jury in 2009. Ordinarily, we’d say that would make his new film a lock, but given that it’s not due for release until Thanksgiving, and the extensive visual effects work involved, it might be a stretch. And Fox may prefer to start the awards season campaign at a more populist fest like TIFF where audience buzz will be more loudly heard.

“The Place Beyond The Pines” (dir. Derek Cianfrance)
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan
Hotly tipped, and reportedly even screened for the Cannes selection committee, our understanding is that Derek Cianfrance‘s follow-up to “Blue Valentine” simply wasn’t ready in time, particularly Mike Patton‘s score. One would assume that the extra few months might have done the trick for the generational crime saga, with Gosling as a motorcycle stunt rider who comes into conflict with a cop-turned-politician (Cooper). That being said, with a plenty of other U.S. fare in competition, our gut says that this will probably end up bowing at Toronto or Telluride, but you never know.

A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III“/”The Bling Ring” (dir. Roman Coppola/Sofia Coppola)
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzmann/Emma Watson, Leslie Mann
As the (controversial) winner of the Golden Lion in 2010, Sofia Coppola certainly has every reason to come back to Venice with her latest film, which investigates the true-life gang of Beverly Hills burglars. That being said, it only wrapped recently, and Coppola would have to turn it around quickly in order for it to be ready for the festival, and the subject matter seems to be anathema to the new “less glitzy/more serious” approach. Perhaps more likely is her brother Roman’s long-awaited return, which shot last year, and should be in a better place. Again, would the presence of Charlie Sheen in the year bring the wrong kind of attention for the festival? Or is there no such thing as bad publicity? We’d peg it as a more likely TIFF premiere, but don’t count it out.

Camille Claudel” (dir. Bruno Dumont)
Cast: Juliette Binoche
French helmer Bruno Dumont only started filming his latest — which stars Juliette Binoche as a sculptor confined to an asylum during the First World War — at the beginning of this year, which meant that it was likely too late for his more regular home of Cannes, and surely Barbera would snatch up the opportunity to showcase the film. That being said, Dumont’s also a regular at Toronto, and the extra couple of weeks might suit the director’s schedule better, whereas he’d be a Venice first timer if he did make it in this year. This one could go either way, or it might not even surface until Berlin or Cannes next year.

“Love Is All You Need” (dir. Susanne Bier)
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Paprika Steen, Kim Bodnia, Trine Dyrholm
Fresh off her Oscar-winning “In A Better World,” and in production on the Bradley Cooper/Jennifer Lawrence vehicle “Serena,” Susanne Bier knocked out rom-com that stars Paprika Steen (“The One And Only“) along with Pierce Brosnan. The film’s been snapped up by distributors worldwide, including Sony Pictures Classics in the U.S., who’d be keen on a big festival launch, and an Italian setting would make it a natural fit. But Venice’s insistence on premieres might be its undoing: it’s set for a release in Denmark on August 30th, which is the day after the festival gets underway. Could it land the opening slot? It’d be a step down from the high-profile “Black Swan” and “The Ides Of March” in recent years, but it’s not impossible — Guiseppe Tornatore‘s mostly forgotten “Baaria” opened the fest in 2009.

Stoker” (dir. Park Chan-Wook)
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver, Alden Ehrenreich
Yet another film tipped for Cannes, the Fox Searchlight thriller (penned by “Prison Break” star Wentworth Miller) perhaps wouldn’t ordinarily be attracting festival attention, were it not the English-language debut of “Oldboy” helmer Park Chan-wook. He’s been a staple at Berlin and Cannes in recent years, but was in competition in 2005 for “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” and a dark, Oedipal drama with an impressive — but not overly starry — cast bodes well. That being said,was there a reason it didn’t make it to Cannes?

“The Last Supper” (dir. Lu Chuan)
Cast: Liu Ye, Daniel Wu, Chang Chen
Lu Chuan became a major figure on the international scene thanks to 2009’s “City Of Life And Death,” which won the top prize at San Sebastian that year. And his lush costume drama “The Last Supper” would fit in nicely with some of the Asian selections of recent years. Chuan was hoping to release the film in China in August, which probably would have ruled it out, given the premiere-only rule, but it was announced yesterday that censors in the country have blocked the release. This is something of a double-edged sword — it means that it could get its premiere in Venice, but it also means that  the Chinese authorities are likely to have issues with the film leaving the country. That said, last year’s surprise film, “People Mountain People Sea,” faced a similar issue, and still managed to make it to Italy. This one’s probably a 50/50 chance, if that. 

The Long Shots

Seven Psychopaths” (dir. Martin McDonagh)
Cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe
Martin McDonagh was already a much lauded playwright, and Oscar-winning director of a short film, when he made his 2008 feature debut “In Bruges,” which premiered at Sundance to glowing reviews, and has only become more loved in the time that’s passed since. CBS Films are putting out his starry follow-up “Seven Psychopaths” in November, but could it make it to Venice beforehand? We think it’s probably a long shot — the festival generally leans towards more serious fare than even Cannes — but it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility. A Toronto appearance feels like a near-certainty, though.

“The Silver Linings Playbook”/”Django Unchained” (dir. David O Russell/Quentin Tarantino)
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Jacki Weaver
It’s clear from their showing of footage at Cannes that The Weinstein Company have high hopes for both the new comedy of romance and mental illness from David O. Russell and for Tarantino’s slavery spaghetti western. Neither seem to be obvious awards fare, so could possibly use an boost at prestigious festival like this, and Tarantino was jury president two years ago. But he’s still filming ‘Django,’ which surely rules it out, and while Russell’s further along with ‘Playbook,’ we’d be surprised if that made the trip too, especially with the company looking after “The Master” at the same time. We’d wager that ‘Django’ will end up skipping the festival route entirely, while Telluride/TIFF seem more likely for ‘Playbook’.  

“Untitled James Gray Project” (dir. James Gray)
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard
Although he only begun on his latest film — a period tale of an immigrant (Cotillard) caught between a sleazy pimp (Phoenix) and a magician — at the beginning of the year, when we spoke to James Gray a few months back, the helmer told us the film could conceivably be finished for Venice or Toronto. So why isn’t this much higher up the list? Well, The Weinstein Company snapped it up last week, and are planning a 2013 release for the film, which make a Venice bow unlikely. With the company already overflowing with awards season possibilities, and Gray a French favorite, we’d guess that this should crop up on the Croisette next year.

“The Grandmasters” (dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
Cast: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen
Ah, “The Grandmasters,” Wong Kar-Wai’s ever-delayed movie. The film has been shooting on and off for almost three years, and has been rumored for virtually every festival between then and now, but it looks like there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel for the project, with the film now slated for a December release in China. But an August date in Venice? Highly unlikely. The project was still filming last month, and we sincerely doubt it’ll crop up at any festivals before it opens in China. The best bet for an international showing is at Berlin in February before an eventual stateside release.

Cloud Atlas” (dir. The Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving
Even though we’ve been burnt by the Wachowskis many, many times before, we’re increasingly excited by their adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel, co-directed by Tom Tykwer. For one, the source material is great. For another, word out of test screenings and showings for buyers at Cannes has been very strong. But a Venice appearance? We’d be quite surprised. A big budget, sci-fi flick from blockbuster filmmakers seems an odd festival fit. And considering the possibility of the project being so divisive, a high-profile festival bow is potentially risky. This is all a gut feeling — it’s possibly the most likely of this section to make it in — but we’d be very surprised if it was seen anywhere before it starts rolling out in Europe and elsewhere in October.

“Zero Dark Thirty” (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Jennifer Ehle, Jason Clarke, Harold Perrineau, Edgar Ramirez
A premiere at Venice back in 2008 started the train that ended up with Kathryn Bigelow‘s “The Hurt Locker” winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards almost 18 months later. So in a way, a triumphant homecoming to the Lido would make perfect sense. But again, filming started late on the project, with shooting only wrapping up a month or so ago. And furthermore, the release date was pushed back to avoid accusations of interference with the U.S. elections in November, and to premiere before then would be to risk kicking off the debates all over again. Again, we suspect this’ll be kept under wraps until at least Thanksgiving.

Inside Llewyn Davis” (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Garret Hedlund, Adam Driver, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham
While they’ve been Cannes regulars of late, the Coen Brothers did open Venice in 2008 with “Burn After Reading,” and any festival would be glad to have a new film by them. But again, August may be a bit soon, even by their standards — indeed, there’s no guarantee at this point that it’ll show up before 2013 in theaters. If it does go the festival route, TIFF or NYFF are probably better bets, or it could follow the path of “True Grit” and bypass them entirely.

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