If you look at the release schedule for the next couple of weeks, it’s clear that we’re entering the late August/early September slow season. Half-formed young adult adaptations, thrillers that star Ethan Hawke because Nicolas Cage was unavailable, 3D boyband concert movies and a Riddick sequel, with only “The World’s End” and “You’re Next” to save the day, and a crop of good arthouse fare if they are lucky enough to playing near you (“Short Term 12,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “Afternoon Delight,” “Drinking Buddies“).
But if selections in the multiplexes might be getting thin, most cinephiles don’t mind too much, because festival season is getting underway. Telluride, TIFF and NYFF are on the way, but first up is Venice, which we’re starting to pack our bags for. The last few years, the line-up on the Lido has rivalled Cannes for quality and big names, and while there’s nothing as headline-grabbing as “The Master‘ this year, the 70th Venice Film Festival is still looking like a sterling year. Below, we’ve picked out ten of the films we’re most looking forward to — check back from next Wednesday onwards for our verdicts on all of the below, and much more.
Synopsis: A pair of astronauts on a routine mission are stranded in space after their space shuttle is destroyed.
What You Need To Know: The festival’s opening film is probably their biggest coup, and certainly the movie that’s going to turn the most mainstream heads this year (at least on the festival circuit). Seven years ago, Alfonso Cuaron premiered his astonishing dystopian sci-fi picture “Children Of Men,” which won the festival’s cinematography award, and while a commercial disappointment, it has endured as one of the very best films of the ’00s. It’s been a long hard road to his follow-up, but “Gravity” will finally unspool on the Lido this week, with A-listers Sandra Bullock and George Clooney (a Venice regular) in the lead roles. The film’s technical innovations are probably familiar at this point — a blend of photo-realistic CGI and the performances; minutes-long shot lengths that’ll rival the extended takes in Cuaron’s previous picture; being designed in 3D from the ground up — and it’s certainly one of the most anticipated of the year for many. But will it be a thrill ride? Or a “2001“-style existential arthouse film? We suspect we’ll be finding out soon, but either way, we can’t wait.
When? Opens the festival on August 28th, before going to TIFF (and rumor has it, Telluride) and then opening wide on October 4th.
Synopsis: In Mississippi, a young boy befriends an ex-con.
What You Need To Know: Even those who liked all of David Gordon Green‘s comedies were, by the time “The Sitter” rolled around, looking forward to seeing the filmmaker return to the kind of territory that made his name, with films like “George Washington,” “All The Real Girls” and “Undertow.” And after this year’s strong “Prince Avalanche” marked a return to form, by bridging his more comic and serious sides, “Joe” looks to be a real push to the dark side for the filmmaker. Based on the novel by Larry Brown, and described by the director as “dark as fuck,” it pairs Green for the first time with Nicolas Cage. It’s no secret that the latter’s been less than picky with his roles, but when he’s working with someone like this, and with material like this, he’s one of the greats, and there’s strong buzz around his performance. He’s paired here with Tye Sheridan, the young star of “Tree Of Life,” and as a result, parallels with Jeff Nichols‘ surprise hit “Mud,” in which the young actor also starred, are probably going to be inescapable. But even so, we’re expecting something quite different, and if nothing else, it’ll be great to see what Cage and Green come up with together.
When? The film screens on the Lido on Friday August 30th, then heads to TIFF. No U.S. distribution yet.
Synopsis: A rich kid, a high school dropout and an ex-Marine are drawn together into an eco-terrorism plot to blow up a hydroelectric dam.
What You Need To Know: In something of a mini-theme this year, several filmmakers in competition have refused to rest on their laurels, and are pushing into new territory with their latest films. Among them is Kelly Reichardt, who’s gone from low-key dramas “Old Joy” and “Wendy & Lucy” to semi-Western “Meek’s Cutoff” to “Night Moves,” which appears to be a sort of thriller, or as close to a thriller as Reichardt can come. Described as “a tale of suspense and a meditation on the consequences of political extremism,” it a more contemporary offering than its predecessor, and features Reichardt’s starriest cast so far, with Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard in the three central roles (and Alia Shawkat and James LeGros in support). Whether or not the film crosses over to a wider audience (we suspect not), Reichardt’s a favorite at Venice, and we can’t wait to see how her latest film fits in the context of her fine work so far.
When? Screens for press on August 30th, has its public screening the next day, and again, goes on TIFF. No U.S. distributor yet.
Synopsis: A man’s life begins to implode on the eve of the biggest day of his career.
What You Need To Know: Only a few months after his first feature as director hit theaters (the well-regarded-for-a-Jason-Statham-movie “Hummingbird,” known abroad as “Redemption“), “Eastern Promises” and “Dirty Pretty Things” writer Steven Knight is back, with a speedy turnaround on a project that only started shooting six months ago. But there’s a reason for that — like another Venice entry, Amos Gitai‘s in-competition “Ana Arabia,” the film was shot in real time, which should make it an interesting technical exercise if nothing else. But we’ve got our fingers crossed that it’ll be more than a gimmick, because one of the most exciting actors around, Tom Hardy, has the lead role, and will seemingly be on screen for every frame of the runtime. There’s some hefty support behind him too, with Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson (“The Lone Ranger“), Andrew Scott (“Sherlock“), Ben Daniels (“House Of Cards“), Alice Lowe (“Sightseers“) and Tom Holland (“The Impossible“) turning up at some point. Knight’s got some impressive backup behind the camera too, with “Atonement” director Joe Wright serving as executive producer. If nothing else, it’ll be an interesting experiment and a chance to see Hardy on screen for 90 minutes, but hopefully it’ll add up to much more than that. (Check out the first clip right here).
When? Look for our review on Monday September 2nd. Right now, the film doesn’t have any other festival dates, but Lionsgate will release it in 2014.
Synopsis: A homeless family in Taipei are joined by a mysterious woman as they head for a sailing trip.
You Need To Know: It’s been too damn long since we had a film from Tsai Ming-Liang. The Malaysian Chinese filmmaker had a burst of activity in
the mid-00s, most notably including the superb “Goodbye, Dragon Inn,”
but all we’ve had since 2009’s “Face” (itself fairly disappointing) are a
selection of shorts little-seen outside his homeland. But four years
later, he’s back with a new feature, which seems to be something of a
return to his wheelhouse (comparisons to his earlier “I Don’t Want To
Sleep Alone” have been made) and we
couldn’t be more excited. Tsai is one of Taiwan’s finest, and one of the
great humanists in modern cinema, and hopefully his appearance on the
Lido this year will see him back on top.
When? Screens in Venice on the 4th of September, but you’ll also be able to catch it at TIFF or NYFF.
“Tom A La Ferme“
Synopsis: A young copywriter goes to the countryside
for a funeral, only to be drawn into the secrets and games of the
What You Need To Know: The absence of a new film
from 24-year-old French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan in the Cannes
line-up this year was something of a surprise, given that his first
three pictures had all unspooled on the Croisette. As it turns out,
Venice had snapped him up, and “Tom A La Ferme” marks the director’s
first competition entry at a major festival. Based on the play by Michel
Marc Bouchard, this seems to be more of a genre-led entry, a
“psychological thriller” that, on paper, nods to “Festen” and Patricia
Highsmith, and an experiment that Dolan has described as his “most
satisfying journey through this form of art,” with the filmmaker leading the mostly unknown cast himself. This writer hasn’t wholeheartedly loved
any of Dolan’s films so far, but he’s a consistently interesting voice,
and it’s only a matter of time before he knocks something out of the
park. Could it happen with “Tom A La Ferme”?
When? September 2nd at Venice, before the film heads to TIFF. No U.S. distributor yet.
“Under The Skin”
Synopsis: An alien, disguised as a human, travels on a secret mission through Scotland.
You Need To Know: If we had to pick one film to see at Venice, it would
undoubtedly be this one. Jonathan Glazer was one of the most notable
commercials and promos directors of the 1990s, with videos for Blur,
Radiohead and Nick Cave, and the famous Guinness surfing ad among his
best known credits. Then, in 2000, he made a very strong feature debut
with “Sexy Beast,” which stood apart from the countless British gangster
movies at the time thanks to a whip-smart, foul-mouthed Pinteresque
script, and Glazer’s inventive visuals. His 2004 follow-up “Birth,”
which screened at Venice too, was even better, a fascinating, highly
original film that numbered among the decade’s best, but sadly didn’t
find an audience at the time. Since then? Almost nothing outside of
commercials and videos, as Glazer has spent much of the last decade
developing this adaptation of Michel Faber‘s sci-fi novel, which finally
went before cameras with Scarlett Johansson in the lead role a few
years back. It’s been an extended post-production period, and still very
little is known about the film, but it’ll finally be unveiled in Venice
at the start of next month. What little buzz we’ve heard around the
film is promising, so
fingers crossed that Glazer has delivered once again.
When? Screens on the Lido on Tuesday, September 3rd, and it’ll head to TIFF soon after.
“The Unknown Known“
A portrait of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, one of
George W. Bush’s most senior advisers, and one of the men responsible
for the Iraq War.
What You Need To Know: It’s an especially strong
year for documentaries on the Lido this year, with masters of the form
like Frederick Wiseman, Alex Gibney and Wang Bing unveiling new films.
There are even, in a rare occurence, two docs in competition, and while
we’re intrigued by Italian entry “Sacro GRA,” we’re positively
breathless in anticipation for “The Unknown Known,” the new film from
Errol Morris. As much as anyone, Morris has helped popularize the
big-screen doc over the last thirty years with films like “Gates Of
Heaven,” “The Thin Blue Line” and, most recently, “Tabloid,” but his new
one seems like a semi-sequel to his Oscar-winning 2003 film “The Fog Of
War.” While that film was a feature length interview with Robert S.
McNamara, the Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense, the new one talks to
Donald Rumsfeld, the controversial figure who was one of the senior
architects of the Iraq War. Rumsfeld’s something of an enigma, but if
anyone knows how to get the answers out of him, it’s Morris, and we’re
sure it’ll be a powerful, provocative and revelatory piece of work, if
it’s anything like Morris’ previous films.
When? We’ll have our review late on Tuesday 3rd September, before the film heads to TIFF.
“The Wind Rises“
Synopsis: The story of the friendship between Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Zero fighter plane, and writer Tatsuo Hori.
You Need To Know: One word: Miyazaki. The last decade or so, since the
release of “Spirited Away” and the support of Disney and Pixar head
honcho John Lasseter, has seen the Japanese animation maestro become
ever more popular, but his latest is a serious change of pace, stepping
away from his trademark fantasy to tell a serious biographical epic that
delves into Japan’s history. Described as his most mature picture to
date, it looks typically stunning from trailers and footage, and has won
great reviews and better box office at home, though it hasn’t been
without its controversies — the right wing at home have criticized
Miyazaki for the film, with debate raging in the papers and online. Its
debut at Venice is likely to be a quieter affair, but it’ll be
interesting to see how far the film travels. But given how much we like
more subdued Studio Ghibli fare like “Grave Of The Fireflies” and the recent
“From Up On Poppy Hill,” we’re eager to see how this turns out.
When? Expect our review on Saturday August
31st, with the film screening publicly the following day. It’s also
heading to TIFF and NYFF, and it’ll get a limited one week theatrical
run to qualify for the Oscars ahead of a full release sometime in 2014.
“The Zero Theorem”
Synopsis: In the near-future, a reclusive computer genius works on a project that aims to discover the secret of existence, only to fall in love.
What You Need To Know: After a decade-and-a-half of delays and troubled productions (feuding with the studio on “The Brothers Grimm,” poor critical reception on “Tideland,” the death of star Heath Ledger on “The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus“), “The Zero Theorem” seemed to come together remarkably quickly for Terry Gilliam. The first we heard of it was last August, and a touch over a year later, it’s screening in competition at Venice (where “The Fisher King” and “The Brothers Grimm” both screened). Will what seems to be a relatively painless (if lower-budgeted than usual) production add up to a happier end product? Well, star Christoph Waltz is a perfect fit for Gilliam’s sensibilities, and there should be fun to be had among the supporting cast, which includes Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton and cameos from Robin Williams and Matt Damon. Early footage also suggests that of all the director’s previous work, it comes closest to “Brazil,” which can only be a good thing, given that that’s the director’s masterpiece. Fingers crossed we see a return to form here.
When? Monday, September 2nd. The film isn’t in the TIFF line-up, so no word on when North America will get it to see it.
Also Worth Looking Out For: There’s plenty of gold in the Venice line-up beyond these ten films. In competition: John Curran‘s “Tracks” with Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver is somewhat intriguing (check out the first clip here); there’s Stephen Frears‘ “Philomena,” which we hope will be a return to form; all-star JFK drama “Parkland“; Philip Groning‘s “The Police Officer’s Wife“; while inevitably, there’s also a James Franco movie, in the shape of Cormac McCarthy adaptation “Child Of God” (Franco’s novel “Palo Alto” has also been adapted on screen, marking the directorial debut of 26-year old Gia Coppola –granddaughter of Francis Ford, niece of Sofia and Roman — and that’s in one of the sidebars too).
Elsewhere, Asian provocateurs Sion Sono and Kim Ki-Duk (last year’s Golden Lion winner) return with “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?” and “Moebius” respectively, while Ken Watanabe stars in a Japan-set remake of Clint Eastwood‘s “Unforgiven.” Patrice Leconte returns with “Une Promesse,” starring Rebecca Hall, Alan Rickman and “Game Of Thrones” star Richard Madden, while Alex Gibney investigates the most famous present-day sporting cheat with “The Armstrong Lie,” Frederick Wiseman looks into what goes on “At Berkeley,” and Ti West and his gang reunite for another horror flick, “The Sacrament.” Finally, while we won’t have time for much in the Classics sidebar, we hope we’ll carve out a couple of hours to see the new restoration of William Friedkin‘s “Sorcerer.”
Anything in the lineup that you’re particularly stoked for? Let us know below.