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Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’ Kicks Off Oscar Season With Strong Reviews, Hailed as the ‘Saving Private Ryan’ of Space Films

"First Man" opened the 2018 Venice Film Festival on a high as critics praise Damien Chazelle's latest technical wonder.

Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Damien Chazelle

Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Damien Chazelle

Matt Baron/Shutterstock

Oscar season is officially underway now that Damien Chazella’s space race drama “First Man” has opened the 2018 Venice Film Festival. The movie, backed by Universal Pictures, stars Ryan Gosling in the story of Neil Armstrong’s obsessive attempts to become the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. Claire Foy co-stars in the drama as Armstrong’s wife.

Given its Venice opening premiere and Chazelle’s Oscar-winning status after “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” “First Man” is widely being viewed as one of the year’s biggest studio Oscar contenders. Chazelle’s “La La Land” opened Venice in 2016 and eventually landed 14 Oscar nominations, including a best director win that made Chazelle the youngest filmmaker ever to win the prize. The strong reviews for “First Man” out of Venice confirm Universal has a major player on its hands.

“‘First Man’ is an anti-thriller of rare intensity, with lived-in performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy heightening the sky-high drama at every turn,” IndieWire’s Michael Nordine writes in his highly positive B+ review. “It begins with a flight sequence so intense you’ll find yourself thinking — or at least hoping — it must be some pre-mission anxiety dream.”

Chazelle is being praised by a majority of film critics for grounding the film in Armstrong’s perspective, which makes the events of the film feel viscerally death-defying for the viewer. Variety’s rave review from critic Owen Gleiberman says “First Man” is “revelatory in its realism” and is “so immersive in its glitchy, hurtling, melting-metal authenticity that it makes a true-life space drama like ‘Apollo 13’ look like a puppet show.”

“’First Man’ bears the same relation to the space dramas that have come before it that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ did to previous war films,” Gleiberman writes. “The movie redefines what space travel is — the way it lives inside our imagination — by capturing, for the first time, what the stakes really were.”

Other enthusiastic reviews can be found on The Guardian (film critic Peter Bradshaw says Chazelle’s direction is “visually ravishing”), The Playlist (Jessica Kiang writes the film is “immersive, immaculately crafted, often spectacular” and “may well become the definitive moon-landing movie”), and The Film Stage, where “First Man” is described as a “remarkable, jaw-dropping departure from anything Chazelle has previously made.”

“First Man” opens nationwide October 12. The movie will continue its Oscar season path at TIFF next month and most likely Telluride this weekend.

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