The conversation surrounding Europe’s other major film festival, Cannes, in May was hijacked by a very public feud with Netflix, after the streaming titan’s VOD-first strategy found disfavour with the traditionalists on the Cannes board of directors. Blocked from official competition owing to its slate’s lack of theatrical distribution, Netflix ended up pulling out of the festival entirely.
Venice, however, has imposed no such limitations on films from the industry’s great disrupter, saying it “cannot refuse to come to terms with the reality of the new production landscape”. It’s hard to say which festival will prove to be on the right side of cinema history, but Venice will at least reap the short-term rewards of its streaming-inclusive approach. The Netflix wagon this year arrives packed with a new Coen brothers Western, Alfonso Cuaron’s follow-up to his space blockbuster, Gravity, and the completion of an unfinished Orson Welles satire shot back in 1970.
And that’s just the entries from one studio. Let’s look at these films and others – all likely to be household names come award season – in closer detail.
Here is our pick of the 10 standout titles, at what should be a stellar 75th Venice International Film Festival.
(Dir. Damien Chazelle, stars Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy)
The astounding Whiplash and La La Land both burst at the seams with enthusiasm for music, and worked because you could tell that director Chazelle lives and breathes it. For obvious reasons, the same can’t be said of space travel, so will his third feature have the same zest? We’ll find out with this Neil Armstrong biopic, which centres on the years leading up to the Apollo 11 launch in 1969. The space epic often serves as the test of a great director and many have failed with them or, perhaps worse, proved merely mediocre.
(Dir. Luca Guadagnino, stars Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Grace Moretz)
Call Me By Your Name was a landmark in cinema history: a gay romance that escaped the boundaries of the genre and focused simply, and exquisitely, on love itself. With this masterpiece in the bag, all eyes are on Luca Guadagnino’s next film, an assignment that no one could have predicted. It’s a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 occult horror, Suspiria. Stonewashing the original’s vibrant colour palette, it could overturn typical perceptions of the remake as a pointless exercise. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has scored the film.
(Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, stars Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachael Weisz)
Yorgos Lanthimos is a deeply committed weirdo. Every time a new film from the Greek director is announced, I half expect it to signal a quite understandable move to something a little more mainstream. But no, he instead doubles down on making often grotesque – and always peculiar – cinema. in 2015 he imagined a hotel for singles who must find a mate or else be transformed into an animal (The Lobster); in 2017 he had a creepy teenager infiltrate and ultimately destroy the family of a cardiac surgeon (The Killing of a Sacred Deer); and 2018 will see him turn the reign of Queen Anne into absurdist farce. I haven’t been so grabbed by a trailer as I was by The Favourite’s (above) for some time and, judging by it, the film looks incredibly funny.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
(Dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, stars James Franco, Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson)
Liable to disappear up their own backsides, the Coen brothers have had their measure of ups and downs in a nonetheless beloved filmography. Will this Western be a smug, meta in-joke like Burn After Reading and Hail, Caesar! or find the kind of humanity they did in Inside Llewyn Davis and The Big Lebowski? Originally conceived as a television series, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology film consisting of at least five stories, with blues legend Tom Waits guest starring in one of them. With O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men and True Grit behind them, the brothers certainly know their way around a Western.
(Dir. Brady Corbet, stars Natalie Portman, Jude Law)
Can you balance being a global popstar with being a good mother? This is what Vox Lux will explore, Natalie Portman plays the singer trying to navigate ageing and a chaotic personal life. Brady Corbet is a relative newcomer – this is his second feature – but there is clearly a lot of confidence in his script, given the star power it has attracted. Jude Law is the manager of Portman’s character – originally to be played by Rooney Mara – and Sia and Scott Walker have composed original songs.
Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trialSign up
The Other Side of the Wind
(Dir. Orson Welles, stars John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar)
In a locked-down screening room somewhere in Hollywood in January, a select group of filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, were shown Orson Welles’ last film for the first time. “We were all gobsmacked,” said Star Wars director Rian Johnson – also in attendance – about a picture finally brought to completion following years of failed attempts. Made from 10 hours of raw footage shot by Welles across six years in the 1970s, The Other Side of the Wind is a mockumentary complete with a film-within-a-film that satirises both classic Hollywood and the avant garde era that came next.
A Star Is Born
(Dir. Bradley Cooper, stars Cooper, Lady Gaga, Dave Chappelle)
Lady Gaga has been flirting with acting for some time now, but this will mark her first feature film role proper. She isn’t the only one with a lot riding on A Star is Born, as it also represents Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut.
This is the third time the 1937 film of the same name has been remade and, once again, the story revolves around a young singer (Gaga) who is discovered and wooed, this time by a hard-drinking country musician. There is every chance this will be terrible but, with somewhat unknown quantities both behind and in front of the camera, we’ll have to wait and see.
(Dir. Alfonso Cuaron)
When talking in an earlier entry about good directors coming unstuck when it comes to bad space movies, Cuaron was certainly in mind. Gravity was visually breathtaking but felt empty, and don’t get me started on the dialogue. With Roma, to be released by Netflix, he comes back down to Earth. This is certainly no George Clooney blockbuster, making use of mostly unknown actors, shot in black and white, and focusing on a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico in the early 1970s.
That is far from the sexiest synopsis at Venice, but the movie looks to be personal, impressionistic and fascinated by the minutiae of life. Cuaron has described Roma as the most “essential” movie he’s ever made. The proof is in the pudding when it comes to this genre, but consider Roma a dark horse come award season.
(Dir. Paul Greengrass)
Best known for his Bourne films, Paul Greengrass is not a name you tend to associate with effete European film festivals, but 22 July is a step away from big-name action blockbusters. 22 July – well, 22. juli – is how the 2011 terrorist attacks by Anders Behring Breivik, claiming 77 lives, are referred to in Norway. This drama will depict them unblinkingly, before focusing on the aftermath for the majority of the runtime.
Certain to be a sobering watch, it will see the Norwegian justice system forced to deal with a scale of massacre previously thought unimaginable in the country, and the man behind it who tried to rationalise his heinous spree as a rejection of “forced multiculturalism”. Though speaking in English here, the cast is almost entirely Norwegian.
(Dir. Julian Schnabel, stars Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen)
“I’m not supposed to be in this movie,” Willem Dafoe told us on our film podcast of his appearance in indie movie The Florida Project last year, alluding to the fact that he’s generally known as a character actor in crime movies. He must have enjoyed this left turn in his career, as he continues down the path with At Eternity’s Gate. On 27 July 1890, aged 37, Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in the chest; this biopic will focus on his final days. There is something irresistible about Oscar Isaac playing Paul Gauguin, and he and Dafoe are sure to have some intense scenes – the fraught friendship between the two artists having led Van Gogh to cut off his own ear during an episode of “acute mania with generalised delirium”.
Best Director and Best Picture Academy Award winner Guillermo Del Toro will preside over the jury for La Biennale Di Venezia this year, which takes place from 29 August to 8 September. Full line-up here.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies