As the oldest event of its kind in the world, the Venice Film Festival has always played a vital role in cinema, yet the programme itself has enjoyed a startling renaissance in recent years. These days, the vast majority of movies that contend at the Oscars premiere first at the Venice Film Festival, making this one of the most important cinematic events on the calendar.
Last year alone, award magnets like The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri both made their debut at the famous festival and mother! drew its fair share of boos and cheers, too. Skip forward to 2018 and there’s now a whole new range of cinematic masterpieces fighting to come out on top here at Venice and win the Golden Lion, but which one will race ahead of the pack?
From bewitching tales of horror, to royal love triangles full of debauchery, here are six of the best films from the 75th Venice Film Festival that will astound audiences worldwide in the coming year, alongside their premiere dates in the USA.
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the Italian horror classic has split critics so far at Venice – much like the Berlin wall that divided the city where his version is set – but to call Suspiria a remake is actually quite misleading. Drawing upon elements from various chapters of Dario Argento’s original trilogy, the new Suspiria is more of a reimagining than anything else, one that taps into a dark nightmare world that unsettles more than outright terrifies.
Set in 1977, the same year that Argento’s original movie was released, Suspiria follows the journey of American dancer Suzy Bannion (Dakota Johnson) after she arrives at the Helena Markos Dance Company and proceeds to wow each of the teachers on staff. As she quickly ascends the ranks and becomes a star pupil, Madame Blanc’s (Tilda Swinton) true intentions for the wide-eyed dancer soon come into eerie focus, threatening to unravel everyone wrapped up in this occult fever dream.
Those searching for jumpy scares should look elsewhere as Guadagnino tends to favor gorgeous, impressionistic imagery over fear-inducing set pieces. That’s not to say Suspiria won’t disturb audiences. In fact, some early dance scenes and that orgiastic finale in particular number among the most original you’ll see in years, so if you’re willing to give it a chance, then take a step into the madness of Suspiria and spin until the world descends into a blur of red and chaos.
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Downton Abbey this ain’t. In fact, the latest English-language release from acclaimed director, Yorgos Lanthimos, is the antithesis of most royal period dramas that usually vie for an Oscar come award season.
While decadent clothes and stunning design still catch the eye here, The Favourite eschews the diplomacy and manners often associated with the genre, replacing them instead with a deliciously hedonistic and debaucherous take on English royalty.
Set in the early 18th century, The Favourite revolves around the gout-afflicted Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) and the lesbian love triangle that she becomes embroiled in while ruling over the country. At first, her and Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) run the royal court together, although it’s clear that the Duchess is the real one in charge. That all changes though when a new servant, Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, upsetting the balance of love and power with some outrageous behavior that well and truly brings out the worst in everyone.
Nicholas Hoult impresses in a delightfully wicked supporting role, but it’s the three central women who each triumph here first and foremost. Weisz is extraordinary, delicately revealing the cracks in her character’s hardened outer shell and Stone manipulates her seemingly innocent visage with vicious glee. The true star though of course is the Queen herself, Olivia Coleman, who veers between bouts of unhinged madness to moments of genuine pathos that reveal the toll of power with riotous abandon.
Release Date: November 23, 2018
Mexican filmmaker, Alfonso Cuarón, stretched out from his domestic beginnings early on to craft Hollywood epics like Gravity, Children of Men, and even a chapter in the Harry Potter franchise, but he’s now wowed critics more than ever with Roma, his most personal, intimate project in years.
Drawing on his own childhood, Cuarón focuses here on a young domestic worker, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), who works with a middle-class family in Mexico City. Between her own personal struggles and the wider domestic issues that rock the people she’s working for, Roma spans almost every aspect of life in 1970s Mexico, seamlessly combining political turmoil with more personal episodes of strife too.
Gorgeously rendered in black and white, Roma is wonderfully reminiscent of humanistic work from the greats like Vittorio De Sica and Yasujiro Ozu. Even everyday scenes are imbued with a lyrical poetry, lovingly shot through Cuarón’s lens, but none of this would work without the central performance from Aparicio. In her first role ever, the young star’s studied approach to the role is what comes to define some of the film’s most powerful and harrowing scenes.
Release Date: December 14, 2018
A Star Is Born
On the day that A Star Is Born made its debut at the Venice Film Festival, it’s safe to say that not one, but two stars were born: Lady Gaga, the bonafide Hollywood actress and Bradley Cooper, the celebrated director. Although both had enjoyed phenomenal success up to that point, it was still hard to imagine them succeeding so readily with their first collaboration together and yet succeed they do, wholeheartedly.
In the fourth version of this now classic tale, A Star Is Born follows a struggling artist named Ally (Lady Gaga), who hits the chance of a lifetime when country musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) helps propel her to the big time. At first, they make sweet music together in every sense of the word, but personal demons from Maine’s past soon threaten to devour everything that the pair have fought so hard to achieve.
Cooper shines both in front of and behind the camera, imbuing heart and soul into every frame and performance alike while proving that he could easily become a successful country artist on the side. Gaga on the other hand breaks through with a performance that puts her fellow pop stars to shame, transcending the cheesiness or mediocrity that usually plagues such vanity projects with real warmth and character. Much like the leading lady’s own catalog of hits, A Star Is Born will stick in your head long after the credits roll.
Release Date: October 5, 2018
The Sisters Brothers
French director, Jacques Audiard, tackles the most American of genres for his English-language debut — the Western — yet it’s still hard to imagine anyone else approaching a story like The Sisters Brothers with such a strong grip of the source material.
Based on the Booker-shortlisted novel by Patrick DeWitt, this tale set out on the harsh frontiers is both grim and funny all at once, ably handled by one of this year’s strongest ensembles.
In 1850s Oregon, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play Charlie and Eli Sisters, two brothers who work as assassins for a mysterious man called the Commodore (Rutger Hauer). Despite their constant quarreling, the two siblings are remarkably efficient at what they do, although things start to go south once they venture up north on a mission to chase John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), testing their limits like no other journey they’ve ever taken before.
By threading humor throughout some of the film’s darker moments, Audiard risks confusing things tonally, but everything hangs together thanks to the chemistry that’s shared by each of the main actors, all of whom excel throughout. Both an intimate character piece and a sprawling Western all at once, The Sisters Brothers is a dramatic highlight that cinephiles would do well to keep in their holster come award season next year.
Release Date: September 21, 2018
A few years after actor Brady Corbet first impressed Venice with his directorial debut, The Childhood of a Leader, the rising filmmaker is back with a music biopic of sorts that veers wildly away from the likes of A Star Is Born in both pitch and tone. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Vox Lux was met with both boos and cheers at the press screening, quickly becoming one of the most hotly debated movies that premiered here at Venice this year.
Split largely into two main halves, Vox Lux follows the fictional career of American pop star, Celeste, who initially finds fame after a horrific tragedy hits her high school. At first, we follow Celeste’s early years alongside her new manager (Jude Law), watching the young talent adjust to life in the spotlight before the film abruptly skips forward almost two decades to reveal the toll that this celebrity lifestyle has taken.
Despite the fact that Celeste is played by two different performers — young Raffey Cassidy and an older Natalie Portman — both combine their talents here to create a fully rounded portrait of a woman on the edge. Backed by the musical talents of Sia, Celeste is a wholly believable creation, whether she’s holding her own during a shooting or fiercely attacking those who seek to control her. Although Vox Lux might be too off-kilter for traditional Academy voters, Portman must be commended for consistently seeking such challenging roles, proving once again that she’s anything but a one-hit wonder.
Release Date: TBD