2015 Venice Film Festival Highlights Awards Season Heavyweights
Founded in 1932, The Venice International Film Festival, or Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia, is the world’s oldest film festival and takes place each year in early September on the island of Lido. Alongside Cannes and Berlin, it is considered one of the “Big Three” film festivals, a prestigious honor, and is a major exhibitor for some of the world’s finest films. Highlights from this year’s festival provide a wide range of films, from the action packed Everest to the unprecedented documentary Human, and offer an early look at some of Hollywood’s biggest Awards Season contenders.
Festival producers typically reserve opening night for large-scale movies with major box office potential, and opening night films often go on to find success throughout the Awards Season. Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) opened last year’s festival and took home four Oscars, including the top honor of the night, Best Picture.
This year’s opening night was a focus on spectacle with the world premiere of Baltasar Kormákur’s man vs. nature epic, Everest. The film boasts an all-star cast, including Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, and Jake Gyllennaal. Critical reception for Everst has been mostly positive, with much of the focus on the film’s sweeping visuals of the imposing Himalayan Mountains. Everest can almost assuredly expect a slew of technical nominations at next year’s Oscars, though it seems to face an uphill battle for some of the more prestigious awards.
One of the festival’s most talked about performances came from the world premiere of Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, in which Eddie Redmayne portrays Lili Elbe, the first known recipient of sexual reassignment surgery in 1920s Denmark. Redmayne is a frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar and could take home a second consecutive win after last year’s The Theory of Everything. In the film, Alicia Vikander portrays Elbe’s wife, Gerda Wegener, and is earning much praise from early critics and viewers. Vikander will very likely be honored throughout the Awards Season, and a nod from the Academy seems likely.
Redmayne could however find himself in a hotly contested Best Actor race against Black Mass’ Johnny Depp. The film, which premiered at Venice, opened to fairly positive reviews, with much of its praise going to Depp for his intense portrayal of the notorious, real-life Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. Depp is joined by Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, and Peter Sarsgaard in the Scott Cooper directed biopic, written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth.
Another Oscar heavyweight, Spotlight, debuted in Venice, from director Tom McCarthy. The film tells the story of The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for its coverage of the Massachusetts Catholic sex abuse scandal. Spotlight has garnered almost entirely positive reviews and seems a good bet for a Best Picture nomination from the Academy. Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Stanley Tucci star in this real-life drama.
Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, a war drama depicting civil war in West Africa, seen through the eyes of a young boy forced to join a group of soldiers, stars Idris Elba and won the festival’s Marcello Mastroianni Award. Beasts of No Nation will be released globally on Netflix on October 16th, 2015 and in select theaters the same day. The film raises interesting questions regarding contemporary film distribution and there has been some controversy surrounding its inclusion in the festival, due to its distribution via an online streaming service. Regardless of such controversy, Beasts of No Nation remains a strong contender for the Best Picture Oscar nomination.
Venice also offered a slew of notable documentaries. Amy Berg’s film, Janis: Little Girl Blue, follows the life of famed rock singer Janis Joplin through her tragic death at the age of 27. Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow honored Brian De Palma with the film, De Palma, which chronicles the filmmaker’s life and notable career. Evgeny Afineevsky’s Winter on Fire documents the 2014 protests and subsequent revolution in the Ukraine. Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s Human was the first movie to premiere in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations, as well as at Venice. Arthus-Bertrand and a team of journalists interviewed more than 2,000 people from across the globe, asking each person the same 40 questions. The interviews are edited together to create a kaleidoscopic view of human nature and culture. You can watch Human now streaming in its entirety on YouTube.
This is but a sampling of the quality filmmaking endeavors to screen at the Venice International Film Festival. Though it is too early in the fall to make any solid Oscars predictions, Venice offers some insight into potential heavyweight contenders come February.
Founded in 1998, the BlueCat Screenplay Competition seeks to develop and discover unknown screenwriters. For 2016 BlueCat Screenplay Competition submission information, click here.