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Venice Dispatch – Will Win / Should Win

The 74th Venice Film Festival is drawing to a close. Looking back at the past ten days, one thing is certain: it has been a solid year showcasing multiple outstanding films worthy of the prestigious Golden Lion as well as awards attention in the coming months.

There are some misfires, of course. Following his Palme d’Or win for BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche served up the inexcusably exploitative and, at 186 minutes, excruciatingly long MEKTOUB, MY LOVE: CANTO UNO. Some people had problems with the objectification of women in his last film. Well, wait till you see this one. French family drama THE HOUSE BY THE SEA is a benign non-starter. As for Italian mafia-musical LOVE AND BULLETS, we don’t even want to go there.

On the other hand, so many great films! Crowd favorite THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI exceeded the already high expectations to deliver a funny, tragic, profoundly kind portrayal of forgiveness and deliverance. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are given beautifully layered characters to play and both hit it out of the park. Martin McDonagh’s deceptively simple screenplay is a work of tremendous craft and heart, probably also Oscar-bound.

Israeli director Samuel Maoz’s hard-hitting, innovative grief-themed drama FOXTROT dazzles with its tonal versatility and profound sentiments. Australian director Warwick Thornton’s period drama SWEET COUNTRY shed light on slavery in the Australian outback and examines justice in its rawest form. Similarly concerned with the ideas of right and wrong, guilt and salvation are Israeli director Ziad Doueiri’s indignant, eloquent court drama THE INSULT, French director Xavier Legrand’s heart-pounding domestic abuse thriller CUSTODY, Italian director Andrea Pallaoro’s quietly devastating character study HANNAH starring the incomparable Charlotte Rampling, and the delicately observant sexual assault drama ANGELS WEAR WHITE from Chinese director Vivian Qu (the only female filmmaker in competition).

AND what about such poetic/imaginative/ambitious/mad Oscar hopefuls like LEAN ON PETE, DOWNSIZING, MOTHER! and THE SHAPE OF WATER? Indeed, there’s an embarrassment of riches in this year’s lineup and it will be very interesting to see how Annette Bening’s jury (including fellow jurors Edgar Wright and Rebecca Hall) chooses their favorites. Considering Bening herself will be in the race for that overdue best actress Oscar this year with FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL, one would be curious whether her jury gives any of her supposed competitors (McDormand/Hawkins) an early edge with an award here. Just last year, Emma Stone’s road to the Oscars began with a win in Venice.

Of the 21 films in competition I saw 20, missing only Frederick Wiseman’s apparently phenomenal EX LIBRIS – THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY. At the time it screened, I was sadly in no state to watch a three hour plus documentary. On the basis of some informed guesses, I’m going out on a limb (with festival juries you just NEVER know) and predicting the following to be our winners:

Best Young Performer
Will win: Charlie Plummer (LEAN ON PETE)
Should win: Charlie Plummer (LEAN ON PETE)

Best Screenplay
Will win: THE INSULT

Best Actor
Will win: Patrick Bruel (Una Famiglia)

Best Actress
Will win: Charlotte Rampling (Hannah)
Should win: Sally Hawkins (THE SHAPE OF WATER)

Best Director
Will win: Darren Aronofsky (MOTHER!)
Should win: Darren Aronofsky (MOTHER!)

Special Jury Prize
Should win: DOWNSIZING

Grand Jury Prize
Should win: MOTHER!

Golden Lion
Will win: FOXTROT
Should win: FOXTROT

The winners at the 74th Venice Film Festival will be announced tonight.