All 21 films in competition at the 75th Venice Film Festival have now screened and yours truly has made it a point to sit through all 45 hours+ of footage (there were some long films) to bring you this piece.
The 2018 lineup proved to be an altogether strong one. Among the healthy mix of Hollywood productions and arthouse curiosities there are outright excellent films, many good-great ones (including out-of-competition titles like A STAR IS BORN and, surprise, surprise, DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE, which I did not expect to like) and few bombs. As such, it’s particularly hard to foresee how Guillermo Del Toro’s jury would hand out the awards. One thing I’m assuming though, considering the rich pool of candidates to choose from, is that they’d try to spread the wealth as much as possible even in the absence of no-multiple-prizes-for-one-film rules à la Cannes.
So, without further ado and in the knowledge that I’d likely fall flat on my face (again) with these calls, let’s entertain ourselves with a round of guessing game.
Best Young Performer
Will win: Aisling Franciosi (THE NIGHTINGALE)
Should win: Raffey Cassidy (VOX LUX)
Of the three A-list European film festivals, Venice is the only one with this particular prize. Might seem a little whimsical, considering there are not always many “young” performers to be considered at all. But a look back reveals a formidable history of winners here: Jennifer Lawrence, Mila Kunis, Tye Sheridan and Charlie Plummer, to name a few.
This year the most obvious, and deserved, choice would be Raffey Cassidy, who nearly stole the show in Brady Corbet’s VOX LUX, playing first the younger version of Natalie Portman’s character, then her teenage daughter. And she could well win it. But I’m feeling the jury might want to wait and award that film with something more substantial.
In that case, Aisling Franciosi, who carries THE NIGHTINGALE (which I’m not a fan of) with commendable finesse, could benefit from a general goodwill towards the Jennifer Kent-directed revenge thriller. At 25, she would be one of the older winners in this category (Abraham Attah won three years ago at the ripe old age of 14 for BEASTS OF NO NATION) but there doesn’t appear to be a prohibitive limit since Kunis won it when she was 27 (for BLACK SWAN).
Will win: NON-FICTION
Should win: THE SISTERS BROTHERS
Many worthy contenders here, including THE FAVOURITE, VOX LUX, THE BALLARD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (which was largely met with shrugs among critics but I really enjoyed) and THE SISTERS BROTHERS. Jacques Audiard’s tragicomic western gets my vote for best writing but it’s an adapted screenplay, which in this context might hurt its chances. Therefore, I’m betting on fellow Frenchman Olivier Assayas to take this for, if nothing else, the most written screenplay of this festival. NON-FICTION is 107 minutes of ideas embedded in wall-to-wall, slightly anxiety-inducing dialogues. It’s not my favorite type of film to watch but it certainly has the smarts and charms for days. Wouldn’t be mad if it triumphs here.
Will win: Willem Dafoe (AT ETERNITY’S GATE)
Should win: Matthias Schoenaerts (CLOSE ENEMIES)
General consensus on Lido is that Dafoe wins this, and I agree that’s a very likely scenario. He is very good as the tortured visionary Van Gogh. Having said that, I can’t help but suspect Del Toro & Co. would want to give this to someone less obvious (i.e. not the lead of Oscar-pedigree biopics).
And this year they wouldn’t even have to look very hard to find alternatives. The French police thriller CLOSE ENEMIES is a terrific genre picture with traces of INFERNAL AFFAIRS (and by extension the Hollywood remake / Oscar winner THE DEPARTED) and features a charismatic, heartbreaking star turn from Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts. Too bad Hollywood still hasn’t quite figured out what to do with this brilliant born leading man. In a world without genre-bias, he would rightfully deserve this.
Also, while he doesn’t compete on equal ground because of the limited screen time, I’d be thrilled if the jury would consider Jeff Goldblum in THE MOUNTAIN. That man is, simply put, a treasure.
Another strong possibility is to give this to the male ensemble cast of THE SISTERS BROTHERS (Phoenix, Reilly, Gyllenhaal and Ahmed). These guys are individually superb and collectively even better. It would be that rare instance whether giving an acting award to a group of actors wouldn’t be a gimmick but a truly sensible decision. I’m only betting against it because…
Will win: Olivia Colman / the female ensemble (THE FAVOURITE)
Should win: Olivia Colman (THE FAVOURITE)
The “group thing” is even likelier to happen with the girls. THE FAVOURITE, a crazy proposition made possible and relatable by its sensational trio of actresses, is the classic example where an award to all three of Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz would be more than justified.
Personally I’d still prefer to see single winners and would say Colman stands out just slightly above her wonderful partners, although it’s really hard to separate their individual contributions to the film’s marvelous portrayal of a twisted royal affair.
Threats to the crowning of the FAVOURITE girls come in the form of Natalie Portman (VOX LUX, in her second face-off with Stone in this category after the latter won for LA LA LAND two years ago against JACKIE) and possibly even Aisling Franciosi, if the jury falls for THE NIGHTINGALE in a big way.
Will win: Shinya Tsukamoto (KILLING)
Should win: Brady Corbet (VOX LUX)
Really going out on a limb here considering the number of higher-profile candidates there is. Anyone from Julian Schnabel (AT ETERNITY’S GATE), Yorgos Lanthimos (THE FAVOURITE), Luca Guadagnino (SUSPIRIA) and the aforementioned Audiard could easily win this. But again I have the suspicion that Del Toro, being the director’s director, would go for a less obvious choice here.
Japanese samurai slasher KILLING is not only the last competition film to screen but, at 80 minutes, by far the shortest. As an impassionedly envisioned, stylishly executed homage to Japanese cinema of yore, it could light the fire of die-hard cinephiles like Del Toro. Obviously the film hasn’t received nearly as much attention as just about every other film in competition, but for that same reason I’d watch out for an upset.
Alternatively I could just as well see a win by Brady Corbet or even Rick Alverson for his hugely underrated fantasy drama THE MOUNTAIN.
Special Jury Prize
Will win: THE SISTERS BROTHERS
Should win: THE SISTERS BROTHERS
I wouldn’t be surprised if the second runner-up goes to any of the titles previously mentioned and would even add Italian director Roberto Minervini’s hybrid documentary WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE WORLD’S ON FIRE? to the list. The film is a bit shaky narratively speaking but showcases brutal truths about American racial politics and couldn’t be timelier in the Trump era.
If THE SISTERS BROTHERS doesn’t win best actor, though, I reckon they’d have to make it up some place else.
Grand Jury Prize
Will win: VOX LUX
Should win: THE FAVOURITE
Again, this could go to any of the aforementioned titles. But if Portman doesn’t win best actress and Corbet loses best director, it could mean this unusual and hauntingly beautiful film is taking home some major hardware.
Will win: ROMA
Should win: ROMA
Strangely enough, in a year with such a strong lineup, I can’t really quite picture anything else beating Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA for the top prize. It’s simply that good. Yes, yes, they’re amigos and favoritism always smells bad, but you know what, that just isn’t good enough a reason for me to deny a magnificent, devastating achievement like ROMA.
An unlikely upset scenario I’m putting out here mostly to jinx it is for Hungarian director / Oscar winner László Nemes (SON OF SAUL) to win this for his sophomore effort that literally nobody understood. Yes, SUNSET is beautiful to look at and features the same kind of virtuoso direction from the Holocaust drama that shocked the world. But it is also way too obscure in its communication of meaning to merit recognition on this level. To me it’s an all-or-nothing type of film and my fear is it would take only one person on the jury to declare it a masterpiece for everyone else to go from nay to yay.
Finally, I just want to point out that we all have blind spots. Last year I did not see THE SHAPE OF WATER winning anything from Annette Bening’s jury and we all know how that turned out. This year that same blind spot might be FIRST MAN. In any case, we shall know how my crazy hunches pan out soon enough.
The winners at the 75th Venice Film Festival will be announced tomorrow Sep. 8th.