“Let me see if I can pronounce this name correctly…” Guillermo Del Toro said with a twinkle in his wise, wise eyes before announcing this year’s winner of the Golden Lion. It’s a lovely moment in cinematic history that capped off a tremendous edition of the world’s oldest film festival, a moment that film fans everywhere would likely remember always.
But let’s start from the beginning and check out what else the jury, with as many as five Academy members on it (if I’m not mistaken, both Sylvia Chang and Taika Waititi have been invited, ditto Watts, Waltz and of course Del Toro), liked.
Best Young Performer: Baykali Ganambarr (THE NIGHTINGALE)
Ok I got the film right but still completely missed this particular prize. Though in my defense I’d say few people saw this coming. Ganambarr plays a very sympathetic character and serves as the conscience in a brutally savage film, which might have given him an edge. However, strictly on its own terms, this performance didn’t deliver nearly the same level of impact, for me, as those from some other young performers, including the film’s female lead Aisling Franciosi. A choice that is not immediately convincing.
Best Screenplay: THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
My feelings wavered when there was a mixed reaction to the film on the Lido. Some people were calling it a “minor” Coens, repeated enough to become facile. It might not rank among their best but the truth is those guys are so good at this they don’t need to top themselves each time to deliver something awesome. And Scruggs, while not exactly a home-run, proudly carries the Coens’ trademark mix of macabre humor and casually profound insights. The result is a highly enjoyable ride with many unpredictable turns.
Best Actor: Willem Dafoe (AT ETERNITY’S GATE)
Here I went with the safe bet and got it right. Dafoe would not have been my personal pick but I wonder if he’s been good for so long that I’ve started to take him for granted. AT ETERNITY’S GATE is a poetic, somewhat austere film that requires considerable work from the viewer but keeps growing on you afterwards. While I’m not sure if it’s going to be an Oscar player, it should have no problem finding plenty of critical love.
Best Actress: Olivia Colman (THE FAVOURITE)
It is SO satisfying when the “right” person gets the right prize! There’s no doubt in my mind that Colman delivered the best, most layered female performance of the festival. It’s a culmination of what we’ve seen her do in such brilliant, vastly different films as TYRANNOSAUR and THE LOBSTER, and it is just splendid. To recognize the female ensemble of this film together would have also made sense but Colman deserves this just as well. Make no mistake, she’s so going for that Oscar.
Best Director: Jacques Audiard (THE SISTERS BROTHERS)
Very well deserved. THE SISTERS BROTHERS was the biggest surprise for me this year in Venice. The way it keeps changing pace and tone is breathtaking and hugely entertaining to watch. Under Audiard’s direction, the expertly constructed screenplay (which probably competed at a disadvantage for being an adapted one) came to life aided by an ace ensemble cast and a superb crew. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it reminds me of THREE BILLBOARD last year. It has that similar potential to become an unexpected crowdpleaser which could go a long way.
Special Jury Prize: THE NIGHTINGALE
You can certainly feel a groundswell of support for this revenge thriller with a message, but it just never quite did it for me. That’s exactly the “blind spot” I was referring to yesterday. But wow, not one but two prizes! Congratulations to Jennifer Kent, the only female director in this year’s competition lineup.
Grand Jury Prize: THE FAVOURITE
I would have given my runner-up prize to THE FAVOURITE as well but honestly did not expect the jury to give out multiple prizes to the same film. It suggests a very passionate jury that really loves what they love. While I don’t agree with some of their choices, this mindset is fab.
Golden Lion: ROMA
Okay, I’m not crying, you’re crying. What a beautiful, beautiful moment. ROMA is a movie you fall in love with and it’s so rare for that film you love to be seen as what it is. Del Toro did the festival a great service by shouldering whatever criticisms that might come his way for giving the top prize to his friend WHO HAPPENED TO ALSO HAVE MADE A MAGNIFICENT MOVIE. As for its Oscar chances, obviously ROMA is not the same animal as THE SHAPE OF WATER, but Netflix would still be crazy not to go all out on this.
Well, this concludes my second year of Venice coverage for AD. All love to Sasha, Ryan and Jazz. And all you who bothered to check in. Ciao!