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8 Must-Watch Films at the Venice International Film Festival

From riveting true stories and biopic passion projects to a sci-fi fantasy and an adaptation of a graphic novel crime thriller, here are the most buzzworthy titles of the festival.

by | September 5, 2023 | Comments


The latest edition of the Venice International Film Festival, the longest-running festival in Europe, will kick off early next week. Although many anticipated that this would be the year that the festival would return to form, unforeseen headwinds courtesy of the dual writers’ and actors’ strikes in Hollywood have forced it to adapt yet again. Though Venice is known for its glitzy red carpets and fashion-infused after-parties, this year will be less of a star-studded affair, as many actors are unable to cross the picket lines to promote their work. Some productions, like Michael Mann’s Ferrari biopic starring Adam Driver, have been granted waivers for their members to participate in the film festival.

As Oscar-winner Viola Davis made news for refusing to participate in a film with such waivers, word has not come down yet if Driver or the rest of the Ferrari cast will be in attendance to promote the film. Produced by Neon, Ferrari, along with a number of A24 projects and a host of other films, is able to invite its talent to participate in the festival because the producers have already signed an agreement for all the SAG provisions without objection. This frees up productions like Luc Besson’s DogMan starring Caleb Landry Jones and a handful of others to have their stars on hand to promote the films and snap those iconic motorboat pics. It is still within the prerogative of each individual actor as to whether or not they wish to show up, and as of the time of writing, it is yet to be seen exactly who ventures over to the Italian isle.

Many of the fall festivals are playing a bit of a guessing game after recent rumbles that SAG and WGA strikes are ending soon, but as none of that looks to be happening before Venice, TIFF, and possibly NYFF finish their respective runs, most are expected to be a decidedly ‘star-lite’ affair. Even if they are, we’ll be on hand at all three fests to see all of the upcoming Oscar hopefuls and judge their potential for end-of-year awards. Venice, which has made considerable strides in recent years to restate its claim as the premier film festival for early September, will have the lion’s share of talent and glamor if the strikes allow. Filmmakers Wes Anderson, Ava DuVernay, Michael Mann, and Richard Linklater will all motorboat over to glamorous Venice crowds and into arguably the most impressive festival line-up of the season.

With an interesting mix of established auteurs and avant-garde filmmakers, the Italian fete can boast the likes of Harmony Korine and Yorgos Lanthimos, premiering against new features from Mann and Sofia Coppola. With such an impressive lineup, you would be hard-pressed to decide what you want to watch first, so we’ve singled out a few must-watch titles.

Read on for our nine must-watch films set to premiere at the Venice International Film Festival.

73% Ferrari (2023)

Would it be a biopic if we weren’t already salivating over slick photos at this point in the awards landscape? It’d be hard to say, and much has already been said about Adam Driver stepping into his most significant biopic to date. After an already impressive performance opposite Lady Gaga in House of Gucci, we get to see Driver take on one of the most dynamic names in the history of automotive sports, namely the iconic leader and founder of Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari. Driver stars alongside some A-list names that are no strangers to the F1 racetrack, such as amateur racecar drivers Patrick Dempsey and Jack O’Connell, joined by Big Little Lies star Shailene Woodley and Oscar nominee Penelope Cruz.

Acquired by Neon, the film has secured the ability for stars to show up on the red carpet, but no word yet whether or not Woodley, Cruz, or the rest of the ensemble will be seen riding up the canals of Venice. Directed by Michael Mann in his first film since 2015’s Blackhat, Ferrari sees the crime-minded filmmaker apply his skills to the deconstruction of Ferrari from his early days to the inception of F1 racing and the company’s storied automotive history. This is one to keep an eye on for fashionistas and F1 fans alike. Both the look and feel of Ferrari will definitely have us yearning to get in the driver’s seat, especially if it can lead to another Oscar nomination for the aptly named Driver.

82% Origin (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of the Venice Film Festival)

After the disappointing reception of her 2018 adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, Ava DuVernay returns to her indie roots with her latest effort, Origin, starring Aunjanue Ellis. Based on a Pulitzer prize-winning book that examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human division, Origin will be an original story that draws heavily from the nonfiction work. It may reach the heights of another recently dramatized nonfiction adaption, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. Ellis, fresh off her first Oscar nomination for 2021’s King Richard, is joined by her co-star on that film, Jon Bernthal, who is rumored to play a love interest to Ellis’s character, and her When They See Us co-star Niecy Nash. In addition, DuVernay boasts an impressive cast of Emmy- and Tony-winners, including Vera Farmiga, Nick Offerman, Audra McDonald, and Jasmine Cephas Jones, and we are more than a bit intrigued by how the narrative will unfold, given the sociopolitical commentary it will undoubtedly inspire.

85% The Killer (2023)

Nearly 25 years since the last time he graced the Venice red carpet for 1999’s Fight Club, David Fincher returns to Italy with a new adaptation of The Killer, the famed French graphic novel by Alexis Nolent. Fincher first signed on to direct the film nearly 15 years ago, but will bring back old collaborators as he reteams with his Seven scriptwriter Andrew Kevin Walker. Michael Fassbender plays the nameless lead role with Tilda Swinton co-starring and frequent composing collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross along for the orchestrations of this taught crime thriller. This is a definite must-see for noir aficionados, but as a member of the AMPTP, Netflix will have its red-carpet affair sans its star. Still, the power of Fincher’s name recognition and the internationally acclaimed IP should be enough to garner plenty of buzz.

94% The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (2023)

A bittersweet must-watch to be sure, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial is shaping up to be one of the hardest tickets of the festival to procure, given the tragic and untimely death of its director, William Friedkin. This is literally the last time a new work of his will grace the red carpet of the Venice Film Festival, so the beloved director’s tragic passing adds an undistinguishable cloud above the festivities. Although we expect the cast, which includes Oppenheimer standout Jason Clarke, Keifer Sutherland, and Jake Lacy, will do their best to honor the director in any way they can, most will be elbowing in their way into the premiere just to step into this tragically historic moment. The film is further marked by tragedy as this will be one of the last roles of John Wick actor Lance Reddick on screen.

The film, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning two-act play, follows the events leading up to the mutiny on a U.S. Naval ship and the aftermath of a court marshal for all of those aboard. The taut courtroom drama centers on a naval officer who stands trial for the mutiny after taking command of the ship from a captain he believed was acting in a dangerous way. It’s one of several legal procedurals we think will be a part of the awards conversation later this year, and all eyes will be on it to see what The French Connection helmer’s last feature has in store.

97% Hit Man (2023)

One of our relatively lighter offerings in Venice is Hit Man, the Texas-sized action comedy courtesy of Richard Linklater starring Texas native Glen Powell. Based on a Texas Monthly magazine article by famed journalist Skip Hollandsworth, Hitman, details a real-life Houston police officer’s undercover work as a reliable killer for hire until a series of events makes him the only person who can save a desperate woman in need. The award-winning source material takes readers through the suburbs of Texas all the way down to cartel-controlled Mexico. Also starring Adria Arjona and Retta, this is another film that will premiere at Venice on its way to the Toronto International Film Festival, and it could be another potential Oscar vehicle for Powell, who has already dazzled critics in two would-be contenders, Hidden Figures, and the Korean War biopic Devotion.

92% Poor Things (2023)

Yorgos Lanthimos returns to the Venice Film Festival with his latest, starring Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo. We’re hoping this is the one that finally ushers him to an Oscar win after he did the same for Olivia Colman in 2019’s The Favourite. Following rapturous reviews for his films The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and the aforementioned The Favourite, all eyes are on this next effort, which is brimming with star power and prestige. The outlandish tale chronicles a young woman who is brought back to life by a mad scientist, and it serves as a macabre re-imagining of the Frankenstein story with all of the clever touches and arresting visuals that we’ve come to associate with Lanthimos and his instantly identifiable brand of dry, cutting, oftentimes brutal comedy. And yes, we can’t wait to see it. Another entry that has been granted waivers through the SAG and WGA interim agreements this is “the big one” we’re eyeing to see who will show up on the red carpet next week. Either way, we will be the first ones to let you know who shows up, the critical/audience reception, and its Oscar chances as soon as the curtain bows.

78% Maestro (2023)

Next up, we have arguably the most talked-about nose since Nicole Kidman donned one for her Oscar-winning performance in The Hours. Bradley Cooper’s biopic of Leonard Bernstein’s life would always be controversial, but many have been wary since the first look photos were released. Though it was crafted with the express permission and approval of the Bernstein family, the accompanying press and social media backlash for Cooper’s choice, as a non-Jewish actor, to wear prominent prosthetics has already made national news; though the Anti-Jewish Defense League and the Bernstein estate have pushed back. All we can say at this point is that the premiere will likely be difficult to secure, even without the writer-director and stars in attendance.

Let us hope that the performance and the love that Cooper put into this portrayal will shine through any critique. This is a longtime passion project for The Hangover star, who beat out the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal for the rights to play Bernstein on screen shortly before his recent award-winning work on A Star is Born. A Bernstein obsessive and aficionado, Cooper is expected to delve deep into the composer’s less publicized chapters, namely his sexuality and his longtime partnership with his wife Felicia Montealegre, played by Carey Mulligan.

84% Priscilla (2023)

After the incredible run of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis last year, it’s no wonder that we would see an adaptation told through the eyes of his most famous paramour, Priscilla Presley. Sofia Coppola, who has minted her brand as a champion of female-forward cinema, is likely attempting to give Priscilla the Maria Antoinette treatment — another tale of a guileless young girl in a world full of calculating men. Upon closer examination, the story of the girl who won the heart of the most eligible bachelor in America is one part fairytale, one part nightmare.

Based on the 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, this adaptation will differ dramatically from Elvis, however, as the film is being executed without the permission or acquiescence of the Elvis estate, which her granddaughter, actress Riley Keough, now controls. That said, Pricilla Presley herself was intimately involved in this production, selecting Coppola as the director to bring her side of the Elvis love story to the screen. Cailee Spaeny stars in the film as Presley, and one of the internet’s main obsessions, Jacob Elordi, plays the King of Rock and Roll. Regardless of the reception, Priscilla will be a film that will interest the fashion girlies. If Coppola can weave the magic she managed to spin back in 2006 for the aforementioned French queen with a penchant for pastry, we might see Oscar gold in the future. Or, similar to that colorful feature, it could also prove to be nothing more than wishful thinking.

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