Venice Film Festival: The Winners & Losers of 2016

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The 2016 Venice Film Festival is over—and what a surprise it was. From musicals to four-hour dramas winning top prizes to Jude Law as the Pope, it has seriously shaped next year’s Academy Awards ceremony—if only to reinforce what we already predicted.

La Biennale di Venezia, however, may end up being known for what happened before trophies were distributed. After a screening of Mel Gibson’s new film was rapturously received, the festival has turned the Oscar-winning former superstar back into a potentially Oscar-winning superstar director.

Gibson was among the true “winners” of the festival, which include actual winners Emma Stone and Tom Ford, as well as the empty-handed yet perceived Oscar frontrunners Natalie Portman and Damien Chazelle and, strangely enough, one Leo Tolstoy. The losers are arguably Terrence Malick, whose apparently obtuse Voyage of Time was said to recall the sleep-inducing aspects of 2001, and Jude Law, who stars in the potentially controversial new series The Young Pope for Sky TV.

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Let’s break them all down, shall we?

La La Land. Although the buzz appeared to wear off, allowing another film to sweep in and claim the Golden Lion award (The Woman Who Left, a reportedly 226-minute drama based on a Tolstoy story that leaves with the same lack of Oscar buzz it started with), La La Land still managed to nab a Best Actress prize for Emma Stone

Chazelle’s indie romance, starring Stone and Ryan Gosling, certainly suffers from a bizarrely uninformative marketing campaign, in which no indication is given that this is, in fact, a musical. Perhaps that’s to avoid committing commercial seppuku, which would be understandable, but once it inevitably picks up the Golden Globe for Musical/Comedy, it’ll be tough to hide that fact.

Amy Adams in Tom Ford's 'Nocturnal Animals'
Amy Adams in Tom Ford’s ‘Nocturnal Animals’

Nocturnal Animals. Director Tom Ford’s thriller came in second place in balloting, although it pulled out enough votes to earn Ford (yes, that Tom Ford) the directing prize.

Focus Features now has the opportunity to push the entire project into Oscar frontrunner status, potentially nabbing awards for Michael Shannon (finally), Amy Adams (finally) and Jake Gyllenhaal (ugh, fine). Nocturnal Animals will be released the Friday before Thanksgiving, which should perfectly position it for awards season.

 

Hacksaw Ridge. Although this Mel Gibson-directed WWII movie (is there any other kind of film being made these days?) failed to nab any of the festival’s honors, it did steal the majority of the headlines. The real story of the 2016 Venice Film Festival, it seems, will be Mel Gibson’s comeback.

From the interview in which he justifiably called Batman v Superman “a piece of shit” to the 10-minute standing ovation Hacksaw Ridge received, the controversial actor/filmmaker may have finally forged a path to full-scale box office and critical acceptance. (It helps that another controversy, the one involving Nate Parker and Birth of a Nation, has been dominating industry headlines.) The inspiring drama, about Army Medic Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who nonetheless “saw” action in the Second World War, is set for a November 4 release date and, with the feel-good story of Gibson’s rehabilitation headed for every media outlet in the country, expect huge buzz this fall for Hacksaw Ridge.

Natalie Portman in 'Jackie'
Natalie Portman in ‘Jackie’

Jackie. Darren Aronofsky is back in the Oscar hunt as the producer of this Jackie Kennedy biopic, which stars Natalie Portman as the titular First Lady—or, as the story begins, the former First Lady, still reeling from JFK’s assassination. Her loss to Emma Stone in the Best Actress category is a surprise, as early reviews indicate she’s almost a lock to take home her second Oscar.

The film has a curious background, actually. The original production began in 2010, with Rachel Weisz (picture her as Jackie O and you can tell she would be perfect in the role) and Aronofsky attached, then as the director. When the married pair split, production was abandoned, only later starting up again with Pablo Larraín and his Chilean team taking over. With Portman attached, the production again moved its base and filming was completed in her home city of Paris. The point being: this seems ripe for a Golden Globes sweep.

 

Voyage of Time. Terrence Malick left audiences sharply divided with his 2011 “narrative” feature The Tree of Life, which may have soured them entirely on his comeback. Voyage of Time seems to have doubled down on the obtuseness, with Malick describing the IMAX documentary as “one of my greatest dreams.” Uh oh.

Overshadowed by the Nick Cave doc One More Time With Feeling, Voyage lost out on the awards and is probably the only film starring Cate Blanchett (she’s the unseen narrator) not to be an Oscar frontrunner in the past fifteen years.

Jude Law stars in 'The Young Pope'
Jude Law stars in ‘The Young Pope’

The Young Pope. With a stellar cast, including Diane Keaton and James Cromwell, this Jude Law-led TV series, scheduled to air on Sky in the UK before its 2017 premiere on HBO, should have been a buzzy property coming out of Venice.

In fact, it is buzzed-about but will it be enough to keep the momentum alive stateside between now and its February 2017 premiere in the US? Law’s performance has actually been widely praised, although in its four-star review, the Guardian called the series “strange” and hoped later episodes (two were screened) were more addictive. Charisma News dubbed the title character a “jezebelic Antichrist” and Variety suggested the antihero Pope character would inspire a massive Vatican-led backlash. In any case, Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to The Great Beauty is bound to be the most interesting TV drama of 2017… which is still a long ways away.

 

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