Venice films
Photograph: Time Out

12 films you need to know about at this year’s Venice Film Festival

Are Bradley Cooper’s ‘Maestro’ or Sofia Coppola’s ‘Priscilla’ en route to the Oscars?

Phil de Semlyen
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With the SAG strike still on this year’s Venice Film Festival may be shorn of its usual consignment of absurdly glam A-listers, swooshing around in those swanky speedboats and patrolling its historic red carpet, but the show is absolutely still going on. This year all that gran belleza is coming from the movies themselves, with a stellar line-up showcasing the latest offerings from the world’s most thrilling filmmakers – and while we’ll all miss the chance to get forensic over a Don’t Worry Darling-style PR farrago, it’s exciting to let the movies themselves do the talking. Especially with new work from the likes of David Fincher, Yorgos Lanthimos, Sofia Coppola, Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Wes Anderson on the slate.

We’ve assembled ten buzzy films to look out for and promise to keep chat about Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose to a minimum. 

1. Maestro

Okay, we fibbed about the prosthetic nose chat. Bradley Cooper’s decision to go full The Hours in his embodiment of great American composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein has overshadowed his film so far (and the actor-screenwriter-director is probably secretly glad the SAG strike is deprives him of a whole press conference on the subject), so it’s worth stressing that Maestro is shaping up to be a serious piece of art: a romance about Bernstein’s love affair with his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) rendered with painterly elegance. Will it catapult from Venice to the Oscars?

  • Film
  • Thrillers

It’s a big year at Venice for people who wear suspicious disguises and are adroit at termination services. For something a shade or two darker than Richard Linklater’s Hit Man look out for David Fincher’s adaptation of Matz and Luc Jacamon’s graphic novel, a thriller that’s likely to be shot through with moments of lacerating violence and soul-searching. Michael Fassbender has been missing from our screenings for a while, but he’s back in action as The Killer’s, well, killer – while Fincher’s Seven collaborator Andrew Kevin Walker is on scripting duties.

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3. The Theory of Everything

That’s right, another movie called The Theory of Everything, only this one has nothing to do with Stephen Hawking. It does, however, involve a physicist, who travels to a science convention in the Alps in the early ‘60s and ends up embroiled in a murder mystery alongside an enigmatic jazz pianist. Shot in black-and-white by German director-cinematographer Timm Kröger, it has all the elements of a delectable throwback noir – with possible metaphysical elements thrown in. 

4. Priscilla

We’ve all seen Elvis, now it’s time for Mrs Elvis… or more precisely, the story of Priscilla Presley, a young woman finding her voice behind the gates of Graceland. Sofia Coppola brings her wit, style and pop-culture savvy to a coming-of-age story she’s likened to Marie Antoinette. Pacific Rim Uprisings Cailee Spaeny plays Priscilla, while Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi follows in Austin Butler’s outsized footsteps to play The King.

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5. Evil Does Not Exist

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car combined Chekhov and Haruki Murakami with deep grace and humanity, and single-handedly made Saabs cool again. The Japanese filmmaker’s latest is an ecologically-minded drama that began life as a 30-minute short but gradually morphed into a feature-length opus. It follows single dad Takumo and his young daughter Hana as they lead tranquil lives in the outskirts of Tokyo that are thrown into turmoil by a new glamping site that brings eco chaos in its wake. 

6. Poor Things

Greek new wave legend Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite, The Lobster) delivers what could be Venice’s hottest ticket, a film that sees him turning James Whale with a Frankenstein-ish story of resurrection and emancipation. It’s a surrealist sci-fi based on Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel that stars Emma Stone as a volatile Victorian woman whose brain is replaced by that of an unborn child when she drowns herself to escape her abusive husband. Willem Dafoe is the scientist who resurrects her and Mark Ruffalo is the sleazy lawyer who soon spirits her away.

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7. Ferrari

Precision engineered to the nth degree, Michael Mann’s work has a fair bit in common with the subject matter in Ferrari, the American director’s twelfth feature film. Two decades in the making, Mann’s super-stylish biopic of Enzo Ferrari sees Adam Driver suiting up for a role once earmarked for Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale respectively, with Penélope Cruz playing the ex-Formula 1 driver’s wife, Laura, and Shailene Woodley co-starring as his mistress, Lina Lardi. It’s all set in one stormy summer in 1957 with Enzo down at heel but salvation beckoning in the form of a death-or-glory 1000-mile race across Italy, the Mille Miglia. 

8. Society of the Snow

Frank Marshall’s 1993 thriller Alive told the story of the 1972 Andrean plane crash, in which a Uruguayan rugby team was forced into desperate measures to survive at high altitude, in chewy, hard-to-dislodge detail. Now it’s JA Bayona’s turn to have us all wondering if we’d eat our best pal and fellow front-rower in similar circumstances with a Netflix thriller that should showcase The Impossible director’s knack for gritty survival fare. If you’ve seen Yellowjackets, you’ll know what to expect: steady nerves and a strong stomach.

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9. Hoard

Any film fest worth its salt will throw up a good handful of buzzy new names. At Venice, hotly-tipped Brit Luna Carmoon is a strong candidate for that breakthrough: Hoard, her debut, is a south east London-set mum-and-daughter tale that spans the 1980s and ’90s, and stars Hayley Squires, Stranger Things’ Joseph Quinn, Mona Lisa’s Cathy Tyson and newcomer Saura Lightfoot Leon. The film’s synopsis promises ‘trauma, magic and madness’ – and we’re here for all three.

10. Hit Man

If you never had Before Sunrise’s Richard Linklater down as a guy for an assassin flick, the laconic Texan’s latest should set you straight. The early word is that he’s delivered something special: an action-comedy about a cop who poses as a hitman in Houston that’s based on a ‘Texas Monthly’ magazine article. Glen Powell, recently Hangman in Top Gun: Maverick, gets to prove that he’s good (very good) in a bona fide lead role as the undercover cop, while Andor’s Adria Arjona is the abused woman who brings out his noble side.

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11. Origin

After taking a brief Disney detour with A Wrinkle in Time, Ava DuVernay’s returns to historically-informed sociopolitical dramas with Origin. And she’ll make a bit of history in the process, becoming the first African-American woman to compete for Venice’s Golden Lion. Using journalist Isabel Wilkerson’s 2020 book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent as a framework, DuVernay examines the unofficial ‘caste system’ that divides American society. The exact plot is unknown, but with a cast including If Beale Street Could Talk’s Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga and Nick Offerman, it looks like an attention-grabber.

12. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

If there’s one Wes Anderson film that both his critics and cultists can meet in the middle on, it’s probably his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr Fox. So huzzah for both camps, as the director is going back to the Dahl well – if only for 40 minutes. In this take on the author’s 1977 short story, Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the titular Mr Sugar, a wealthy man who develops the talent to see without using his eyes, which he puts to use in the most obvious way: cheating at gambling. This is one Venice film we’ll all be able to see very soon: it’ll be on Netflix on September 7.

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