Venice Film Festival 2016: When It Starts and What to Watch Out For

The 73rd annual festival features a slew of high-profile films, including La La Land, The Magnificent Seven and Mel Gibson's directorial comeback, Hacksaw Ridge

Photo: Lionsgate

A whimsical musical. A Hollywood heavyweight’s big comeback. An alien civilization’s earthly arrival.

The 73rd Venice Film Festival is shaping up to be a wide-ranging mix of offerings, as Hollywood and global cinema’s power players descend on the world’s oldest film festival in search of an audience, acclaim and awards momentum.

This years’ festival takes place from Aug. 31 to Sept. 10, bringing enough shimmering star wattage to amp up the festival’s high-profile lineup. It kicks off with the opening-night film, the Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone-headlined musical La La Land, and will also feature Mel Gibson‘s directorial return Hacksaw Ridge, the star-studded remake of The Magnificent Seven and the Amy Adams sci-fi thriller Arrival.

The festival, which announced last week that it was canceling its opening-night gala in solidarity with the victims of the earthquake that struck central Italy, is also set to fire the starting pistol in the run-up to this year’s awards derby. It’s got bragging rights: The Venice Film Festival has been a hotbed for incubating future Oscar nominees and winners.

It has produced the last two Best Picture champs – Spotlight and Birdman – as well as calibrated the awards-season trajectories of films like Gravity, Black Swan, The Queen, Brokeback Mountain and then-underdog The Hurt Locker, which would end up taking home the Oscars’ top prize in 2010.

This year’s fest offers no shortage of buzzworthy hopefuls.

La La Land gives frequent costars Gosling and Stone the chance to show off their considerable vocal chops (he did, after all, get his start with The Mickey Mouse Club, and Stone hoofed it up on Broadway in 2014 in Cabaret) in this tale of a jazz musician and his actress girlfriend trying to make it big in Hollywood. The film has already snagged the attention of awards pundits: Director Damien Chazelle’s last film, Whiplash, scored an Oscar nod for Best Picture in 2015.

Another pair of high-profile costars, meanwhile, light up The Light Between Oceans. Real-life couple Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender famously met on the set of the period drama, about a lighthouse keeper and his wife in World War I-era Australia who raise a baby girl as their own after she washes ashore in a boat.

After a 10-year hiatus from behind the camera, Mel Gibson makes his comeback as a director with Hacksaw Ridge, which tells the story of World War II army medic
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. It’s the Oscar-winning helmer’s first directorial effort since 2006’s Apocalypto.

Natalie Portman is no stranger to Venice – her march to a Best Actress Oscar victory as Black Swan‘s tormented ballerina began at the festival in 2010 – and this year she returns in an equally eye-catching role: as the iconic former first lady in the biopic Jackie, no less. Expect the film, which offered a seven-minute sneak peek at Cannes in May, to position the actress for a berth among this year’s best actress contenders.

Amy Adams does double duty at Venice this year, starring in two very different films. In Arrival, she plays a gifted linguist attempting to make contact with, and decipher, an alien race that has landed en masse on earth.

Meanwhile, in Nocturnal Animals, she appears – opposite Jake Gyllenhaal – as an art-gallery owner haunted by her former marriage, and an alarming manuscript her ex-husband has written. The noir drama is fashion designer-turned-director Tom Ford’s follow-up to his stylish feature-film debut, 2009’s A Single Man.

Veteran filmmakers also factor into the mix: Festival-circuit darling Terrence Malick brings auteur firepower to Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, an ambitious documentary 30 years in the making that – in a typical Malick-ian excursion of existentialism and exposition – tackles the birth, past and future of the cosmos. It’s narrated by Cate Blanchett.

The festival does, however, offer some levity – there’s the Western romp The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 shoot-’em-up classic, this time starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke as gunslingers protecting a town from vicious raiders.

Not all the films being exhibited at the festival are expected to unfurl on the big screen, though: Venice will also offer a glimpse at the first two episodes of The Young Pope, HBO’s 10-part series chronicling the fictional Pius XIII – the first American pope in history, according to this revisionist take – with Jude Law donning the ivory robe of the pontiff.

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