There's a good argument to be made that the Venice Film Festival is the most prestigious in the world, and the line-up in 2016 is as exciting as that accolade would suggest. Half way through the festival, two movies starring Amy Adams have generated major buzz, alongside a musical, a war story from a controversial director, and various others with the potential to make box office waves in the coming months. Let's talk about six big movies that shook Venice so far — and why they should be on your list.
The Age Of Shadows
Korean director Kim Jee-woon is hardly a household name in the USA, but his gloriously brutal thriller I Saw The Devil is one of the great revenge movies of the 21st century, and his return from a 3-year hiatus can only be good news for fans of wildly eccentric foreign cinema. The Age of Shadows (locally titled Miljeong) is a 1920s-set spy drama that plays against a backdrop of political tensions in Japanese-occupied Korea.
Critics at Venice have lavished praise on Kim's stylish camerawork, with Variety describing the movie as an "unabashed delight," highlighting the thrilling train sequence as a truly superior action set piece. The Hollywood Reporter had some reservations about "limited" character development, but praised the train sequence as "a long, skillfully shot and edited affair in which the tension grows and grows." If you're wondering why the train is such a big deal, just consider that the Korean resistance headed to Seoul has smuggled a clutch of explosives on board, and you can probably piece together exactly where this is headed.
Metacritic score: N/A
Release date: September 23 in the US
It's fair to say 2016 has not been a vintage year for sci-fi, but fans of the genre finally have something to look forward to in the form of Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, in which linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is drafted in by the military to attempt to communicate with a mysterious alien race who have just landed 12 identical, cocoon-like vessels in various countries across the face of Earth. This is not a dumb blockbuster masquerading as sci-fi, but a serious, intelligent exploration of how the world might respond to visitors from a distant planet whose intentions are shrouded in mystery.
Villeneuve is a master at building tension, as those who saw last year's phenomenal Sicario will know, and The Playlist describes Arrival as an "ambitious" movie exploring "concepts so colossal they've rather obliterated most of the previous films that have attempted to grapple with them." Several critics drew thematic parallels with Interstellar, most noting that Arrival is the more successful movie. The Guardian calls it "dreamy, freaky ... heartfelt, and very entertaining," while The Telegraph's 5 star review highlights the scenes in which Louse makes visual contact with the aliens as "the best and creepiest scenes Villeneuve has yet shot." By all accounts, Adams knocks it out of the park with her low-key, emotive performance. Jeremy Renner and Forest Whittaker co-star.
Metacritic score: 78/100
Release date: November 11
You probably have strong feelings about the appeal of a movie directed by Mel Gibson, and you certainly won't be alone if you choose to pass on Hacksaw Ridge based purely on the man behind the camera. Give Ridge a chance, and you'll discover a war movie that skirts the expected by focusing on Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a front-line medic in Japan who stays behind when his battalion pulls out, rescuing 75 wounded men while completely defenseless, having chosen to eschew violent conflict by not carrying a gun, a grenade or anything else that might come in handy when being shot at by the enemy.
The Hollywood Reporter observes Gibson's "robust skill as a conductor of large-scale conflict," while heaping praise on leading man Garfield as the heart of the movie. The Guardian notes that Hacksaw Ridge contains several second-half action set pieces that could be among "the most violent or gruesome combat scenes" ever shot, suggesting the film could be the Hollywood redemption Gibson is looking for. Vince Vaughn, Rachel Griffiths and Hugo Weaving co-star.
Metacritic score: 68/100
Release date: November 4
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La La Land
It's been a long time since the musical dominated the box office, a trend Whiplash writer-director Damien Chazelle will be hoping to reverse with his long-time passion project La La Land (in the works for years, this film only got financed off the back of Whiplash's surprise success). Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling re-team to play an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist trying to balance love and professional success in Los Angeles, where dreams usually come at a price.
It's fair to say critics have been utterly blown away by La La Land, which currently has a perfect 100 on Rotten Tomatoes. Time call it the musical for people who hate musicals, hailing it as "an ambitious and risky piece of work" with "hypnotic" musical numbers (all original) and an "astonishing", gravity-defying dance sequence set in the Griffith Observatory (catch a glimpse of it in the trailer above). The Hollywood Reporter note that LA "has rarely looked this gorgeous on film," and that Stone is "simply a joy" as Mia, a young woman swimming against the odds in her desperation to make it as an actress. Whiplash may not have been for all tastes, but it sounds as if you'd be hard-pressed to make a case against this shimmering delight of a musical.
Metacritic score: 91/100
Release date: December 16
Remember when Tom Ford, the uber-successful fashion designer, turned his hand to filmmaking and casually produced A Single Man, one of the best films of 2009? It's been seven years, but the man who could is back with Nocturnal Animals, a multi-layered thriller that explores romance, ambition and revenge.
Amy Adams, who's having a Venice to die for this year, plays LA gallery owner Susan, whose second marriage is crumbling at the seams when, out of the blue, she receives a manuscript from her first husband, Edward, whose heart she broke two decades earlier. With her philandering banker husband Walker (Armie Hammer) out of town, Susan devours Edward's book (also called Nocturnal Animals, leading Susan to believe it must be about her, given her insomniac tendencies) over a series of nights, and the action in the book plays out in parallel strand.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays both the ex in question and Tony, the protagonist of the book, whose late-night road trip with his wife and young daughter goes horribly wrong when a thuggish stranger named Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) enters the equation. Variety's review hails the "hypnotizing intensity" and sheer "sexual terrorism" of Ford's dual narrative, describing the director as "a social observer who's a junkie for sensation and narrative." All reviews heap praise on Adams and Gyllenhaal as the emotional center of the movie. Michael Shannon, Peter Nyong'o, Isla Fisher, Jena Malone, Laura Linney and Michael Sheen round out the lavishly star-studded ensemble.
Metacritic score: 80/100
Release date: November 18
Tom Hanks has enjoyed quite the career rejuvenation these past couple of years, and that looks set to continue with Sully, the real-life story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who landed a US Airways flight in the Hudson river mere minutes after take-off in January 2009. Rather than a straight-up tale of heroism, director Clint Eastwood dives into Sullenberger's psyche, damaged by the events of that day and the possibility that the crash-landing may have been caused by human error (the film is adapted from the pilot's own autobiography).
Critics love Eastwood and Hanks, and that dream pairing has delivered the goods here. An enthusiastic Hollywood Reporter professes Sully a "taut, upbeat drama [likely] to play well with the general audience," reserving particular praise for the leading man, who "confidently carries" the movie — even if the supporting cast (Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney) have less to work with. The Wrap uses a neat aviation metaphor, noting that "Eastwood... is still a masterful pilot himself."
Metacritic score: 73/100
Release date: September 9
Will you be dancing to La La Land, biting your nails with Nocturnal Animals or greeting aliens in Arrival when these Venice favorites hit theaters?