VENEZIA 76: PICKS AND PREDICTIONS

It’s a warm day on the Lido – 23 degrees and not a cloud in the air. From where I’m sitting on the 6th floor of the Sala Casino, looking out of the vast bay windows, the sky almost seamlessly meets the sea. A subtle progression in deep blue is the only thing that lets us know we’re not floating in mid-air or out in the distant ocean.

It’s quiet here – has been quiet for some time. The boats are empty, the streets are subdued, the press room is only half full. The people that orbit around me feel less like tangible humans and more like ghosts – presences that drift around this strange island and never leave. My news feed blasts excited reactions from TIFF, which started two days ago – Venice has been forgotten. It feels as if I’ve only just got here, but also that I’ve been here for months.

In just a few hours, we will know the In Competition results of Venezia 76 – results which will have a huge bearing on what films get international distribution and, more importantly, which will enter the awards conversation early. Currently, the red carpet is being blocked by what appears to be a pro-immigration protest – although it’s hard to tell because everything’s in Italian. Nobody cares enough on the Lido at the moment to pay any attention, and the swarms of police vans swarming the area suggest that it’ll all be over soon. As usual, a small crowd of autograph-seekers sits under umbrellas in front of the barriers – they look the opposite way.

If you haven’t done it yourself, this is always how it feels at the end of a film festival: exhausted, incredulous that it’s still going on. Venice this year has had a top-heavy competition (presumably to steer well clear of TIFF) that has meant the past week has been devoid of the sort of excitement that was brought by Joker, Ad Astra, Marriage Story, and Ema in the opening days. Those days feel a lifetime ago and the main course, it has to be said, has felt a little disappointing.

This year’s jury, unlike those of previous editions, lacks a major Hollywood presence likely to pick bigger American films from the lineup. This makes predicting the outcome of tonight hard, but I’m going to do so based on the word of mouth and critical response I’ve been hearing on the Lido over these past weeks. So, without further ado, here are my picks for what should win at Venezia 76, and my predictions for what probably will.

Golden Lion

The biggest award available is, of course, the Golden Lion – the prize for the best film at the festival. This year, we gave three films a perfect 5/5 score – Todd Phillips’ Joker, Pablo Larraín’s Ema, and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. Although this year’s jury is headed by Lucrecia Martel, whose cinematic sensibilities chime most with Ema, the only two films to receive unanimous adoration at the Lido have been Joker and Marriage Story, so the likelihood is that the Golden Lion will go to one of those.

In our opinion, Joker is the better film of the two (just), but the all-round perfection of Marriage Story and the fact that it’s not a comic book movie make it a much more likely win for best film. Either film deserves the prize.

A possible curveball could come in the form of Polanski’s mediocre J’Accuse, which has been mostly dismissed by international critics but adored by Italian and French writers – which means it comes top of the CIAK critics grid at the festival. It’s unlikely that this particular jury will award the controversial director the top prize for nothing more than a historical biopic, but anything is possible.

Pick: Joker

Prediction: Marriage Story

Silver Lion – Grand Jury Prize

The next award is essentially the ‘second best’ title of the festival. It’s likely that this will go to Joker (or Marriage Story, if Joker receives the Golden Lion). It’s impossible to overstate how clearly the mood is in favour of those two films being the best of the festival, and so it’s likely that they’ll take the top two awards. That said, in our opinion the second-best film of Venezia 76 was Pablo Larraín’s incredibly inventive, challenging Ema which debuted to wildly mixed reviews earlier in the festival. It’s a long shot, but there’s a chance that the jury will decide to honour Larraín and one of the few experimental features in the competition this year.

Pick: Ema

Prediction: Joker

Silver Lion – Prize for Best Direction

This is honestly pretty difficult to call. There’s a chance that Polanski might enter the frame for this more formalistic award – although he surely doesn’t deserve it. James Gray, who has been an underappreciated presence in the industry for years now, may see some success for his work on Ad Astra, which was very well received at the start of the festival. It’s also possible that Lou Ye could win for his fantastic Saturday Fiction, although that particular film was not well received by critics (sadly). For us, Saturday Fiction should be the recipient of this prize, given that the jury tends to award these main prizes to its favourite four films – Saturday Fiction is our fourth favourite competition film of Venice, and undoubtedly one of the most impeccably directed.

Pick: Lou Ye, Saturday Fiction

Prediction: James Gray, Ad Astra

Best Screenplay

Once again, I struggle to think of better, sharper writing in Venezia 76 than Marriage Story and Joker. There’s a potential for Kore-Eda’s The Truth to get a nod here, but that probably wouldn’t be the right decision. Still, Kore-Eda is a major presence, and there’s a chance that the jury will look fondly on an optimistic opening film with the hindsight of a rather dreary, uninspiring final week on the Lido. There are also whispers that Ad Astra is in the conversation, but for us the only flaw of that particular film was the hackneyed script, so direction would be the best way to honour James Gray (if that’s what the jury wants to do).

Pick: Marriage Story

Prediction: The Truth

Volpi Cup for Best Actor

There are only really two performances that could win this – Adam Driver for his role in Marriage Story, and Joaquin Phoenix for Joker. Although Driver blew everyone’s minds with his dramatic prowess right at the start of the festival, Phoenix’s brutally physical performance, and his ownership of the whole film (Driver is only ½ of Marriage Story) are likely to tip it in his favour.

Mark Rylance’s fantastic work in Waiting for the Barbarians may also enter the conversation, although the muted reception to that particular film may prevent it from winning anything this year.

Pick: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Prediction: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Volpi Cup for Best Actress

It’s a bit tougher to call this one than it is for the men. Mariana Di Girolamo is firmly in the sights of critics for her breakout role in Ema – a performance that would be a perfect fit for the award. But it’s likely that many will call for Scarlett Johansson to scoop the prize for Marriage Story. It is also possible that Catherine Deneuve will enter the conversation for The Truth, although in this critics opinion that would be more of a ‘legacy award’ than a true reflection of the quality of the performance.

Pick: Mariana Di Girolamo, Ema

Prediction: Mariana Di Girolamo, Ema

Special Jury Prize

This is another tough call. Although Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird received almost unanimously negative reviews, there’s a chance that it’s artistic sensibilities, beautiful cinematography and excellent central performance will gain it the Special Jury Prize – which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Given the slightly disappointing response to Waiting for the Barbarians, it’s possible that the jury could award the Special Jury Prize to Ciro Guerra to celebrate the artistic merits and achievement of his film, without actually tossing him one of the bigger accolades. We can only hope that the jury doesn’t bow to Shannon Murphy’s atrocious, eye-rollingly mawkish Babyteeth, which managed to fool some critics earlier this week but hopefully won’t do the same with the judges. The fact that the film has a female director might also lend a hand in making the decision to award it.

Pick: Waiting for the Barbarians

Prediction: Babyteeth

So, there we have it. Our predictions and picks for the awards ceremony of Venezia 76. I hoped you enjoyed our coverage, and rest assured reviews are going to keep trickling out for the next couple of weeks – it’s been very busy here. It’s going to be quite a quiet month for London Student, but we’ll see you all at London Film Festival back in our hometown very soon! If you’d like to join our writing team for this, just ping me an email at jameswitherspoon22@yahoo.co.uk. We’d love to have you on board.

Until then, arrivederci – I need to sleep.


James is a postgraduate law student at LSE, and London Student's Chief Arts Editor/Film Editor. He wants you to know that Christopher Nolan is overrated.

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