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Every year, the announcement of the first wave of Toronto Film Festival inclusions takes some of the guesswork out of the Venice Film Festival lineup announcement a few days later. And so it was this year: thanks to those telltale "North American premiere" tags, we knew that such films as Stephen Frears's "Philomena," Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin," Kelly Reichardt's "Night Moves," David Gordon Green's "Joe," Peter Landesman's "Parkland" and John Curran's "Tracks" would be having their world premieres on the Lido -- all of those titles, as it turns out, in competition for the Golden Lion.
In case you were worried, however, that Toronto's announcement would somewhat steal the Italians' thunder, Venice director Alberto Barbera had plenty of surprises still up his sleeve when he unveiled the lineup this morning for the festival's 70th edition -- a crowded, high-profile selection befitting such an auspicious anniversary.
Among the titles appearing at Venice but not (yet) confirmed for Toronto are: Terry Gilliam's "The Zero Theorem," an oddball computer-hacker drama starring Christoph Waltz, Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton; Hayao Miyazaki's "The Wind Rises," in which the Oscar-winning animation master takes on the world of WWII fighter planes; and James Franco's "Child of God," which finds the restless actor-director returning just months after his Cannes-premiered "As I Lay Dying" for a story of Tennessee cave-dweller. All three will also vie for the Lion -- yep, Franco has finally broken through to Competition level.
Also currently exclusive to Venice -- though one expects they'll be added to the Toronto lineup in due course -- are a pair of biographical documentaries from American heavyweights of the form. Errol Morris's self-explanatory "The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld" will unspool in Competition. Alex Gibney, hot off his WikiLeaks doc "We Steal Secrets," will unveil his eagerly awaited Lance Armstrong study, "The Armstrong Lie," out of competition.
Venice also gets first dibs on a pair of tasty prospects for horror buffs: the Ti West-Eli Roth collaboration "The Sacrament," starring Amy Seimetz and Joe Swanberg, and Greg McLean's "Wolf Creek 2," a sequel to the grisly 2004 cult item from Down Under (and my favorite pure horror film of the last decade or so).
World cinema fans, meanwhile, can look forward to the latest from French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, "Tom at the Farm" -- his first film to premiere outside Cannes, and one that is surely headed to Toronto. It will play in Competition alongside works from more senior international auteurs, including Amos Gitai's "Ana Arabia," Tsai Ming-Liang's "Stray Dogs," Philippe Garrel's "La Jalousie" and local son Gianni Amelio's "L'intrepido."
South Korean provocateur Kim Ki-duk, who won last year's Golden Lion under contentious circumstances for "Pieta," is back already with "Moebius," already banned in its home country for scenes of sex and self-castration -- but somewhat surprisingly, he's out of competition this time. Make of that what you will. Another Asian iconoclast who has been demoted from Competition status is Japanese cult favorite Sion Sono, whose new film "Why Don't You Play in Hell?" is among the higher-profile entries in the Horizons sidebar (Venice's answer to Un Certain Regard).
Other films to look out for there include the aforementioned "The Sacrament," Lukas Moodysson's Toronto-bound "We Are the Best!," French fashion designer Agnes B.'s "Je M'Appelle Hmmm...," Uberto Pasolini's "Still Life," starring Eddie Marsan and "Downton Abbey"'s Joanne Froggatt and Gia Coppola's "Palo Alto" -- the directorial debut of Francis Ford Coppola's 25-year-old granddaughter, starring (and based on the short stories of) the ubiquitous James Franco. High-profile entries of the out-of-competition strand include Sang-il Lee's samurai remake of "Unforgiven," starring Ken Watanabe (which has Kris curious), and Steven Knight's "Locke," a British thriller starring Tom Hardy and Olivia Colman.
Obviously, however, most of the attention will go to the Competition lineup, a 20-film selection in which, as we've come to expect from Venice's unpredictable programming, international arthouse royalty sits alongside American indie princes (and princesses) and a few genuine wild cards. Cannes would be unlikely to select, say, John Curran --an Australian desert odyssey starring Mia Wasikowka and Adam Driver -- for its top tier; at Venice, it fits right in. Dolan's been angling for a Competition berth at Cannes for a while now, but it's typical that Venice would beat them to it.
And while the Cannes Competition can have something of a members' club feel to it, with favored auteurs returning year after year, only nine of this year's Golden Lion hopefuls have been invited before -- among them Amelio, Garrel, Gilliam, Gitai, Miyazaki, Reichardt and Tsai. (Only one has actually won the prize: that'd be local son Amelio, who took it for "Cosi ridevano" in 1998.) Frears is back for the first time since "The Queen" in 2006 -- Helen Mirren kicked off her Oscar trail with a Best Actress win on the Lido, and Judi Dench will be hoping to do the same for "Philomena."
Finally, another British director is making perhaps the festival's most curiously awaited return: Jonathan Glazer hasn't made a feature since his stunning "Birth" (one of my top 10 films of the previous decade) polarized Venice audiences in 2004. Nine years later, he's back with "Under the Skin," an adaptation of Michel Faber's very dark sci-fi novel, starring Scarlett Johansson as an earth-stalking alien in human form. It's my most anticipated film of the fest (and, indeed, of the year), but there's plenty else in this lineup to get excited about.
Check out the full lineup on the next page.
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