20th Century FoxBrad Pitt in ‘Ad Astra’

2:12 AM PDT 7/25/2019 by Ariston Anderson

The world’s oldest film festival will once again debut a slew of buzz-worthy titles on the Lido.

The Venice Film Festival, the world’s oldest film fest, on Thursday unveiled the lineup for its 76th edition in Rome. That means awards season has officially kicked off in full swing as a new slate of Oscar hopefuls plan on launching their campaigns in Italy beginning in August. 

Jury head Lucrecia Martel will lead a jury of international film names to bestow top prizes: the Golden Lion for best film, the Grand Special Jury Prize, the Silver Lion for best director, the Special Jury Prize, the Volpi Cup for best actor and actress, the best screenplay honor and the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor or actress. Other jury members include Piers Handling, Jennifer Kent, Stacy Martin, Rodrigo Prieto, Tsukamoto Shinya and Paolo Virzi.

While the lineup doesn’t feature the type of award shoo-ins like last year’s festival, which included RomaThe Favourite and A Star Is Born, there will be plenty of stars making their way to the Lido. Actors with films in the festival include Kristen Stewart, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Robert Pattinson, Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Luke Wilson, Ruth Negga, Gong Li, Joel Edgerton and Timothee Chalamet.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth, starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ludivine Sagnier and Ethan Hawke, will open the festival. The film, the director’s follow-up to his Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters, is a reflection on the relationship between a mother and a daughter, as well as on the art of acting. 

Pitt stars in James Gray’s Ad Astra, another astronaut flick following the Venice debuts of Gravityand First Man. Pitt plays Roy McBride, a man who ventures into the edge of the solar system in search of his long-lost father (Tommy Lee Jones) as well as to solve a mystery that threatens the survival of the human species back on Earth.

Netflix will have a solid lineup once again in Venice this year after scoring big in 2018 when Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma took home the Golden Lion and the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggswon best screenplay honors.

Noah Baumbach’s Netflix film Marriage Story explores a continuous divorce and child custody battle between two artists who are intent on living on opposite coasts. (Cue the Kramer vs. Kramercomparisons.) It stars Driver, Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta and Merritt Wever. Interestingly, Marriage Story is expected to be the only film to hit the trifecta of fall festivals: Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

Also from Netflix, Steven Soderbergh’s uber-timely Panama Papers comedy The Laundromat follows Streep as Ellen Martin, whose dream vacation takes a wrong turn and leads her down a rabbit hole of shady dealings that can all be traced to one Panama City law firm, run by seductive partners played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas. She soon learns that her minor predicament is only a drop in the bucket of millions of files linking an offshore tax scheme to the world’s richest and most powerful political leaders. The all-star cast also includes Jeffrey Wright, David Schwimmer, Larry Wilmore, Matthias Schoenaerts, James Cromwell and Sharon Stone.  

Directors who have been ostracized in a post-#MeToo Hollywood can find welcome arms in Venice. Roman Polanski’s new film An Officer and a Spy will have a red carpet premiere at the fest.

Polanski has recently filed a court case to restore his membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Along with Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, the Academy revoked Polanski’s membership following a rewrite of their standards of conduct and new accusations of sexual assault against the director. Polanski already has one Golden Lion, a lifetime achievement award from the festival in 1993.

After facing backlash for an almost all-male lineup in recent years, the good news is that Venice has doubled the number of female directors in competition. The bad news is that wasn’t too hard to do, going from one distaff helmer to two out of 21 competition films.

Director Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first woman to shoot a film in Saudi Arabia, will bow The Perfect Candidate. And newcomer Shannon Murphy will premiere Babyteeth, about a sick young girl who falls in love with a drug dealer.

Women in Film, TV & Media Italy and Dissenso Comune will host a panel at the festival on gender equality to discuss the percentage of women and minority filmmakers who applied to Venice this year. The fest agreed to make numbers public after signing onto the Charter for Parity & Inclusion last year. 

Other films competing for the Golden Lion include Pablo Larrain’s Ema, previous Golden Lion-winner Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness, Yonfan’s No. 7 Cherry Lane and Olivier Assayas’ Wasp Network.

Surprisingly, this will be the first time in recent years that Fox Searchlight won’t be in the Venice competition, choosing to debut Taika Waititi’s highly anticipated Jojo Rabbit in Toronto instead. Fox Searchlight and Venice have been an awards powerhouse together, boasting an incredible Oscar track record for films including The FavouriteThe Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. And Waititi served on the Venice jury just last year.

Venice is once again debuting buzz-worthy new TV series. Paolo Sorrentino will premiere two episodes from The New Pope, a production of Sky Studios, HBO and CANAL+ and starring Jude Law and John Malkovich. Sorrentino debuted the series precursor, The Young Pope, in Venice in 2016.

Stefano Sollima follows his widely popular Gomorrah the Series with ZeroZeroZero, also based on a book by Roberto Saviano. The show, produced for Sky Studios, CANAL+ and Amazon, follows the violence and power struggle inherent in the world’s most distributed drug: cocaine. 

Among several great documentary titles in the lineup, Alex Gibney will debut Citizen K; Tim Robbins is premiering 45 Seconds of Laughter; and Elisa Amoruso is unveiling her fashion influencer extraordinaire documentary, Chiara Ferragni – Unposted.

As previously announced, Giuseppe Capotondi’s art thriller The Burnt Orange Heresy, starring Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Donald Sutherland and Mick Jagger, will close the festival in a special out-of-competition screening.

With Martel, four out of five jury presidents will be women. The Horizons competition jury will be led by Susanna Nicchiarelli, with members including Mark Adams, Rachid Bouchareb, Mary Harron and Eva Sangiorgi. Laurie Anderson will chair the Venice Virtual Reality competition, with Francesco Carrozzini and Alysha Naples. Costanza Quatriglio will judge the Venice Classics competition. And Emir Kusturica will chair the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film with Antonietta De Lillo, Hend Sabry and Michael J. Werner. 

Julie Andrews and Pedro Almodovar with be honored with the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement in acting and directing, respectively.

Venice will also be back with its VR section, debuting 36 new projects from around the globe that explore the latest advances in VR technology and storytelling. 

The 76th Venice Film Festival is set to run Aug. 28-Sept. 7.