The Venice Film Festival has announced 23 of the two dozen films to screen in competition at the 66th edition beginning Sept. 2. The final pick will be unveiled on Sept. 5. These 24 pics will contend for the coveted Golden Lion with the winner to be announced at the festival's conclusion on Sept. 12. Last year's champ was "The Wrestler," which earned Oscar nods for Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei. Among the films in the running for the top prize at the Venice Film Festival this year are four each from Italy and France, four from around Asia, two from the Middle East as well as the following five from the USA.
Leading off the American contenders is the new Michael Moore documentary "Capitalism: A Love Story." Moore won the 2002 feature documentary Oscar for "Bowling for Columbine" and contended two years ago for "Sicko." In 2004, "Fahrenheit 9/11" bowed out of the doc race to vie for one of the five best picture slots to no avail. With the number of nominees for best picture doubled this year to 10, could there be a place for a well-received documentary about such a timely subject?
Also in contention is "The Road," the much-delayed film version of the bleak 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy ("No Country for Old Men"). The post-apocalyptic drama – adapted by Oliver-winning playwright Joe Penhall ("Blue/Orange") and directed by John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") – stars Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen ("Eastern Promises") as a father who takes to the road with his son (newcomer Kodi Smith-McPhee) following the loss of his wife. She is seen only in flashbacks and played by Oscar winner Charlize Theron ("Monster").
Werner Herzog helms "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" which draws on certain elements from the 1992 cult classic "Bad Lieutenant." Oscar winner Nicolas Cage ("Leaving Las Vegas") stars as a drug-addicted detective working both sides of the law in a post-Katrina New Orleans. Herzog contended for the Golden Lion in 1991 for "Cerro Torre" and was an Oscar nominee last year for his feature documentary "Encounters at the End of the World."
Five years after vying for the top prize at Venice with "Palindromes," writer-director Todd Soldonz returns with "Life During Wartime." The ensemble picture, set against the backdrop of war, features such notable names as Allison Janney and Ciaran Hinds.
And fashion designer Tom Ford makes his directorial debut with "A Single Man" starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. The Gucci guru also worked on the adaptation of the acclaimed 1964 Charles Isherwood novel about a gay Englishman working in Los Angeles and dealing with the death of his longtime lover.
The only Golden Lion winner to compete as a best picture nominee at the Oscars in the past decade was "Brokeback Mountain" in 2005. Deciding the top choice at Venice this year will be a jury headed up by that film's Oscar-winning director Ang Lee. Lee also won the Golden Lion in 2007 for "Lust, Caution." Also on the jury are French actress Sandra Bonnaire, star of the 1985 Golden Lion winner "Vagabond" and 1995 best actress champ for "La Ceremonie," as well as a trio of directors – Italian Liliani Cavani, American Joe Dante and Indian Anurag Kashyap – and Italian singer-songwriter Luciano Ligabue.
For the full list of films unspooling at the film festival, visit the official website.
Photo: Overture Films