When it comes to the launch of a successful Oscar campaign, Hollywood awards publicists now have one man's name on speed dial: Alberto Barbera.
The Venice Film Fest topper has proved the lucky charm for Oscar hopefuls. After coming back to Venice in 2011 (he previously topped the fest from 1999 to 2002), Barbera has successfully transformed the world's oldest film festival into a prime platform for awards season contenders. Barbera is five for five the past five years, with a film premiering on the Lido winning either best picture and/or best director: Gravity, Birdman, Spotlight, La La Land, and The Shape of Water.
For its 75th edition, which kicks off Aug. 29, Venice is doubling down on its Oscar-winning streak, with a lineup jam-packed with studio and independent films hoping their road to awards glory starts in Italy. Last year's Golden Lion winner Guillermo del Toro will headline the jury this year. Other jury members include Naomi Watts, Christoph Waltz, Taika Waititi, Sylvia Chang, Paolo Genovese, Trine Dyrholm, Nicole Garcia and Malgorzata Szumowska.
Barbera took the stage at a press conference Wednesday to unveil the full lineup.
The festival previously said it would open with Academy favorite Damien Chazelle's First Man. The Neil Armstrong biopic starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy is already a clear Oscar favorite and a super-safe bet to kick off the festivities in Venice given the star power attached.
Alfonso Cuaron's highly anticipated ROMA is another international premiere with formidable Oscar cred. Cuaron again pushes himself as a filmmaker in the sweeping, autobiographically inspired, black-and-white story set during 1970s Mexico. Venice has certainly been a good-luck charm for Mexican filmmakers in recent years: Cuaron triumphed on the Lido with Gravity, as did his fellow countrymen Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman) and Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water).
Fresh off the awards season success of Call Me by Your Name, Italian director Luca Guadagnino will debut his remake of Dario Argento's groundbreaking horror film Suspiria, starring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton. Although early footage had viewers walking out, and the Academy usually scoffs at the horror genre, if anyone could bridge the gap it would be Guadagnino.
The Coen Brothers will in Venice debut their upcoming Netflix film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a western anthology following six different storylines. It marks their first-ever project shot digitally.
Julian Schnabel’s new biopic, At Eternity’s Gate, with Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh will also screen in Venice and is rumored to already have Oscar potential. Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend and Mads Mikkelsen co-star.
And Jacques Audiard will bring The Sisters Brothers to the Lido, about a pair of assassins (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) who chase a gold prospector in 1850s Oregon. Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed also star.
Among international films in competition, Paul Greengrass' 22 July details the 2011 right-wing terrorist attack that killed 77 people in Norway.
Mario Martone’s Capri Revolution tells the story of the commune of European artists in 1914 on the island off the coast of Naples while Italy is on the verge of war.
And Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes will premiere Sunset, about a girl growing up in Budapest before World War I. This is his second feature after winning the best foreign-language Oscar for 2015's Son of Saul.
Mike Leigh will bring Peterloo to Venice, which details the 1819 massacre where troops attacked a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Manchester, England.
And Bradley Cooper's directorial debut co-starring Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born, premiering out of competition, could be the one to break the Star curse: the feature is generating strong buzz and has already been placed on many pundits' early lists as a possible best picture contender.
While other European festivals are struggling to attract A-List talent, Venice is looking to firm up its position as a full-fledged part of the Oscar publicity machine. The festival announced del Toro as head of the international jury just weeks before the Mexican helmer won best picture for The Shape of Water at this year's Oscars. And Venice often highlights its Oscar cred in all official announcements, including wins in technical categories.
Most of the studio pictures that start on the Lido will also make their way to Toronto and Telluride, where the majority of North American journalists will watch them (Venice is still one of the most expensive festivals to attend). But in terms of buzz, few events can compete with Venice.
With more than 2,000 international journalists attending, Venice also offers a one-stop junket shop for films kicking off a global marketing campaign. Every title is guaranteed Venice's glamorous boat-arrival shots that put Toronto's or Telluride's red carpets to shame. Even the smaller premieres provide plenty of marketing oomph without the stress of Cannes or Berlin.
Jonathan Rutter, director of film at Premier Communications, who handled the launches of The Shape of Water and Three Billboards last year, believes the Lido is the best place for a film to first meet an audience, "because the focus in Venice is on the films themselves, the festival tends to attract a better calibre of cine-literate journalist. Most of the key international outlets are in attendance, so if you are getting five-star reviews they quickly register globally. At the same time, it feels like there is less inclination than in Cannes to crucify something."
But this publicity spotlight also comes with risks, particularly for edgier films, which find Venice's critics, and the accompanying Twitter film mafia, can make or break a film within hours of its festival premiere. The lukewarm reaction to Mother! last year prompted Darren Aronofsky to turn defensive and overexplain his horror melodrama during the press conference. The film, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Ed Harris, failed to pick up steam stateside. The Academy snubbed Mother!, though the film did pick up three Razzie nominations.
Rutter givers Barbera most of the credit for the success of the festival in recent years. "I think Alberto Barbera has done a great job of nurturing relationships with the studios and sales companies and choosing films that the press and industry are genuinely excited about," he says. "He is also very visible during the festival."
This year the films selected will be well prepped in advance with their talking points well planned for an awards campaign rollout. Publicists will advise stars to lay the groundwork to shape their Oscar campaigns over the long awards season and hopefully coach them to avoid burnout.
Barbera remains future-focused with the festival. While Cannes continues to squabble with Netflix, Venice was the first fest to invite the streamer into its competition. Venice was also the first major festival to invest heavily in a VR competition and now hosts a dedicated VR island coinciding with the main festival to showcase directors attempting to make art from the technology.
Special screenings include the eagerly awaited debut of HBO's series My Brilliant Friend, based on the best-selling Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. Detailing the close relationship of two women over their lifetime, the books captured the imaginations of readers all over the world. Hungry Hearts directer Saverio Costanzo helmed the series.
And Netflix will bring Orson Welles' final unfinished film, The Other Side of the Wind, to Venice.
In other jury news, Athina Tsangari will serve as president of the Horizons jury, Ramin Bahrani will chair the jury for the Lion of the Future, and Susanne Bier will head up the 2nd annual VR jury.
And in celebration of the festival's 75th anniversary, the beloved Hotel des Bains will reopen temporarily for an exclusive photography exhibition celebrating Venice's cinema history.
The 75th Venice Film Festival runs Aug. 29-Sept. 8. Check out the full lineup below.
First Man, Damien Chazelle (Opening Film)
The Mountain, Rick Alverson
Doubles Vies, Olivier Assayas
The Sisters Brothers, Jacques Audiard
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Vox Lux, Brady Corbet
Roma, Alfonso Cuaron
22 July, Paul Greengrass
Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino
Opera Senza Autore, Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck
The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent
The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos
Peterloo, Mike Leigh
Capri-Revolution, Mario Martone
What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire? Roberto Minervini
Sunset, Laszlo Nemes
Freres Ennemis, David Oelhoffen
Nuestro Tiempo, Carlos Reygadas
At Eternity's Gate, Julian Schnabel
Acusada, Gonzalo Tobal
Killing, Shinya Tsukamoto
OUT OF COMPETITION SPECIAL EVENTS
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
The Other Side of the Wind, Orson Welles
They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, Morgan Neville
OUT OF COMPETITION FICTION
Dragged Across Concrete, S. Craig Zahler
Una Storia Senza Nome, Roberto Ando
Les Estivants, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper
Mi Obra Maestra, Gaston Duprat
A Tramway in Jerusalem, Amos Gitai
Un Peuple et Son Roi, Pierre Schoeller
La Quietud, Pablo Trapero
Shadow, Zhang Yimou
OUT OF COMPETITION NONFICTION
A Letter to a Friend in Gaza, Amos Gitai
Aquarela, Victor Kossakovsky
El Pepe, Una Vida Suprema, Emir Kusturica
Process, Sergei Loznitsa
Carmine Street Guitars, Ron Mann
Isis, Tomorrow. The Lost Souls of Mosul., Francesca Mannocchi, Alessio Romenzi
American Dharma, Errol Morris
Introduzione All’Oscuro, Gaston Solnicki
Your Face, Tsai Ming-Liang
1938 Diversi, Giorgi Treves
Monrovia, Indiana, Frederick Wiseman
Una Storia Senza Nome, Roberto Ando
Les Estivants, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
Sulla Mia Pelle, Alessio Cremonini (Opening Film)
Manta Ray, Phuttiphong Aroonpheng
Soni, Ivan Ayr
The River, Emir Baigazin
La Noche de 12 Anos, Alvaro Brechner
Deslembro, Flavia Castro
The Announcement, Mahmut Fazil Coskun
Un Giorno All'Improvviso, Ciro D'Emilio
Charlie Says, Mary Harron
Amanda, Mikhael Hers
The Day I Lost My Shadow, Soudade Kaadan
L'Enkas, Sarah Marx
The Man Who Surprised Everyone, Natasha Merkulova, Aleksey Chupov
Memories of My Body, Garin Nugroho
As I Lay Dying, Mostafa Sayyari
La Profezia Dell'Armadillo, Emanuele Scaringi
Stripped, Yaron Shani
Jinpa, Pema Tseden
Tel Aviv on Fire, Sameh Zoabi