Though Sundance debuted last year’s Academy Award best-picture winner, “CODA,” and Cannes can be counted on to launch major international films like “Parasite” and “Drive My Car,” when it comes to the real kickoff for Oscar season — the mad crush of prestige films, A-list cocktail parties and awards-show buzz that churns all fall and winter — it’s the Venice Film Festival that fires the starting pistol.
On Wednesday, as stars begin to land on the Lido (and Hollywood’s Aperol Spritz consumption increases tenfold), Venice’s 79th edition will officially get underway, and a jury led by Julianne Moore will begin watching some of the most anticipated films of the year. During the week and a half that Venice is in progress, major film festivals in Telluride and Toronto will commence, too; by the time these three fests are over, nearly every prestige film meant to bow in late 2022 will have been screened.
Venice can certainly be counted on to provide its fair share of memorable, meme-able moments: When Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain nuzzled on a Venice red carpet last year, or Lady Gaga perched atop a speedboat styled like a retro siren, those images ricocheted around the world because of the romantic, old-world glamour Venice delivers. (It’s no wonder that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez chose Venice to make their public debut as a couple last year.) Still, its real value is as an awards-season launchpad where best-picture winners like “Nomadland,” “The Shape of Water” and “Birdman” first found their footing.
The festival’s opening-night movie is the dark comedy “White Noise,” which stars Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig and was adapted from the Don DeLillo novel by the writer-director Noah Baumbach, whose previous film, “Marriage Story,” scored a best-picture nomination and a supporting-actress Oscar win for Laura Dern. But Baumbach is far from the only auteur on the Lido this year to have directed a performer to Oscar glory.
Darren Aronofsky, who opened Venice in 2010 with his feverish Natalie Portman thriller “Black Swan,” will be back with “The Whale,” starring Brendan Fraser as an obese man attempting to reconnect with his teenage daughter. There’s also “The Banshees of Inisherin,” starring Colin Farrell, the writer-director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the Oscar-laureled “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, who scored back-to-back best-director wins for “The Revenant” and “Birdman,” is returning to Venice with the mystical drama “Bardo.” And after director Florian Zeller pushed Anthony Hopkins to a best-actor win for “The Father,” pundits will be eager to take the measure of Hugh Jackman in Zeller’s latest family drama, “The Son.”
This year’s Venice lineup is also filled with major female-led films, and since Penélope Cruz won the Volpi Cup for best actress at Venice last year — a victory that pushed her “Parallel Mothers” performance into Oscar’s final-five — the Lido could provide an auspicious debut for several of the actresses expected to attend.
Among those anticipated films are “Tar,” which casts Cate Blanchett as a conductor facing controversy; Netflix’s drama “Blonde,” featuring Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe; Luca Guadagnino’s “Bones and All,” with “Waves” breakout Taylor Russell in a cannibal romance with Timothée Chalamet; and the Tilda Swinton vehicle “The Eternal Daughter.”
And then there’s the thriller “Don’t Worry Darling,” which has already been earning headlines for director Olivia Wilde’s romance with star Harry Styles, a casting controversy involving Shia LaBeouf — Wilde said he was fired from the film, while LaBeouf claimed he quit — and the notably minimal press participation of lead Florence Pugh, who is rumored to be limiting her Venice promotion to a red-carpet appearance at the film’s premiere. After Venice, will Wilde’s worries cease or multiply? We’ll know soon.