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After a long summer of box office-shattering blockbusters, cinema’s prestige season fires its opening salvo from the beaches of Venice this week. Like its little sister Cannes, Venice mixes European glamour with a strong dose of Hollywood glitz for an Oscar-caliber cocktail: Last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman began its triumphant run on Venice’s Lido, and this year there’s no shortage of well-pedigreed films vying for the spotlight here. But if you happen to be in the City of Bridges this weekend, how should you choose what to see? We have a few suggestions.

Black Mass
Infamous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger hasn’t lacked for screen time; and Jack Nicholson set a high bar with his Bulger-inspired performance in The Departed. But if anyone can give Jack a run for his money, it would be Johnny Depp, especially in the hands of Crazy Heart’s Scott Cooper. If you can’t get into this hotly anticipated film, don’t worry—it will premiere stateside on September 18th.

Beasts of No Nation
Vying for the title of most anticipated movie of the season is Cary Fukunaga’s latest film Beasts of No Nation, a harrowing look at an African child soldier’s descent into hell. From Sin Nombre to True Detective’s lauded first season, Fukunaga has made his mark as maybe the leading director of his generation. Armed with Idris Elba as a brutal warlord, it looks like Fukunaga’s notched another blistering hit onto his belt.

Blood of My Blood
You can’t travel all the way to Venice without catching the latest offering from an Italian master; fortunately legendary director Marco Bellochio has you covered. Bellochio made his reputation with a filmography that defies simple categorization and Blood of My Blood might be his strangest film yet: a tale of interlocking narratives that jumps from a 17th century monastery to the present day, mixing witchcraft, vampirism, and the Inquisition.

Acclaimed indie director Tom McCarthy may have stumbled a little with the poorly received Adam Sandler film The Cobbler, but he’s returned to top form with this searing look at the Boston Globes’ investigation into the decades-long cover up of child molestation by the Catholic Church. And the cast is a true jaw-dropper: Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, Mark Ruffalo, Billy Crudup, and John Slattery, led by Michael Keaton who looks to make another run at the Oscar he was denied for Birdman.

The Danish Girl
Keaton may find he faces stiff competition yet again from the same person who denied him the Best Actor Oscar last year: Eddie Redmayne. Tapping the zeitgeist, The King’s Speech’s Tom Hooper directs this true story of Denmark’s Einar Wegenar, one of the first individuals to undergo sexual reassignment surgery, transforming into the film’s eponymous heroine Lili Elbe.

3D and IMAX aren’t just for summer blockbusters anymore. Baltasar Kormakur’s chilling survival tale of two expeditions up the slopes of the world’s tallest mountain apparently makes heart-stopping use of both techniques. But allegedly even more impressive is the performance by Jason Clarke (of Zero Dark Thirty fame), which has already unleashed an avalanche of Oscar buzz for the charismatic Australian actor.

Drake Doremus made his name as a Sundance darling with the hipster comedy Douchebag and the Grand Jury prize-winning romance Like Crazy. Venice finds him shifting gears slightly with this science fiction film that stars Kristen Stewart and Nicolas Hoult as an illustrator and writer in a future society that has eliminated all emotion. They catch a mysterious disease that makes them feel again. Might that disease be called love? Hmm…

It’s been almost seven years since Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman made his directing debut with Synecdoche, New York, and frankly, the world of cinema has suffered for a lack of his eclectic, sui generis storytelling. This film, co-directed by Duke Johnson, should more than make up for the wait. Made with Kickstarter funds, Anomolisa follows a man through an existential crisis told through the eccentric beauty of stop-motion animation.

A Bigger Splash
Italian ultra-stylist Luca Guadagnino conquered the American art house with his luxe family drama I Am Love, featuring a meticulously composed Tilda Swinton as an adulterous Milanese matriarch. His latest film A Bigger Splash reunites him with Swinton and Matthias Schoenarts, playing a famous rock star/filmmaker couple whose sun-dappled Mediterranean vacation takes a dark turn with the arrival of an old friend and his daughter, played by Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson.

The Wait
Not even the highest caliber film festival would be complete without the prospect of discovering some fresh new talent. One candidate would appear to be first time feature director Piero Messina, a protégé of La Grande Bellezza’s Paolo Sorrentino. The trailer for his film L’atesa features a promising abundance of atmosphere highlighted by the reigning grand dame of French cinema, Juliet Binoche, as a mother who unexpectedly encounters her son’s fiancée at a Sicilian villa.


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