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Venice 2013: Our 5 Favorite Films Of The Festival, Plus Our Complete Coverage

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist September 9, 2013 at 12:55PM

It's farewell for another year to mosquitos, vaporettos and incomprehensibly rude Italian film critics who insist on checking their email mid-screening, because the 70th Venice Film Festival wrapped up on Saturday. For a festival that had seen quite a few twists and turns, it felt appropriate that it ended with Bernardo Bertolucci pulling a few surprises, shunning the more lauded films in the line-up to bestow the Golden Lion on "Sacro GRA," the first Italian film to win the top prize in fifteen years and the first documentary to ever manage the feat.
1
Under The Skin

1. "Under The Skin"
It was almost inevitable that the film we loved best in Venice was the only one that we didn't have to officially review, our Telluride correspondent having already caught up with Jonathan Glazer's extraordinary "Under The Skin" by the time it was officially screened on the Lido. But we're glad that in this case, we didn't have to jump to an immediate reaction, because it's the kind of film that defies snap judgement. Initially, we knew we'd loved it, but still needed time to process, and over the next 24 hours, even as other films came and went, Glazer's film haunted us. In theory, it's tinged with sci-fi and horror, as Scarlett Johansson's sexual terminator stalks the streets of Glasgow, picking up the men who won't be missed and ... well, we wouldn't want to say too much. But in reality, it's something unclassifiable, a haunting, abstracted mind-bender that's not quite like anything you've ever seen before. As much as we enjoyed, say, "Philomena," "Under The Skin" is, like the rest of this top 5, pure cinema, seeming to exist not just on another level, but in an entirely different medium to something like Stephen Frears' crowdpleaser—driven by images and music, creating something hypnotic and unique. And yet there's substance behind the unique visuals, with Johansson giving a soulful and unexpected turn, hopefully banishing the skeptics forever. As the film ends, there's a strange melancholy, not just because of the direction the story's gone in, but because you wish more films were like it. If we have to wait another nine years for a new film from Glazer, it's going to be an unbearable wait. Read the Telluride review here, our piece from Venice here, and watch the teaser here.

Honorable Mentions: We had a tough time picking out only five, as there were certainly a good few contenders in the top tier of the festival that made compelling arguments for inclusion. Just missing out was Kelly Reichardt's thriller "Night Moves," a shift in direction for the "Meek's Cutoff" helmer that nevertheless couldn't have been made by any other director, and which showcases a career-best performance from Jesse Eisenberg (though it sounds like "The Double" will give this one some competition for that prize). When we saw Hayao Miyazaki's "The Wind Rises" the next day, we were unaware that the director was about to announce that it would be his final film, but even then, it felt like a fitting career summation; a very different, and highly personal piece of work delivered in traditionally gorgeous Ghibli-stylings.

If we have one major regret from the festival (other than being shut out of Miguel Gomes' new short film "Redemption," which we were told is terrific), it's that we feel we initially underrated Xavier Dolan's "Tom At The Farm." We tweeted not long after the screening that it was " an interesting failure," but after a few days to ponder, it seemed to become more satisfying in retrospect, and it lingered in the memory long after more immediately rewarding films. We look forward to a second viewing down the line. Meanwhile, the unexpected gem of the festival was "Locke," a showcase for the fine performance of Tom Hardy, and some assured direction by Steven Knight, who bounced back from middlingly received debut "Hummingbird" with a bold and compelling drama.

We also don't want you to get the impression from what we say above that we didn't like "Philomena"—funny, generous and unafraid to engage with difficult ideas, it's a cut above the kind of your-mum-will-like-it crowdpleaser it seems to be from a distance. On the very different end of the scale, Asian cinema delivered two bonkers and blood-splattered midnight movies with Kim Ki-duk's "Moebius" (a big step up from his Golden Lion-winning "Pieta") and Sion Sono's meta "Why Don't You Play In Hell." And David Gordon Green's "Joe" dissipated a bit in the memory, but is still one of the director's better films, and includes probably Nicolas Cage's best performance since "Adaptation."

Finally, you could probably go to Venice and see nothing but the restored films in the Classici strand and have an incredible time, but unfortunately, it's hard to justify spending too much time there when there are world premieres needing to be reviewed. But we did make time early on for the new restoration of William Friedkin's "Sorcerer," and were glad we did. The film's ultimately not quite up to "The Wages Of Fear," on which it's based, lacking the original's minimalist tension, but its pleasures are found elsewhere, with Friedkin's abstracted take on the terror of nature, Roy Scheider's stoic leading turn (perhaps second only to "All That Jazz" as the actor's best work), and Tangerine Dream's phenomenal score. It's a beautiful restoration too, the colors positively popping off the screen and making it look like it was made yesterday. As a tension-fuelled tale of survival against impossible odds, it made a neat comparison and counterpoint to "Gravity," which we saw earlier the same day—its done-for-real set pieces proving just as exciting as Alfonso Cuarón's digital fireworks.

Complete Coverage

"Under The Skin" [A]

"Gravity" [A]

"At Berkeley" [A]

"Miss Violence" [A-]

"Stray Dogs" [A-]

"Night Moves" [A-] (watch the first clip)

"The Wind Rises" [A-] (watch the trailer)

"Tom At The Farm" [B] (retroactively upgraded to at least a B+)

"Locke" [B+] (watch the first clip)

"Why Don't You Play In Hell?" [B+]

"Philomena" [B+] (watch the first clip)

"Joe" [B+]

"Moebius" [B]

"The Armstrong Lie" [B]

"Bethlehem" [B-] (watch the exclusive trailer)

"Palo Alto" [B-] (watch the trailer)

"Tracks" [B] (retroactively downgraded to B-) (watch the first clip)

"Unforgiven" [B-] (watch the trailer)

"The Zero Theorem [B-]

"The Sacrament [C+]

"The Police Officer's Wife" [C+]

"A Fuller Life" [C+]

"Sacro GRA" [C+]

"The Unknown Known" [C]

"Gerontophilia" [C]

"Ana Arabia" [C-]

"A Promise" [D+]

"Child Of God" [D] (watch the trailer)

"Parkland" [D-]

Awards:

Golden Lion for Best Film - "Sacro GRA"

Silver Lion for Best Director - Alexandros Avranas for "Miss Violence"

Grand Jury Prize - "Stray Dogs"

Coppa Volpi For Best Actor - Themis Panou for "Miss Violence"

Coppa Volpi for Best Actress - Elena Cotta for "Via Castellana Bandiera"

Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor/Actress - Tye Sheridan for "Joe"

Best Screenplay - Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope for "Philomena"

Special Jury Prize - "The Police Officer's Wife"

Lion Of The Future - Luigi De Laurentiis Award For A Debut Film - "White Shadow"

Orrizonti Award For Best Film - "Eastern Boys"

Orrizonti Award For Best Director - Uberto Pasolini for "Still Life"

Special Orrizonti Jury Prize - "Ruin"

Special Orrizonti Award For Innovative Content - "Mahi Va Gorbeh"

Orrizonti Award For Best Short Film - "Kush"

Venezia Classici Award For Best Documentary On Cinema - "Double Play: James Benning And Richard Linklater"

Venezia Classici Award For Best Restored Film: "La Proprieta Non E Piu Un Furto"

European Short Film 2013 - "Houses With Small Windows"

Golden Lion For Lifetime Achievement - William Friedkin

Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory To the Filmmaker - Ettore Scola

Persol Award - Andrzej Wajda

L'Oreal Paris Per Il Cinema Award - Eugenia Costantini


This article is related to: Venice Film Festival, Venice, Features, Gravity, Under the Skin, Miss Violence , At Berkeley, Stray Dogs


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