Three of Oscar season’s biggest titles made their debuts in Venice this week and the reviews so far have been pretty stellar. Sometimes a Venice launch of a highly anticipated film ends up with a decidedly muted response (like The Danish Girl last year) but not this year. These three Oscar hopefuls, which includes an Amy Adams 1-2 punch, are finding tanto amore on the Lido.
Here is a handful of glowing responses to La La Land, Arrival and Nocturnal Animals.
LA LA LAND
[box type=”shadow”align=””class=””width=””]This is primarily down to the two leads, without their performances it would only be an empty, if impressive, exercise in dizzying technical skill and style.
Just as Gladiator dusted off the sword and sandal epic, so La La Land reinvents the Hollywood movie musical for a new age. It’s an oft-stated theory that the original musicals burst onto the scene during the depression, giving some much needed colour and joy to life. In our current world of terrorism and Trumpian insanity, we can do with some of that Technicolor escapism and it doesn’t come much better than this.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]The musical numbers—set to songs by Justin Hurwitz and the songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul—are beautifully staged and choreographed, and the mix of styles is playful.
La La Land is both a love letter to a confounding and magical city and an ode to the idea of the might-have-been romance, in all its piercing sweetness. It’s a movie with the potential to make lovers of us all. All we have to do is fall into its arms.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]In just one of countless aesthetic decisions that have gone into making the film the sophisticated confection that it is, many of the musical numbers have been shot at magic hour, which both softens and intensifies the colors, as well as the beauty and romanticism of the mostly real-world Los Angeles settings.
Stone is simply a joy as the eternally aspiring actress it’s hard to believe is being passed over. Emotionally alive and able to shift gears on a dime, Stone is all the more convincing in this context as she has the kind of looks that would have been appealing in any era, particularly the 1930s and 1950s.[/box]
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[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Arrival’s ideas about language are reflected in its own storytelling methods in ways far too smart to spoil, and which result in a mid-film realisation – less sudden twist than sinuous unwinding – that forces you to reinterpret everything you’ve seen.
These confrontations, captured with brooding, low-key dazzle by the brilliant cinematographer Bradford Young, are the best and creepiest scenes Villeneuve has yet shot, which fans of his earlier work will know is really saying something. [/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]But “Arrival,” the shimmering apex of Villeneuve’s run of form that started back in 2010 with “Incendies,” calmly, unfussily and with superb craft, thinks its way out of the black hole that tends to open up when ideas like time travel, alien contact and the next phase of human evolution are bandied about.
The slow build to the grand reveal is the most impressive aspect of “Arrival,” because most films that ask Big Questions flake out at supplying an answer.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Adams gives a nicely polished, muted performance: She keeps the story grounded when the ideas Villeneuve is striving for threaten to get too lofty. And the picture is intelligently and effectively crafted, one of those enterprises where the cinematography, sound design and score, as well as the special effects, melt into a seamless, organic whole.
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is so integral to the images that it may as well be their heartbeat—it’s spooky and sonorous, a spectral hum.[/box]
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[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]David Lynch meets Alfred Hitchcock meets Douglas Sirk in Nocturnal Animals, a sumptuously entertaining noir melodrama laced with vicious crime and psychological suspense, which more than delivers on the promise of A Single Man, writer-director Tom Ford’s first foray behind the camera seven years ago.
The scenes involving Tony and Bobby have the flavorful feel of gritty Western crime but also, in Gyllenhaal’s raw performance, the scalding pain of revenge that barely serves as a Band-Aid to wounds that can never heal. Shannon’s typically idiosyncratic spin on a small-town Texas archetype is no less riveting. [/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Ford (adapting the novel “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright) spins all these plates with grace, leaving us to decide for ourselves how much, if at all, Susan should see Edward’s novel as an allegorical comment on their relationship. Working again with editor Joan Sobel, the director makes the Texas segments almost unbearably suspenseful and agonizing.
The performances here are consistently superb, from Adams and Gyllenhaal (playing two very different roles) to Michael Shannon (as a Texas lawman), Laura Linney (getting an unforgettable scene as Susan’s mother, a monstrous Manhattan society matron) and Karl Glusman (“Love,” “The Neon Demon”) as one of the kidnappers. The real standout is Taylor-Johnson, so effectively creepy as the ringleader of the novel’s miscreants. He’s been an effective enough superhero in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and the “Kick-Ass” films — and thoroughly vapid in “Godzilla” — but his unsettlingly charismatic turn here heralds a career turning point.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Gather round, fashionistas, because I have news for you. For his follow-up to 2009’s “A Single Man,” Tom Ford hasn’t just made one film – he’s sort of made two. “Nocturnal Animals” is an impressively ambitious effort, one part mean Texas thriller, one part middle-age melodrama, and makes for a meta-textual riddle that is almost as pleasurable to reflect on as it to actually watch.
The “real world” moves back and forth in time, with Adams convincingly pulling off an eager twentysomething and her jaded shell twenty years later. Gyllenhaal has the somewhat sadder part, playing a man who loses everything not once but twice, and the reliable actor nails it in both registers.[/box]