Venice Rewards a Bunch of Films You Will Never See

After going dabbling in giving awards to films that people had actually heard of last year with a Golden Lion for Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” and an Emerging Actor prize for Mila Kunis in “Black Swan,” the 68th Venice International Film Festival went right back to asserting the Lido’s case to claim the Snootiest European Festival title (even Cannes found room for “Tree of Life” and “Drive” this year, and it’s not like those films are exactly ‘mainstream,’ either). The only recognizable name here is (surprise, surprise) Michael Fassbender, who apparently puts in a stunning turn as a sex addict in Steve McQueen’s sophomore effort, “Shame.”

Golden Lion: “Faust,” Alexander Sokurov

Silver Lion (best director): Cai Shangjun, “People Mountain People Sea”

Special Jury Prize: “Terraferma,” Emanuele Crialese

Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, “Shame”

Best Actress: Deanie Ip, “A Simple Life”

Marcello Mastroianni Prize for Emerging Actor/Actress: Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido, “Himizu”

Best Cinematography: Robbie Ryan, “Wuthering Heights”

Best Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou, “Alps”

So what is there even to talk about here? For the average movie-goer, absolutely nothing. Seriously, you can just stop reading now. I’ll talk about “Contagion” or something later this week. For the die-hard Oscar watcher, a play for Fassbender in the Best Actor category is a long shot but not completely out of the question, considering how this seems to be the Year of the Fass.

But overall the biggest awards buzz went to films that the Venice jury weren’t interested in, which isn’t too shocking considering that European festival juries tend to reject middle-of-the-road fare, and the Academy is nothing if not middle-of-the-road. Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” should ride an overwhelmingly positive critical response into the thick of the race, hopefully bringing a splash of moody genre intrigue to the slate. “Carnage,” meanwhile, landed not exactly with a thud, but perhaps a poof; as in, forgettable and likely to disappear from the discussion, save an apparently scene-stealing performance from Christoph Waltz (does he give any other kind?). Reviews for David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” are all over the place, so I’m really not sure what to think about that one. Will the voters embrace Fassbender, Knightely and/or Mortensen, but reject the film as a whole? Is the kinky material still too out there for the Academy, even if it is tame by the standards of the director’s early career? Or could the period piece be the opportunity AMPAS has been waiting for to acknowledge the fringe auteur?

Last but not least, “The Ides of March” has been getting solid “B” reviews, which is hardly a death sentence when you recall that “Michael Clayton” was a Best Picture award nominee (and in a 5-nominee year, no less). Perhaps Clooney won’t completely dominate the awards circuit after all, but the film is still an earnest, star-studded middle-brow political parable. I refuse to believe that it couldn’t hit that 5% of #1 votes.

In other news, I saw “Warrior” this past weekend. Full review will be up on Wednesday, but suffice to say I loved it, and I feel like it could hit some nerves in the Academy as well. It’s an intriguing variation on the underdog boxer/fighter story, with some unexpected resonance on contemporary issues (without hitting you over the head with anything). If they bit so hard for “The Fighter,” why not this one? Keep an eye out.

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