This article was updated at 9:28 p.m.
ROME — U.S. titles dominate the 61st Venice Intl. Film Festival’s lineup unveiled by new artistic director Marco Muller, who has combined crowd-pleasers and art films, an ample dose of animation and a galaxy of stars in a way that could represent an early start to the year’s Oscar season.
As well as the 21 American films strewn throughout the fest’s sections, event’s trimmed-down lineup also prominently features Italian and Asian fare, while the non-Italo European presence in the five sections is slighter.
“In discussions I had with the selection committee, we would say, ‘Yeah, that European movie was pretty good, but I just can’t get over that American picture we saw,’ ” Muller said jokingly at a packed press conference Thursday at Rome’s Hotel Excelsior.
“There is no doubt that American cinema has the ability — even with its mammoth production machines — to innovate, both in stylistic and thematic terms,” the Venice topper added.
DreamWorks will spearhead Hollywood’s Lido landings with three pics, starting with previously announced Sept. 1 opener “The Terminal,” which Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg will tubthump. “Shark Tale” will swim to the Venetian shores along with Michael Mann’s “Collateral” (a Paramount release internationally) with star Tom Cruise in tow. Cruise last hit the Lido five years ago for Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Robert De Niro — the voice talent in “Shark Tale” — are expected to attend the pic’s special-event gala world preem in the historic Piazza San Marco.
Paramount’s “The Manchurian Candidate” remake, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring return fest guests Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, will unspool out of competition.
Another Par title, the retro sci-fier “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” starring Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, will be showcased in the revived midnight section, dedicated largely to genre pics.
Fox’s “Man on Fire,” directed by Tony Scott and also starring Washington, and Warner Independent Pictures’ gay-themed drama “A Home at the End of the World,” directed by Michael Mayer and starring Colin Farrell, also will run in midnight slots.
U.S. titles vying for a Golden Lion are Jonathan Glazer’s “Birth,” toplining Nicole Kidman as a woman convinced that her son is actually her dead husband’s reincarnation (from Fine Line Features); Mira Nair’s Reese Witherspoon starrer “Vanity Fair” (Focus Features); and Todd Solondz’s “Palindromes,” his first feature since 2001’s “Storytelling.” Tale of a teen runaway stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ellen Barkin and has no U.S. distributor.
Miramax will be on the Lido but out of competition with Marc Forster’s biopic of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, “Finding Neverland,” starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet.
Jurors Spike Lee and Scarlett Johansson will do double duty. Lee will tubthump his social satire “She Hate Me,” unspooling out of competition. Johansson stars with John Travolta in “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” documaker Shainee Gabel’s feature film debut, in Venice Horizons. Johansson is returning to the Lido after winning last year’s Upstream actress prize for “Lost in Translation.”
Other U.S. pics include indie helmer Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin,” unspooling in Venice Horizons, and Tim Robbins’ digital feature “Embedded,” based on his stage play.
Muller, appointed in March after Moritz de Hadeln’s two-year reign and a long political spat over who should hold the top slot, had just five months to fill the 70 slots in his leaner Venice, which has done away with the parallel Upstream competition.
Fest now has a multisection structure similar to Cannes and Berlin, with one main competition, a Venice Horizons section similar to Un Certain Regard, a small digital film section and midnight screenings. Muller also has introduced a separately run Auteur Days section, comparable to Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight.
The well-rounded competish features three Italo entries, including 1998 Golden Lion winner Gianni Amelio’s new drama “The Keys to the House” and Michele Placido’s ghost pic “Ovunque sei.” There are three entries from France, including Francois Ozon’s romancer “5 x 2.”
“Howl’s Moving Castle,” from Japanese toon maestro Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”), is the first animated pic competing in Venice in 30 years. It’s among three Asian entries in the running for a Golden Lion. An Asian specialist, Muller has made good on his promise to upgrade pics from that continent into competition berths.
Spain has Alejandro Amenabar’s “Out to Sea,” Germany offers Wim Wenders’ “Land of Plenty” and Blighty has Mike Leigh’s dark 1950s-set tale of a female abortionist, “Vera Drake.”
Also flying British colors is Michael Radford’s Shakespeare adaptation “The Merchant of Venice,” starring Al Pacino, who is expected on the lagoon — where the pic was partly shot — and unspools out of competition.
The three-part “Eros,” helmed by Michelangelo Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar Wai, also is on the copious out-of-competition roster.
Warner Bros.’ “Criminals,” the helming debut of Soderbergh’s longtime a.d. Gregory Jacobs, will be among titles from lesser-known helmers in Venice Horizons.
Other promising pics in this section include Italo first-timer Valia Santella’s “I Can See It in Your Eyes,” produced by Nanni Moretti; Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Vital,” which marks the Japanese helmer’s return to Venice after his “A Snake of June” scooped the fest’s now-scrapped Upstream prize in 2002; and “Un mundo menos peor,” from Argentine helmer Alejandro Agresti, whose “Valentin” won kudos on the fest circuit two years ago.
Quentin Tarantino and Joe Dante will be at the Lido as patrons and presenters of the fest’s “Italian Kings of the Bs” retrospective, dedicated to vintage Italo genre pics, some of which they will bring from their personal vaults.
A monumental new catwalk featuring 60 giant Golden Lions is being created by Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti, so the boatloads of A-list talent expected to disembark will really be able to strut their stuff.
The Venice shorts lineup and the section’s jury will be announced in coming days, Muller said.
Fest closes Sept. 11 with sci-fi animation pic “Steamboy,” from Japan’s Katsuhiro Otomo.
Italian pubcaster RAI will air a live telecast of the closing ceremony, to be held in Venice’s 18th-century La Fenice opera house, recently rebuilt after being gutted by fire.
Venice 61 Competition
“The Keys to the House,” Gianni Amelio (Italy-France-Germany)
“Mar Adentro,” Alejandro Amenábar (Spain)
“Lavorare Con Lentezza,” Guido Chiesa (Italy)
“L’intrus,” Claire Denis (France)
“Rois et Reine,” Arnaud Desplechin (France)
“Promised Land,” Amos Gitai (Israel, France)
“Birth,” Jonathan Glazer (US)
“Café Lumière,” Hou Hsiao-hsien (Japan)
“Raging Years,” Im Kwon-taek (Korea)
“Shijie,” Jia Zhangke (China-Japan)
“Vera Drake,” Mike Leigh (UK)
“Stray Dogs,” Marziyeh Meshkini (Iran)
“Howl’s Moving Castle,” Hayao Miyazaki (Japan)
“Vanity Fair,” Mira Nair (US)
“5×2,” François Ozon (France)
“Delivery,” Nikos Panayotopoulos (Greece)
“Ovunque Sei,” Michele Placido (Italy)
“Udalionnyj dostup,” Svetlana Proskurina (Russia)
“Palindromes,” Todd Solondz (US)
“Land of Plenty,” Wim Wenders (Germany)
“TotUn Hiver Sans Feu,” Greg Zglinski (Switzerland)
Out of Competition
“Eros,” Michelangelo Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh, Wong Kar-wai (France-Hong Kong-Italy-US)
“La Demoiselle D’honneur,” Claude Chabrol (France)
“Come Inguaiammo Il Cinema Italiano,” Daniele Ciprí, Franco Maresco (Italy)
“The Manchurian Candidate,” Jonathan Demme (US)
” Finding Neverland,” Marc Forster (US)
“She Hate Me,” Spike Lee (US)
“Collateral,” Michael Mann (US)
“L’amore Ritrovato,” Carlo Mazzacurati (Italy)
“Nastrojscik,” Kira Muratova (Russia)
“O Quinto Imperio,” Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal-France)
“Steamboy,” Otomo Katsuhiro (Japan)
“The Merchant of Venice,” Michael Radford (UK-Italy)
“The Terminal,” Steven Spielberg (US)
“Throw Down,”Johnnie To (Hong Kong)
Out of Competition: Special Events
“Shark Tale,” Victoria Jenson, Bibo Bergeron (US)
“Il Resto Di Niente,” Antonietta De Lillo (Italy)
“Un Mundo Menos Peor,” Alejandro Agresti (Argentina-Italy)
“Mysterious Skin,” Gregg Araki (US)
“Les Revenants,” Robin Campillo (France)
“Ambasadori, cautam patrie,” Mircea Danieluc (Romania)
“Les Petits Fils,” Ilan Duran Cohen (France)
“La Femme De Gilles,” Frédéric Fonteyne (Belgium-France-Luxembourg)
“A Love Song For Bobby Long,” Shainee Gabel (US)
“Stryker,” Noam Gonick (Canada)
“The 3 Rooms of Melancholia,” Pirjo Honkasalo (Finland-Sweden-Denmark)
“Criminal,” Gregory Jacobs (US)
“L’enfant endormi,”Yasmine Kassari (Morocco-Belgium)
“Vento Di Terra,” Vincenzo Marra (Italy)
“Saimir,” Francesco Munzi (Italy)
“Agnes Und Seine Brüder,” Oskar Roehler (Germany)
“Yesterday,” Darrell James Roodt (South Africa)
“Te Lo Leggo Negli Occhi,” Valia Santella (Italy)
“Zulu Love Letter,” Ramadam Suleman (South Africa-France-Germany)
“Izo” Takashi Miike (Japan)
“Familia Rodante,” Pablo Trapero (Argentina-Spain)
“Vital,” Shinya Tsukamoto (Japan)
Venezia Orizzonti – Special Events
“Banania Ou Thiaroye,” Rachid Bouchareb (Algeria-France)
“Tide Table,” William Kentridge (South Africa)
“Musica Cubana,” German Kral (Germany)
“Heimat 3 – Kronik Einer Zeitenwende,” Edgar Reitz (Germany)
“Come Back Africa,” Lionel Rogosin (US, 1959)