Festival loads up star power

ROME — The upcoming Venice Film Festival is shaping up as a launching pad for plenty of U.S. kudos hopefuls, a strong European lineup and new works from big-name helmers including Steven Soderbergh, Michael Moore, Joe Dante, Werner Herzog and Todd Solondz, alongside Claire Denis, Jacques Rivette and Giuseppe Tornatore.

With one week to go before the July 30 announcement, artistic director Marco Mueller and his selection committee seem to have lined up a slew of pics with media-friendly stars, which should pacify the international press corps, which griped last year that the Lido was thin on star power.

Soderbergh’s “The Informant!” — toplining Matt Damon as an agri-business price fixer — is likely to world preem at the event, which runs Sept. 2-12. Warner Bros. would then give the comedy-thriller a North American sendoff in Toronto.

Moore’s docu “Capitalism: A Love Story,” about the global economic meltdown, is tipped to launch in Venice ahead of its Stateside bow via Overture Films on Oct. 2 — one year and a day after the U.S. Senate voted to bail out Wall Street.

Other English-lingo pics said to be ensconced in Lido berths include Australian director John Hillcoat’s “The Road,” an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron; Dante’s 3-D horror pic “The Hole”; and Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant” redo “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” with Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes.

Horrormeister George Romero may make the trek with “Zombieland” (aka “Survival of the Dead”), the sixth entry in his Living Dead series, which is also unspooling in Toronto.

Former Gucci creative director Tom Ford is expected to bow his helming debut “A Single Man,” centered on an L.A.-based British college professor who loses his partner of 16 years. Pic stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

Solondz looks to be Lido-bound with his long-in-gestation “Life During Wartime,” a sequel of sorts to 1998′s “Happiness,” with Charlotte Rampling and Ciaran Hinds among thesps in the ensemble cast.

Wes Anderson’s stop-motion-animated film “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” a Roald Dahl adaptation, has also been submitted to the Lido, but it’s not certain whether it will bow there. Pic’s voice cast includes George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep. Also possible: Lido regulars Ethan and Joel Coen may bring their black comedy “A Serious Man.”

Mike Judge (“Office Space”) is likely to unveil his latest workplace comedy, “Extract,” starring Jason Bateman and Mila Kunis.

Iranian-American artist Shirin Neshat’s first feature film, “Women Without Men,” developed at the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab, is also said to be headed for the fest.

The rich roster of Euro goods will likely include the usual copious contingents from France and Italy.

Already announced as the opening-night pic is “Baaria,” Tornatore’s big-budget Sicilian epic that marks the festival’s first Italo opener in two decades. The list of local entries is also believed to include Tilda Swinton starrer “Io sono l’amore” (I Am Love), by Luca Guadagnino; Michele Placido’s 1968-themed “Il grande sogno” (The Big Dream); and Naples-set drama “Lo spazio bianco” (The White Space), from Francesca Comencini. Also set in Naples and tipped for a Venice berth is Abel Ferrara’s docudrama “Napoli, Napoli, Napoli,” which explores the underbelly of this highly cinematic Southern Italian city.

Among French fare that looks likely for a Venice bow are Rivette’s Gallic-Italo co-production “36 vues du Pic Saint Loup,” with Italian actor Sergio Castellitto playing alongside Jane Birkin; Denis’ Cameroon-set “White Material,” starring Isabelle Huppert and Christophe Lambert; and Patrice Chereau’s love triangle drama “Persecution,” with Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Spain looks to be repped at Venice with Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s “REC 2,” their follow-up to cult chiller “REC”; Austria may make a Lido showing with “Lourdes,” from Viennese helmer Jessica Hausner, also in Toronto; Switzerland may make an appearance with “Pepperminta,” a first feature film by Swiss visual artist Pipilotti Rist.

Given Mueller’s known bent for Asian cinema, the Far East is expected to be a presence at the Lido this year; but after an Asia-heavy Cannes, available hot titles may be somewhat scarce. One buzz pic in Mueller’s mix, if completed, is Chinese historical actioner “The Warrior and the Wolf,” helmed by Tian Zhuangzhuang and toplining Maggie Q. It’s co-produced by Focus Features and Hong Kong-based Edko Films.

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