Venice: New Films by George Clooney, Guillermo Del Toro, Stephen Frears Expected to World Premiere (EXCLUSIVE)

ROME – George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” Stephen Frears’ “Victoria and Abdul,” and Paolo Virzi’s “Ella and John,” starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, are among the titles strongly tipped to world premiere at the upcoming 74th Venice Film Festival.

Also expected to make their worldwide bows on the Lido are Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed,” Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete,” and Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama.”

Less than a week before the official announcement, the buzz on the Venice lineup remains somewhat muted, though some locked-in titles have surfaced, including Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” which will open the fest. There’s also certainty over the absence of some titles – especially “Blade Runner 2049” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!”, both high-profile movies that had been considered as possibilities.

“Suburbicon,” starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Josh Brolin, and Oscar Isaac, looks set to be the second Paramount picture to launch from the Lido this year, after “Downsizing.” The studio has scheduled an October 27 U.S. release for “Suburbicon,” a black comedy written by the Coen brothers about a picture-perfect suburban family that descends into a spiral of betrayal, adultery, and blackmail after being subjected to a home-invasion robbery gone awry.

The Clooney-directed movie is also the second at this year’s Venice fest to star Matt Damon, the lead actor in “Downsizing.” In “Downsizing,” Damon plays a lower-middle-class man who shrinks himself in order to live luxuriously. The cast also includes Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Laura Dern, and Jason Sudeikis.

While Cannes this year did not have any studio pics, Hollywood is increasingly turning to Venice as an awards-season driver. Artistic director Alberto Barbera, who was recently in Los Angeles, has been successful at improving the fest’s standing as an Oscars launchpad for select titles, such as last year’s opener “La La Land.”

Fox Searchlight has two Venice-bound award hopefuls, one of which is locked in. Del Toro’s Cold War-era fantasy “The Shape of Water” (pictured) will world premiere on the Lido. Nearly certain is dark thriller “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” directed by Martin McDonaugh (“In Bruges”), which stars Frances McDormand as a feisty middle-aged mother who challenges a small-town police chief, played by Woody Harrelson, after her daughter is murdered and no culprit has been found.

Universal International is the global distributor of “Victoria and Abdul,” a period piece about the real-life friendship between a young Indian Muslim clerk and Queen Victoria, played by Judi Dench. Universal’s specialty division, Focus Features, has set a Sept. 22 U.S. release for the drama, which reunites Dench with director Frears following their collaboration on Oscar-nominated “Philomena,” which launched from Venice in 2013.

Another likely British entry is Andrew Haigh’s Oregon-set “Lean on Pete,” which stars rising American actor Charlie Plummer (“Granite Flats”) as a 15-year-old who takes a summer job with a washed-up horse trainer, played by Steve Buscemi, and befriends a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete. The cast includes Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn, and Travis Fimmel. New York-based distributor A24 (“Moonlight”) will be releasing “Lean on Pete” in North America.

Writer-director Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed,” starring Ethan Hawke, also looks to be Venice-bound. Hawke plays an ex-military chaplain grieving over the death of his son. He becomes entangled with a member of his church (Amanda Seyfried) whose husband commits suicide, and delves into the church’s suspicious affairs. Schrader wrote “Taxi Driver” and directed “American Gigolo,” “Affliction,” and, most recently, “Dog Eat Dog.”

Italian director Virzi’s English-language dramedy “Ella and John” (also known as “The Leisure Seeker”), starring Mirren and Sutherland as a runaway couple on a cross-country journey, will play in competition on the Lido. Sony Pictures Classics has U.S. and most international rights. Andrea Pallaoro’s “The Whale,” starring Charlotte Rampling as a woman struggling with her identity after her husband is imprisoned, is another Italian entry with international elements in the Venice competition.

Argentine auteur Martel’s “Zama,” an 18th-century epic about an officer of the Spanish Crown operating in Argentina’s backwaters on the eve of the territory’s independence movement, looks set for a Lido bow as well, albeit out-of-competition. Though ready by the time of the Cannes Film Festival in May, “Zama” did not appear there, possibly because one of its producers, Pedro Almodovar, headed the Cannes jury.

French filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche (“Blue Is the Warmest Color”) is expected to bow “Mektoub Is Mektoub,” a 1980s coming-of-age story. The pic has been shrouded in secrecy.

Netflix’s first Italian original production “Suburra,” about present-day ties between mobsters and politicians in Rome and its environs, is another strong possibility for the Venice lineup. Italian actor Alessandro Borghi, a member of the “Suburra” ensemble cast, will be the festival’s master of ceremonies.

As previously announced, Netflix will also be on the Lido with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford-starrer “Our Souls at Night,” which will have its world premiere in an out-of-competition slot. Fonda and Redford are expected in Venice to pick up lifetime achievement awards.

Also previously announced is Italian director Susanna Nicchiarelli’s “Nico, 1988,” about the late German chanteuse who was among Andy Warhol’s muses and sang with the Velvet Underground. The film has been set as the opener of the Venice Horizons section, dedicated to cutting-edge fare.

Venice runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 9.

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