The Berlin Film Festival reveals its first competition titles on Friday, adding to the previously announced opening film, “Hail, Caesar!” from the Coen Brothers. In the meantime, Variety predicts there will be a heady cocktail of prestige pics and star-driven movies when the 66th edition unspools in February.
Among the high-profile movies expected to compete for the Golden Bear is famed stage director Michael Grandage’s debut feature “Genius,” which stars Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Guy Pearce. The film, which was scripted by John Logan, tells the true story of the complex relationship between literary giant Thomas Wolfe and iconic editor Max Perkins.
Also mooted is sci-fi thriller “Midnight Special,” starring Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst and Michael Shannon. Director Jeff Nichols, who broke through with “Mud” and “Take Shelter,” delivers a tale about a nationwide manhunt for a father and his son who has supernatural powers.
Another contender is “Trespass Against Us,” which stars Michael Fassbender, Sean Harris and Brendan Gleeson, and centers on a man (Fassbender) who attempts to break free from his outlaw father (Gleeson). The film is directed by Adam Smith, who made his name helming “The Chemical Brothers — Don’t Think.”
Also in Berlin’s sights is John Hillcoat’s crime action-thriller “Triple 9,” which toplines Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet. Hillcoat, who directed “The Proposition” and “The Road,” delivers a high-octane story about a heist by crooked cops that goes wrong.
Other titles that are likely to be on Berlin’s radar include Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” about two Jesuit priests in 17th-century Japan, starring Adam Driver, Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield, and Susanna White’s “Our Kind of Traitor,” which toplines Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard and Naomie Harris in an adaptation of John le Carre’s novel about Russian oligarchs, spies and gangsters. Add to those films, Vincent Perez’s “Alone in Berlin,” starring Emma Thompson, Daniel Bruhl and Brendan Gleeson, and Ben Wheatley’s “Free Fire,” which stars Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy.
James Franco may end up with a pair of pictures screening with “King Cobra” in which he stars with Christian Slater and Alicia Silverstone as well as “Zeroville” currently in post production having been directed by Franco and starring Megan Fox and Seth Rogen.
Berlin is famously loyal to its alumni, so it wouldn’t be unusual to see returnees Daniel Burman, who won a Silver Bear in Berlin for “Lost Embrace,” with “El Rey del Once,” as well as Bence Fliegauf, who won a Silver Bear for “Just the Wind,” with “Lily Lane,” which centers on a mother and son grappling with questions of life and death on an inner journey filled with strange stories.
Also on the Berlin wish list are likely to be John McDonagh’s “War on Everyone,” Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Commune,” David Farr’s “The Ones Below,” and “Sieranevada” from Cristi Puiu, who directed “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.”
Add to those several movies shot in Asia, such as U.S.-based director Wayne Wang’s Tokyo-set suspense mystery “While the Women Are Sleeping,” which stars Takeshi Kitano and Hidetoshi Nakajima, Johnnie To’s crime thriller “Three on the Road,” Yoji Yamada’s nuclear-bomb aftermath drama “Living With My Mother,” Kaori Momoi’s “Hee,” and Yoshifumi Tsubota’s “The Shell Collector.”
Among the additional European pics tipped for Berlin are Roschdy Zem’s “Monsieur Chocolat,” starring Omar Sy as Cuban-born artist Rafael Padilla, the first black artist to have performed on stage in France, as well as Christophe Honore’s “Sophie’s Misfortunes,” a 19th century-set tale with Golshifteh Farahani (“Exodus”) and Anais Demoustier (“Marguerite and Julien”), and Bouli Lanners’ “Les premiers, les derniers” with Lanners, Albert Dupontel and Max von Sydow.
Other potential Berlinale selectees are Khurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal’s animated feature “Bilal,” about an African slave who became one of the most illustrious names in Islamic history, Hannes Holm’s “A Man Called Ove,” Roger Sherman’s “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” and Tamer el Said’s “In the Last Days of the City.”
As in previous years there will be some Berlin titles that cross-over from Sundance. These could include Mirjana Karanovic’s “A Good Wife,” about a woman with cancer who finds out about her husband’s war crimes, and Rebecca Daly’s “Mammal,” featuring Rachel Griffiths and Barry Keoghan, about a grieving mother who develops an unorthodox relationship with a homeless youth. Other Sundance transferees could include Anne Fontaine’s “Agnus Dei,” Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” and Asif Kapadia’s “Ali & Nino” as well as “Love & Friendship” starring Kate Beckinsale, and “Indignation” from James Schamus.
Buzzed about titles that could go to Berlin but are more likely to be Cannes-bound include Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” which stars Charlize Theron, Adele Exarchopoulos and Javier Bardem, and Benedict Andrews’ “Una,” starring Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn and Riz Ahmed.
(John Hopewell, Ed Meza, Mark Schilling, Nick Vivarelli, Jay Weissberg, Alissa Simon, Maggie Lee and Dave McNary contributed to this report.)