Venice 2017: My Favorite Films of the Festival + A Final Venezia Recap
by Alex Billington
September 13, 2017
We're in the thick of the fall movie season now, with the Toronto Film Festival finishing up this weekend. I attended my first Venice Film Festival this year (read about my experience at the fest) and saw a total of 26 films across 10 days. There are still many scenes floating through my mind, many great moments from these films. To wrap up my coverage of Venice, let's recap my favorite films of the festival as well as my two of favorite performances. I only had a chance to see three documentaries (Human Flow, Jim & Andy, The Rape of Recy Taylor) this year, so I won't be singling out one of them. Instead, I'll be talking about my two favorite films and a few others that stood out. As always, there's plenty to discuss. Let's begin, shall we?
The Venice Film Festival is a wonderful film festival that has a great legacy. Venice has actually been around longer than the Cannes Film Festival. It's currently celebrating its 74th year, while this year it was Cannes' 70th year. Venice is an easy festival to navigate, with lovely cinemas. I never once had any problems with the projection or audio, everything was top notch and presented perfectly (always a relief). Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water went on to win the Golden Lion top prize as chosen by the jury. I didn't get to see every film at Venice, of course, but I tried to see as many as I could. Including Abdellatif Kechiche's three hour epic Mektoub, My Love, which was abysmal - one of the most vapid, pointless films I have ever seen.
My favorite film of the year (so far) is still Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, which I saw at both the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals earlier in the year. Beyond that, I'm still working on my Top 10 for 2017, but mostly just enjoying all the new films we get to see every week in the fall. I always see some of the best films each year at film festivals, but there's always hidden gems and discoveries to be found outside of fests. Venice showed a well-rounded range of features and documentaries, including Ai Weiwei's Human Flow (my favorite doc of the three I saw). Human Flow is an impressive, eye-opening, invigorating doc about the great migrations occurring now, mainly the Mediterranean refugee crisis. The rest of my favorites:
Favorite Film: The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
"A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times" is the tagline for this heartfelt new film from monster master Guillermo del Toro. The Shape of Water is one of the most beautiful love stories put to film. I really mean that. Yes, it's a bit awkward to watch a lonely woman fall in love with a fish creature, but Guillermo del Toro's magic touch makes it work. And makes it work beautifully. There's also a great amount of context and a number of additional characters that all play into the story in fascinating ways. It's not just a straight love story, and it's not just a story about a bad guy who wants to kill the fish creature. There's so much more to this, and that's part of the reason I found it so appealing. I also adore the way del Toro integrates his love for cinema into the film, specifically that she lives above a movie theater. I found myself wiping away tears by the end, overwhelmed with emotions. I think this film is one of del Toro's finest creations. Read my review for more.
Runner-Up Favorite: Foxtrot
Directed by Samuel Maoz
This film! It's seriously amazing! Holy fuck, it's brilliant. Foxtrot is an Israeli film made by Samuel Maoz who shows that he is one of the most impressive up-and-coming directors working today. Foxtrot is a razor sharp criticism of life in Israel, specifically the military. I love the narrative structure of the film, telling two different stories about the parents of a boy who is supposedly killed-in-action, and the story of the boy on assignment at a remote military outpost (where nothing happens all day). Maoz's attention-to-detail is also amazing, between the sound design, cinematography, sets, and score, this film is phenomenal on every level. And the way it ends, the way it all comes together, is magnificent. You'll be talking about it and thinking about it for days and weeks after, it's the kind of brilliant film that digs deep into your mind and stays there.
Favorite Male Lead: Vince Vaughn in Brawl in Cell Block 99
Directed by S. Craig Zahler
This performance is the epitome of badass. Vince Vaughn beefs up and gets very serious for this role as Bradley Thomas in S. Craig Zahler's brutal prison film Brawl in Cell Block 99. It's not just that he gives a standout performance, it's that the character is so particular and so meticulous, he can just stand there and look at you and you immediately feel intimidated. You can tell this guy doesn't fuck around, and will fuck you up if you try to mess with him. Bradley is a hulking, stern man who has a soft side, but never ever shows it. He only speaks when necessary, and never says much, only enough to get his point across. Before seeing the film, I honestly wasn't sure if Vaughn could pull off a performance like this and actually be believable. But he does pull it off, and by the end of the film you'll totally be rooting for him. Read my review for more.
Favorite Female Lead: Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Oh my. I don't think I've fallen head-over-heels in love with someone this much in a very long time. Sally Hawkins is a remarkably talented actress and always gives exceptional performances (see: Maudie, Blue Jasmine, Submarine, Never Let Me Go, Happy-Go-Lucky), but her performance in The Shape of Water is one for the ages; one of the best of her career. She plays a mute woman who has such a big heart, but is so lonely. And she doesn't even need to say anything for all of that raw emotion to come through. Hawkins is truly the beating heart of this film, not only the one whose love saves others, but her compassion inspires the other characters in the film as well as the audiences who enjoy it. I'm always intrigued by performances without any dialogue, but this stands out as one of the best I've encountered in years. I adore her so much.
To find all of Alex's Venice 2017 reviews and updates: Follow @firstshowing
Overall, I enjoyed most of the 26 films I saw at the Venice Film Festival this year. I'm apparently one of the only people who liked George Clooney's Suburbicon, which is the subversive, hilarious dark comedy I was hoping for (here's my review). I liked Suburbicon more than Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, they're both dark comedies about racism and American society. Ziad Doueiri's The Insult is surprisingly captivating, worth a look if it comes your way. The Belgian action-crime film Tueurs (aka Above the Law) is also an entertaining, fast-paced thriller with some sleek action set pieces. And I already wrote about John Woo's Manhunt, which I ended the festival with, a totally ridiculous action movie straight from the 90s. I also loved Darren Aronofsky's all-out intense Mother!, which I raved about in my full review from the fest.
My least favorite films are: Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub, My Love, a disgustingly misogynistic portrayal of vapid people having fun on a beach holiday (and nothing more for three fucking hours); Gatta Cenerentola, a disgustingly misogynistic animated Italian film that I hated so much; and Warwick Thornton's Sweet Country, which is just boring and bland and doesn't amount to much, despite good intentions. I prefer to champion good films and talk about the ones I love. So if I hate something, I will do my best to forget about it and move on rather than waste energy and time writing about it just to be mean and negative. Of course, I won't enjoy everything and there's always a few duds at festivals, that's expected. And maybe someone else will find something more in these films. Everyone's opinion is their own, and it's important to respect that.
You can find all our Venice 2017 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2017 Venice Film Festival, Alex's first time at this legendary film fest in Italy. I'll be back again next year.
Here's my final list of all the films I saw at the 2017 festival with quick reaction. Links go to reviews/tweets.
Alex's Venice 2017 Films:
1. Downsizing (dir. Alexander Payne) - Liked It
2. Pin Cushion (dir. Deborah Haywood) - Liked It
3. The Insult (dir. Ziad Doueiri) - Liked It
4. The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro) - Loved It
5. Human Flow (dir. Ai Weiwei) - Loved It
6. Lean on Pete (dir. Andrew Haigh) - Liked It
7. Our Souls at Night (dir. Ritesh Batra) - Just Okay
8. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (dir. S. Craig Zahler) - Loved It
9. Foxtrot (dir. Samuel Maoz) - Loved It
10. Suburbicon (dir. George Clooney) - Loved It
11. La Melodie (dir. Rachid Hami) - Loved It
12. La Villa (dir. Robert Guédiguian) - Just Okay
13. Victoria & Abdul (dir. Stephen Frears) - Liked It
14. Woodshock (dirs. Kate Mulleavy & Laura Mulleavy) - Hated It
15. Una Famiglia (dir. Sebastiano Riso) - Hated It
16. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh) - Liked It
17. Tueurs (dirs. Jean-François Hensgens & François Troukens) - Liked It
18. Gatta Cenerentola (dirs. Ivan Cappiello, Marino Guarnieri, Alessandro Rak, Dario Sansone) - Hated It
19. Mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky) - Loved It
20. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (dir. Chris Smith) - Loved It
21. The Rape of Recy Taylor (dir. Nancy Buirski) - Just Okay
22. Sweet Country (dir. Warwick Thornton) - Just Okay
23. Angels Wear White (dir. Vivian Qu) - Liked It
24. Mektoub, My Love (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche) - Hated It
25. Hannah (dir. Andrea Pallaoro) - Just Okay
26. Manhunt (dir. John Woo) - Liked It