Venice awards preview: What will win, and what should

VENICE – We’re almost at the finish line. 11 days have passed, 20 Competition films have been screened, and tomorrow evening we’ll find out what this year’s eclectic jury, led by Oscar-winning Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, believes is the best of them. And if it’s harder than usual to call this year — and it’s usually pretty damn hard — that’s because the only point of consensus among those remaining on the Lido is that this year’s Competition slate hasn’t been one of the festival’s finest.

As part of its 70th anniversary celebrations, Venice has preceded each screening with brief vintage newsreels from festivals past. Yesterday, I found myself marvelling at one from 1951, reporting from a Venice awards ceremony that included wins for Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” Elia Kazan’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” and Jean Renoir’s “The River.” Of course, you never know how good you have it at the time, but I’m reasonably confident that, in 60 years’ time, tomorrow’s winners won’t hold up quite so well. Few of the A-list filmmakers in this year’s selection have been at the very top of their game, while few of the less expected names have delivered bolts from the blue.

What I would call the two strongest films in the lineup — Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” and Xavier Dolan’s “Tom at the Farm” — have been sufficiently divisive that it would be no surprise to see the jury pass them over altogether. That said, the current bookies’ favorite for the Golden Lion, Tsai Ming-liang’s “Stray Dogs,” isn’t exactly a unifying title either. The most broadly well received film in Competition — or perhaps simply the one with the fewest vocal detractors — is Stephen Frears’ “Philomena,” but to paraphrase my Venice roommate Justin Chang, do you come to Venice looking for cinema or a warm blanket?

With all those caveats in place, what follows are my best guesses (along with my personal preferences, bearing in mind that I haven’t seen a couple of titles) for the jury’s picks in seven award categories — including the newly minted Grand Jury Prize, seemingly created in response to last year’s jury kerfuffle over “The Master,” initially voted the Golden Lion winner but demoted when it was handed too many awards. (Sadly, it’s come at the expense of the now-retired Golden Osella award for technical achievement, which was always an interesting one.) Meanwhile, I haven’t offered a prediction for the still-existing Special Jury Prize, since I have no idea how it’s going to be applied this year, whether to an entire film or an individual acvhievement. 

Still in place, as it is at Cannes, is the festival’s rather silly rule that the Golden Lion winner can’t take any acting awards, so bear that in mind as you ponder your own predictions. Click through the gallery below, then tell us in the comments who you think will win tomorrow — and who, if anyone, you’re rooting for.