Terrence Malick and Paul Thomas Anderson are taking all the headlines ahead of the 69th Biennale, but they're not the only stand-outs from this year's Golden Lion nominee list.
For no particular reason, we've never covered the Venice International Film Festival before. This year we're making amends for that in a big way, with a daily blog coverage packed full of screening reactions, Twitter chat and in-depth reviews of the must-see films on the Lido.
From August 28 we'll be reporting from the 69th annual Biennale for an entire week, paying close attention to the Competition films vying for the Golden Lion and catching some of the Classics and Out of Competition strands for good measure.
But more on all that next week. For now, here's a run down of our five most anticipated films in this year's slimline Competition line-up.
There's only one place to start. Five years after There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson returns with one of the most hotly anticipated films in recent memory. You could have put your mortgage on The Master popping up at one of this year's big festivals, but the fact that it's been announced as Venice's surprise selection (a tag traditionally given to the last title to be locked down) suggests that festival director Alberto Barbera was left to sweat on its inclusion. It's certainly a major coup for Venice, one made all the more tantilising by the fact it will be screened in 70mm.
As for the film itself, despite a couple of trailers and a handful of posters hitting the interweb in recent weeks, PTA's 1950s set religious drama, about a war-scarred drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls under the spell of a charismatic psychologist (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is steeped in intrigue. Based on the awestruck reaction from a top secret screening in the States late last month, there's going to be plenty to mull over. Bring it on.
You know you've got a killer line-up when the new Malick isn't top billing. Ben Affleck takes a break from directing (and politicking) and returns to the romantic drama fold, alongside Rachels McAdams and Wiesz and Javier Bardem (apparently playing a man of the cloth à la Goya's Ghosts). This being TM, of course, To the Wonder is unlikely to resemble your run-of-the-mill love triangle weepy, although it does sound more plot-heavy than his last few offerings.
Should we be wary of the fact To the Wonder has arrived barely a year after The Tree of Life? Perhaps – especially considering Terrence Malick's reputation as a fiercely meticulous craftsman. But even if it does turn out to be padded out with unused shots of swaying long grass and breaking waves from The Tree of Life, would that really be a bad thing?
Olivier Assayas returns to the festival scene two years after his epic five-and-a-half-hour renegade biopic, Carlos, only managed to land a glancing blow on the criteratti. Like Carlos, Something in the Air sees a (comparatively more romantic) radical protagonist ride the crest of social change during the '60s/'70s. Newcomer Clement Metayer is Gilles, a young student who embarks on a transcontinental journey of sexual and ideological awakening that stretches from Paris down through Italy and back up to London. As a portrait of a generation with a fresh young cast, this could be a serious contender for the Golden Lion, provided the jury don't just hand the top prize to PTA on arrival.
Politics and power. Blood and corruption. Yakuza. Turf. War. Right now Takeshi Kitano, who writes, directs and stars in this follow-up to 2010's Outrage, is the biggest name on the Far Eastern action/thriller map. And with good reason. Once again Japan's most notorious crime families take centre stage in what promises to be (at least if that title is anything to go by) another dizzying education in deadpan hyper-violence.
After a notable absence of Asian titles at this year's Cannes Film Festival, it's good to see the Venice selection team throw a unique and often overlooked multi-talent like Kitano into the mix.
The second part of Austrian misanthrope Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy, Paradise: Faith is sure to be a major talking point of this year's festival. It tells the story of a God-bothering X-Ray technician who takes a break to become a missionary, only to have her world flipped on its head by the return of her wheelchair-bound Egyptian Muslim husband.
After experiencing the punishing (and quite brilliant) Saga Holidays PR nightmare Paradise: Love in Cannes earlier this year, we'll be approaching this one with more trepidation than excitement. Here's hoping it's as barmy and blasphemous as it sounds.
For this year's full line-up head over to labiennale.org/en/cinema/festival