- The 2020 Venice Film Festival Awards have been announced: Starring Frances McDormand, U.S.-based Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao’s road movie Nomadland is this year’s Golden Lion winner.
- Other Venice winners include British actress Vanessa Kirby, Italian actor Pierfrancesco Fabino, and Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
- Hong Kong filmmaker Ann Hui and British actress Tilda Swinton were honored with Career Golden Lion statuettes.
Venice Film Festival winners: Chloé Zhao’s socio-psychological drama Nomadland to receive Oscar’s embrace?
If history – of the last three years, that is – repeats itself, U.S.-based Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is on its way to becoming a top contender at the 2021 Academy Awards. Zhao’s socio-psychological drama was the 2020 Venice Film Festival Awards’ top choice, nabbing the Cate Blanchett-led Official Competition jury’s Golden Lion.
Adapted by Zhao from Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, the road movie follows a “houseless” woman (Frances McDormand) from rural Nevada who, as a consequence of U.S. President George W. Bush’s Great Recession, takes to the road.
Unlike the Great Depression hoboes, who had to hitch train rides (see William A. Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road, Hal Ashby’s Bound for Glory), this Great Recession roamer comes equipped with her own private van, as she drives through the American West and adjacencies in search of new gigs.
Next stop: The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Also in the Nomadland cast: Best Actor Oscar nominee David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck., 2005) and several early-21st-century, real-life American “nomads.”
Also screened at the Toronto Film Festival, Chloé Zhao’s Venice winner is her third feature film and her first starring name performers. It’s scheduled for U.S. release via Searchlight Pictures on Dec. 4.
Zhao’s previous efforts – both U.S. productions – were Best First Feature Spirit Award nominee Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015) and Gotham Award winner The Rider (2017).
Her next effort, The Eternals, is another entry in the seemingly infinite Marvel Cinematic Universe. Scheduled to come out in February 2021, the superhero flick stars Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, and Barry Keoghan.
Third Best Actress Oscar for Frances McDormand?
In movies since 1984 – Blood Simple, directed by her soon-to-be husband, Joel Coen, and brother-in-law, Ethan Coen – 63-year-old Frances McDormand has already taken home two Academy Awards: For the Coen brothers’ Fargo (1996) and for Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017).
However unlikely for what has been described as a subtle, understated star turn, a third Best Actress Oscar isn’t out of the question. Or at the very least a sixth nomination.
COVID-19 permitting, Frances McDormand’s expected 2021 releases are:
- Wes Anderson’s all-star – Timothée Chalamet, Léa Seydoux, Saoirse Ronan, etc. – The French Dispatch.
- Joel Coen’s solo effort Macbeth (a.k.a. The Tragedy of Macbeth), in which the American actress plays the Scottish Lady M herself, opposite black U.S. actor Denzel Washington as her equally Scottish husband. The whole thing – it’s unclear how unrealistic it’s supposed to be – was shot on sound stages in Los Angeles.
Recent Golden Lion-Oscar link
Now, when it comes to the potential link between the 2020 Venice Film Festival Awards’ top pick and the North American awards season, here’s a bit of recent history.
The 2019 Golden Lion winner was Todd Phillips’ U.S.-made supervillain drama Joker, a worldwide blockbuster that went on to receive a total of 11 Oscar nominations – among them Best Picture and Best Director – eventually taking home two Oscar statuettes, including one for Best Actor Joaquin Phoenix.
The 2018 Golden Lion winner was Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexican drama Roma, which went on to receive a total of 10 nominations – among them Best Picture and Best Actress (Yalitza Aparicio) – eventually earning Cuarón two Oscar statuettes (Best Director and Best Cinematography), in addition to topping the Best Foreign Language Film category.
The 2017 Golden Lion winner was The Shape of Water, an American production directed by another Mexican filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro. The psychological drama went on to win four Oscars – including Best Picture and Best Director – out of 13 nominations, among them Best Actress (Sally Hawkins).
Other early 21st-century Golden Lion winners that fared well during the North American awards season – all English-language releases – were Mike Leigh’s British-made abortion drama Vera Drake (2004), Ang Lee’s landmark “gay Western” Brokeback Mountain (2005), and Darren Aronofsky’s modestly budgeted sports drama The Wrestler (2009).
More Venice Film Festival Awards: Vanessa Kirby & Pierfrancesco Fabino
Among the other top winners at the 2020 Venice Film Festival Awards were Volpi Cup recipients Vanessa Kirby and Pierfrancesco Fabino.
Possibly best known for her BAFTA-winning supporting performance as Princess Margaret in the Netflix series The Crown, Vanessa Kirby was named Best Actress for her portrayal of a woman – shades of Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole – grieving the death of her midwife-delivered newborn in Kornél Mundruczó’s Hungary | U.S. | Canada drama Pieces of a Woman, co-starring Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, and veteran Ellen Burstyn (Best Actress Oscar winner for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, 1974).
At Venice 2020, Vanessa Kirby was also seen in another well-received Official Competition entry, Norwegian filmmaker Mona Fastvold’s U.S.-made Queer Lion winner The World to Come, a 19th-century-set drama centered on the love affair between two married women in a rural area of the American East Coast.
Katherine Waterston is Kirby’s lover; Casey Affleck (who is also one of the film’s producers) and Christopher Abbott are their husbands. Screenplay by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard.
Best Actor Pierfrancesco Fabino was singled out for his work in Claudio Noce’s semiautobiographical coming-of-age tale Our Father / Padrenostro, in which he plays a public figure who escapes an assassination attempt in the turbulent Italy of the mid-1970s. Profoundly affected by the incident, his 10-year-old son (Mattia Garaci) lives in fear until his acquaintanceship with a rebellious older boy (Francesco Gheghi) changes his worldview.
Mexican chaos + Soviet massacre
Listed below are other top Venice 2020 winners.
A depiction of how an upper-class wedding reception devolves into a working-class revolution, screenwriter-director-producer Michel Franco’s Mexican political drama New Order was handed the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize.
In the New Order cast: Naian González Norvind, Luis Miguel: The Series star Diego Boneta, House of Flowers actor Dario Yazbek Bernal (half-brother of Gael García Bernal), and Patricia Bernal (mother of both Bernal brothers).
The Special Jury Prize went to Andrey Konchalovskiy’s Russian political drama Dear Comrades, a black-and-white retelling of the 1962 KGB massacre of demonstrating factory workers in Novocherkassk. Yuliya Vysotskaya stars as a staunch Communist Party member whose worldview changes rather quickly after her daughter disappears in the commotion that follows.
Venice’s Best Director was Kiyoshi Kurosawa (unrelated to Akira Kurosawa) for the World War II-set psychological-political drama Wife of a Spy, featuring Issey Takahashi as a Kobe-based silk merchant and Yû Aoi as his devoted but seemingly conflicted wife – what comes first, blind duty to one’s husband or to one’s country?
Career Golden Lions for Ann Hui & Tilda Swinton
Written, directed, and edited by Chaitanya Tamhane, The Disciple was the Best Screenplay choice at Venice 2020. The Marathi-language Indian drama tells the story of a man (Aditya Modak) who begins to realize that, despite his best efforts, his dream of becoming a first-rate Indian classical music vocalist may never come true.
The Disciple also topped the International Federation of Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize.
The Best Film at Venice’s Horizons sidebar was Ahmad Bahrani’s The Wasteland, about troubled labor/personal relations at a dying mudbrick factory in a remote corner of Iran.
Lastly, Career Golden Lions were handed out to Hong Kong filmmaker Ann Hui, whose Love After Love had its world premiere out of competition, and to British actress Tilda Swinton, seen in a solo tour de force in Pedro Almodóvar’s 30-minute short The Human Voice, from Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play.
According to The Guardian’s Jonathan Romney, The Human Voice was the festival’s “absolute hot ticket.”
First major COVID-19 Era film festival
The first major movie festival held since COVID-19 became a global pandemic – if you’ll recall, Cannes was cancelled – the 11-day Venice Film Festival (Sept. 2–12) offered an array of well-regarded entries from around the world. Except, that is, Hollywood.
As a direct consequence of the Donal Trump regime’s disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, Americans remain unwelcome in Italy and most elsewhere in Europe. That would have meant Venice screenings of U.S. movies without the massive presence of U.S. movie stars and media personnel. And without much global coverage.
In accordance with both science and sanity, social distancing and mask-wearing were mandatory in the festival premises, whether indoors or outdoors. Theatre capacity was set at less than half, while the public was prevented from attending red carpet events.
Notably, for the first time since Giuseppe Tornatore’s 2009 Baaria, an Italian movie was the gala opening presentation: Daniele Luchetti’s unenthusiastically received marriage drama The Ties / Lacci, featuring a star-studded cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Luigi Lo Cascio, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Laura Morante, Silvio Orlando, Adriano Giannini, and Francesca De Sapio.
Headed by two-time Oscar-winning Australian actress Cate Blanchett (Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator, 2004; Best Actress for Blue Jasmine, 2013), the Venice Film Festival’s Official Competition jury was comprised of:
- German director Christian Petzold (Phoenix).
- French actress Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool).
- American actor Matt Dillon (Crash), replacing Romanian filmmaker Cristi Puiu.
- British filmmaker Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir).
- Austrian filmmaker Veronika Franz (Goodnight Mommy).
- Italian writer Nicola Lagioia (the novel Riportando tutto a casa).
“Venice Film Festival Winners” notes
Frances McDormand Oscar nominations
 In the Best Supporting Actress Oscar category, Frances McDormand was shortlisted for Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning (1988), Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (2000), and Niki Caro’s North Country (2005).
The Human Voice actresses
 The Human Voice had been previously filmed with, among others:
- Anna Magnani in one segment of Roberto Rossellini’s L’Amore (1948).
- Ingrid Bergman in a 1967 TV production for ABC Stage 67, directed by Ted Kotcheff.
- Carmen Maura in a play within Pedro Almodóvar’s own Law of Desire (1987), and, the following year, in the Human Voice-inspired Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
- Sophia Loren in Edoardo Ponti’s 25-minute Human Voice (2014).
Venice Film Festival website.
See also: Martin Scorsese’s Palme d’Or non-contender is The Big Story at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.
Image of Frances McDormand in the 2020 Venice Film Festival Awards’ Golden Lion winner Nomadland: Searchlight Pictures.
Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby Pieces of a Woman image: Netflix.
Tilda Swinton The Human Voice image: El Deseo | FilmNation Entertainment.
“Venice Film Festival Winners: Another Frances McDormand Oscar?” last updated in April 2023.