Our Top Ten picks for Venice Biennale 2017

With the 74th Venice Film Festival under way today, we are now stepping into award season territory with premières to come from directors such as Alexander Payne, Guillermo del Toro, George Clooney, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Schrader and Martin McDonagh.

Alexander Payne's sci-fi comedy, Downsizing, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, opened things up a few hours ago and first reactions appear to be very positive. Whether or not it makes it into serious Oscar contention remains to be seen, but in recent years the festival has either opened with, or premièred films that have gone on to have Oscar success, such Gravity, Birdman, Spotlight, La La Land and Hacksaw Ridge.

There are always some exciting surprises that come out of nowhere at Venice, but for now, we've picked out ten titles that we hope will live up to expectation across the next 11 days.

Nico, 1988
Director: Susanna Nicchiarelli
Starring: Trine Dyrholm, Calvin Demba, Karina Fernandez

Susanna Nicchiarelli's film opens the Venice Horizons Section today, with a biopic detailing the life of the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol muse after her time in the spotlight. “This is the story of Nico after Nico,” as Nicchiarelli says herself.

Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Christoph Waltz, Laura Dern, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris

Opening in the 'Oscar slot' at the top of the festival, expect to hear a lot about this film in the coming months. Damon and Wiig star as a couple who agree to be shrunk down to five inches, to save on costs. Sounds like a Charlie Kaufman-esque story, a high-concept idea that promises to deal with a number of social themes.

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Kristen Wiig

Having previously won the Golden Lion with The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky returns and heads back to his horror roots. Anyone who has seen the amazing poster or trailer will be anticipating its release. The trailer gives little away, although there appear to be shades of Rosemary's Baby to the story. Whilst mother! premières at the festival, it will release in the UK on September 15th, so not too long to wait.

The Third Murder
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose

Koreeda has built a reputation for crafting intimate family dramas and this genre jump is something of a surprise, but welcome, shift in tone. The premise is of a lawyer (Masaharu Fukuyama) who begins to ponder his belief in the law and the systems that uphold it.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes

The hilarious red-band trailer has been online for a while now and has got everyone looking forward to the return of the In Bruges directors. Frances McDormand stars as a mother fed-up with the lack of progress made by local sheriff Woody Harrelson over the murder of her daughter, and pitches up three billboards to shame the police into action.

Director: Xavier Legrand
Starring: Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet, Thomas Gioria

Xavier Legrand's feature début follows the break-up and turbulent fall-out of a couple and their young son caught right in the middle of their bitterness. Denis Ménochet and Léa Drucker star, and any UK release is likely to take place some time next year.

Director: Lucrecia Martel
Starring: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Matheus Nachtergaele

Lucrecia Martel's return to narrative cinema after 9 years is based on Antonio Di Benedetto’s novel of the same name, following Spanish officer, Don Diego de Zama. As he awaits a transfer to Buenos Aires, he becomes involved in the hunt for a highly wanted bandit deep in South America.

The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Michael Shannon, Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins

Set during the Cold War, Sally Hawkins stars as a janitor who discovers a strange creature in the laboratory she works in. With only two features released since 2008, the mere mention of Guillermo del Toro directing a film sends people into a frenzy. With this and Pinocchio entering into development, it could mark a move away from writing and producing back into the directors chair.

Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Starring: Shaïn Boumedine, Lou Luttiau, Ophélie Bau

Following up on the hugely successful, yet controversial, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, director Abdellatif Kechiche gives us the story of young screenwriter, Amin, who is forced to decide between love and his career. The production was blighted with problems, with Kechiche even going as far as selling his Palme d'Or to raise finances and finish the project.

The Private Life of a Modern Woman
Director: James Toback
Starring: Sienna Miller, Alec Baldwin, Charles Grodin

The filming of James Toback's latest was shrouded in secrecy and tells the story of a Vera, an actress viewed as the best in the world, who refuses to take on a role because she feels unable to kill someone with conviction onscreen. Her coke-addled ex-boyfriend then comes over and puts Vera's unwillingness to the test.

Head over to the Venice Film Festival to cast your eyes over the full list of films on show.

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