Venice Film Festival 2023: 10 of the best movies, from Golden Lion winner Poor Things, starring Emma Stone, to Bradley Cooper’s Maestro

She plays Maria, an adopted South London teenager from a troubled background who begins an affair with an enigmatic older male (Joseph Quinn).

Carmoon throws everything against the wall in this grief-soured coming-of-age story. Not all of it sticks, but this is a courageous movie filled with quality performances, including supporting turns from Cathy Tyson, Samantha Spiro and especially Hayley Squires.

2. Green Border

Agnieszka Holland’s gut-wrenching refugee drama became the most controversial film at the festival when Poland’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, compared it to Nazi propaganda. Holland has threatened defamation charges against the politician, who has yet to see the movie.

Her film takes an uncompromising look at the crisis on the Poland-Belarus border, in which immigrants have become stranded in a no-man’s-land between the two countries and denied humanitarian aid.

Shot in black and white, this two-and-a-half-hour film follows the intertwining paths of migrants, patrol guards and activists, as those in flight are kicked back and forth like footballs, as one character puts it, across the barbed-wire fences dividing the two countries.

Awarded the Special Jury Prize, the film arguably deserved the Golden Lion.

3. Hit Man

Glen Powell (right) as university professor and fake hitman Gary Johnson, and Adria Arjona, in a still from “Hit Man”.

Press screenings can be jaded affairs, but the thunderous round of applause at the end of Richard Linklater’s out-of-competition comedy showed just how a film like this was appreciated midway through the festival.

Glen Powell gives a star-making turn in this tale, which is based on a true story, as Gary Johnson, a university professor who moonlights for the New Orleans Police Department, posing as a hitman to lure in those who are desperate to bump off someone in their lives.

Linklater creates a wild roller coaster – part noir, part sexy screwball comedy – with Powell and co-star Adria Arjona fizzing together.

4. Io Capitano

The best Italian film in the festival, migrant drama Io Capitano (Me Captain) won Matteo Garrone the Silver Lion for best director, and Seydou Sarr the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor.

Sarr plays an optimistic 16-year-old Senegalese boy who has dreams of making it to Europe and even becoming a pop star. With his cousin Moussa, he secretly leaves his hometown, beginning an exhausting odyssey across northern Africa as they aim to make an illegal crossing into Italy.

Inspired by a true story, it’s an absorbing tale filled with hope, horror and humanity.

5. Poor Things

Enthusiastically received by critics, audiences and the jury, Yorgos Lanthimos’ bawdy, feminist-skewed Victorian-era black comedy took the Golden Lion – making it a major contender for this year’s awards season.

With an impressive supporting cast (Ramy Youssef and Mark Ruffalo, in particular), costumes by Holly Waddington, production design by Shona Heath and a distinctive musical score by Jerskin Fendrix, this is destined to become one of the year’s must-see movies.

6. Tatami

Unveiled in the festival’s Horizons section, this was a surprising find. Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv (Golda) joins forces with Iranian actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi (who won best actress in Cannes for Holy Spider in 2022) to co-direct this drama set around the World Judo Championships.

Arienne Mandi plays an Iranian competitor who arrives in Tbilisi, Georgia, with her coach (Ebrahimi), only to discover that the Islamic Republic of Iran has ordered her to fake an injury and lose.

Shot in monochrome and using the boxlike Academy Ratio, this is both an electrifying sports drama and an artful look at state-sponsored oppression.

7. Pet Shop Days

Olmo Schnabel’s grimy debut about two friends (Dario Yazbek Bernal and Jack Irv) on a series of chaotic, criminal adventures in New York feels infused with the spirit of controversial filmmaker Abel Ferrara and actor John Cassavetes.

“It was important to make a movie that felt timeless,” Schnabel told this writer during the festival.

Schnabel, the son of artist-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, directs this movie, which features Willem Dafoe, Peter Sarsgaard and Peter Greene, with panache.

Some scenes are scatological and stomach-churning, but Schabel clearly had no intention of being constrained by political correctness. “I thought it’s us against the world,” he said.

8. Society of the Snow

A true story told previously in the 1993 movie Alive, it follows what happens when a plane carrying a Uruguayan rugby team crash-lands in the Andes mountains and the survivors are forced to eat the bodies of their compatriots who perish.

Bayona, who has already brought us the tsunami disaster film The Impossible, is one of cinema’s great technical masters – the plane crash alone is one of the most terrifying ever seen on screen. But more than that, this is a stirring look at heroism and human will.

9. Daaaaaali!

Jonathan Cohen as Salvador Dali in a still from “Daaaaaali!”. Photo: Atelier de Production/France 3 Cinema

The ultra-prolific French writer-director Quentin Dupieux was back with a real crowd-pleaser, an absurdist comedy about a journalist (Anaïs Demoustier) trying to interview the Spanish master of surrealism Salvador Dalí.

With the artist played by multiple actors, including the brilliantly flamboyant Édouard Baer, Dupieux’s own playful humour comes to the fore as he stretches jokes to their very limits.

Former Daft Punk member Thomas Bangalter provides the infectious score – one of the best of the festival, and as loopy as the film’s circuitous narrative.

10. Maestro

Bradley Cooper’s biopic of Leonard Bernstein didn’t please every critic – although this writer personally fell for it – but there’s a heartfelt quality to this telling of the life of America’s most famous composer and conductor.

Cooper’s enthusiasm as Bernstein shines through, while Carey Mulligan delivers one of the best performances of her film career as Bernstein’s wife, the Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre.

Maestro spans almost 50 years of Bernstein’s life and gets inside its subject’s head. There are transcendent moments as we watch Bernstein perform, not least conducting a spellbinding rendition of part of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2.

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