Venice + Telluride + Toronto: The Fall Festivals Are Ready for Launch

"We are a Go for launch." It's time for lift off. The Venice Film Festival begins tomorrow (August 29th) with the world premiere of Damien Chazelle's new film First Man, his follow-up to the Oscar-winning musical La La Land (which played at Venice & Telluride). This kicks off the annual "fall movie season", beginning with three major festivals back-to-back: the Venice Film Festival (in its 75th year), the Telluride Film Festival (in its 45th year), and the Toronto Film Festival (in its 43rd year). For cinephiles and Oscar pundits, this is always the most exciting time of the year. The best films are usually waiting to premiere, or be discovered in the mix of all the madness, and it's finally time to get into them. Time to see them, analyze them, debate them, and revel in their glory (or their failure). The line-ups this year look stellar, I can't wait.

This is my second year back at the Venice Film Festival, now in my regular rotation after moving to Berlin. It's just much closer and easier to get to than Telluride, although I really adore both festivals. I wish I could go to both, alas, it's just not possible (they take place on the same weekend anyway). The line-ups at both festivals are generally quite similar anyway, so I'm able to see the same films which is really what matters the most. Venice is a wonderful festival (I wrote a glowing editorial saying exactly this last year) and I am glad to be going back. It's much more easy going than Cannes, and it's stunningly beautiful to live in the city for a week and ride the boats back-and-forth to the Lido where all the screenings take place. I really can't miss these festivals, I have to be there year after year, I have to watch all these films and be in the thick of it.

This year I'm splitting my time between both Venice and Toronto - flying direct from Italy to Canada on the first day of TIFF. The line-up for TIFF is just so damn good, I have to go there. They've programmed an incredible selection of films that are, oddly, not showing at Venice. Which I find a bit strange. Why did they pass on Claire Denis, Mia Hansen-Løve, Barry Jenkins, Steve McQueen, Xavier Dolan? One could say they don't have great films, but I don't buy that. Of course, there's only so many slots at each festival and they can't show everything, but I still want to see all of these films at TIFF and everything in Venice. I want the best of both, so I'm the extra time to travel to both. This will be an exhausting experiment, but I'm excited. If all goes as planned, I'm hoping to see upwards of 50 films over the next two weeks. Bring on the movies.

Here's my list of most anticipated films at the festivals - split between Venice (top) and Toronto (bottom):

First Man directed by Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Whiplash, La La Land)
Suspiria directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name)
Roma directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, Gravity)
Sunset directed by László Nemes (Son of Saul)
The Nightingale directed by Jennifer Kent (Babadook)
Dragged Across Concrete directed by S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99)
Shadow directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, The Flowers of War, Coming Home)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs directed by the Coen Brothers (Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, True Grit, Inside Llewyn Davis, Hail Caesar!)

The Front Runner directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Tully)
Widows directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave)
If Beale Street Could Talk directed by Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy, Moonlight)
High Life directed by Claire Denis (Beau Travail, White Material, 35 Shots of Rum, Let the Sunshine In)
The Death and Life of John F. Donovan directed by Xavier Dolan (Heartbeats, Laurence Anyways, Tom at the Farm, Mommy)
A Million Little Pieces directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy, Fifty Shades of Grey)
Green Book directed by Peter Farrelly (Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin, Shallow Hal, The Heartbreak Kid)
The Old Man & The Gun directed by David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon, A Ghost Story

Each and every year, I put my trust in the festivals to program the best films and bring the best filmmakers into the spotlight. Some of them I don't know anything about, some of them I've been following all along. And as usual, I'm anxious to dive in and start watching. I always try to see as many films as I can, in hopes of discovering something that might be amazing (also in hopes that I don't miss out on something that is a huge discovery). The films I'm looking forward to the most are the ones we already know something about, coming from filmmakers we've seen before. Everything else, it's just a matter paying attention and taking a risk and giving them a chance. You never know what's out there, you never know if this first film from a new filmmaker is brilliant. And you never know if something is going to be bad, which is always up for debate. The discussions are my favorite - arguing with my friends and colleagues about what's good and what's bad.

I do realize how lucky/privileged I am to be here living this life, watching movies all day for my job, while staying in Venice for a week. But I'm also dedicated and passionate. I love cinema, and I've been writing about my love for movies for the past 11 years. I don't waste my time at parties, instead I spend all my time thinking about movies, and lining up for the next one, so I don't miss anything that might be a masterpiece. I do very much miss Telluride, and I miss the mountains, and all my friends, and the vibe of that festival. However, I'm just as happy being here. And I'm happy to keep saying this and to keep mentioning it over and over because it's true, because it's this feeling deep inside of me - a complete love for cinema and that power it has to amuse us and inspire us and move us and change us for the better. I love it with all my heart.

As usual, you can follow my updates from Venice & TIFF on Twitter @firstshowing at the festivals. I'll be posting reviews and other blog recaps on the site as both festivals continue. You can also find my photos on Instagram @abillington. I also now list all the films I've seen on my Letterboxd @firstshowing, if you want more thoughts on what I'm watching. And now - to pick up my badge and get ready for the countdown.