Takeaways From the 2023 Venice Film Festival: Best Movies, Awards Favorites and More

With highly rated new films from the likes of Bradley Cooper, Yorgos Lanthimos, Ava DuVernay and Sofia Coppola, Venice showed off some of the best cinema of the year.

Peter Sarsgaard speaks on stage as he receives the Best Actor Award for Memory during the Awards ceremony at the 80th Venice International Film Festival. Photo by Daniele Venturelli/WireImage on Getty Images

As the Venice Film Festival comes to a close half a world away, the rest of the year in movies is taking shape. From some potential early Oscar frontrunners to films every cinephile should have on their watchlist, the festival has delivered some of the most exciting and intriguing titles of 2023. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the world’s oldest film festival.

Emma Stone in Poor Things. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Poor Things wins the day (and the Golden Lion)

Premiering at Venice before making a successful trip to Telluride, Yorgos Lanthimos’ newest project is a bonafide hit. The writer-director has long been applauded for his idiosyncratic work, from the absurdist world of The Lobster to the period profanity of The Favourite, and Poor Things may just be his oddest—and best—film yet. In this Frankensteinesque tale, Emma Stone stars as a reanimated woman who must learn to live (and enjoy life’s carnal pleasures) once again. 

Though things get freaky, critics are loving it. Near universal praise has been heaped onto everything from the detailed, otherworldly production design to the exquisite costumes to Stone’s intricately comedic performance, and the film was awarded Venice’s highest honor. It’s easily one of the biggest titles to come out of the festival.

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre in Maestro. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.

Early awards season favorites

On top of big names in front of and behind the camera, Ferrari, Priscilla and Maestro all provide the kind of historical biopic prestige that Academy voters tend to love. Michael Mann’s Ferrari sees Adam Driver continue his streak of playing famous Italian businessmen, with Penelope Cruz co-starring as his embittered wife. The film mixes the traditional biographical approach with some pulse-pounding racing scenes, a la another recent successful movie about cars and the men who make them, Ford v Ferrari.

The “quietly extraordinaryPriscilla finds Sofia Coppola returning to her complex depictions of girlhood as she adapts Priscilla Presley’s autobiography for the screen. Cailee Spaeny stars as Priscilla from 14 to her early twenties, as she’s wooed and ultimately shaped by Elvis (Jacob Elordi), and her powerful performance won her the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. If Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is any indication, this subject matter is ripe for awards consideration, and Coppola is certainly no stranger to that circuit.

As for Maestro, critics say that Bradley Cooper’s second directorial effort is a “considerable leap in terms of accomplishment” from his debut, 2019’s A Star is Born. Cooper stars as legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, but much of the focus is on Carey Mulligan, who plays his wife Felicia. Their long-standing relationship was clouded by Bernstein’s closetedness, and that fascinating complexity is at the center of the film.

Several other established directors have thrown their hat into the ring too. Ava DuVernay made history by becoming the first African American woman to participate in competition at the festival with Origin, an ambitious narrative adaptation of a non-fiction book about the origins of racism, and between her wide-ranging drama and its extensive ensemble cast, there’s likely a nomination or two in the film’s future.

Festival favorite Michel Franco’s Memory garnered a seven-minute standing ovation, with Venice viewers applauding stars Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard for their roles in the quiet drama (the latter went on to win the Volpi Cup for Best Actor). Richard Linklater brought some verve to the Lido with Hit Man, an action comedy starring the ever-affable Glen Powell set to wow audiences at several more festivals this fall. On the other end of the genre spectrum, David Fincher returned to the thrillers that he does so well with The Killer, a neo-noir featuring Michael Fassbender as an assassin with an incurable grudge.

Also, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial provides viewers and voters alike the chance to appreciate two late, great talents: filmmaker William Friedkin and actor Lance Reddick. The legal drama is set to premiere with Paramount (PARA)+ and Showtime later this year, though, much to the chagrin of assistant director Guillermo del Toro. With that release strategy, it’s unclear how the film will fare in the rough seas of awards season.

Jaime Vadell in El Conde. The film won Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival. Pablo Larraín/Netflix

International movies are making moves

With the ongoing WGA and SAG strikes, Hollywood has begun pushing projects further and further back on the release calendar, but international productions aren’t beholden to the same pressures or expectations. Essentially, there’s an ever-growing vacuum in this year’s movie releases, and foreign films have the chance to fill it.

Festival season always serves as a launchpad for the international movies that will go on to make waves on American shores, and this year is no different. Among the more show-stopping, ovation-garnering Venice entries to look out for in the coming months are Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Drive My Car, the cerebral Evil Does Not Exist, a pair of gripping refugee crisis dramas in Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border and Matteo Garrone’s Io Capitano, and Pablo Larraín’s vampiric take on Augusto Pinochet, El Conde

Takeaways From the 2023 Venice Film Festival: Best Movies, Awards Favorites and More