Oscar race underway as Phoenix, Hoffman wow Venice

Mon Sep 3, 2012 9:22am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White and Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - Venice traditionally fires the starting gun in the long movie awards season, and as the world's oldest film festival reaches the halfway point three actors have set Hollywood tongues wagging with memorable performances.

Michael Shannon as a serial hitman, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a cult leader modeled on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and Joaquin Phoenix playing the tortured, volatile protege are already in the frame around six months before the Oscars.

The buzz surrounding their portrayals has helped lift spirits in Venice, celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, although incoming director Alberto Barbera may be concerned by the lack of A-list stars on the red carpet.

Celebrity wattage is almost as important to a film festival as the quality of the movies, as it attracts the world's media and reminds the showbusiness world why notoriously expensive Venice still matters in a calendar crammed with rival events.

As the 11-day cinema showcase on the Lido waterfront reaches the midway point on Monday, the heaviest hitter on all levels has been "The Master".

Director Paul Thomas Anderson's first film since the acclaimed "There Will Be Blood" in 2007, it combines controversy - the movie centers around the early days of Scientology - and acting pedigree in the form of Hoffman and Phoenix.

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy called it "a bold, challenging, brilliantly acted drama that is a must for serious audiences."

Not every critic liked it, but most agreed the two central actors were at the peak of their powers, with Hoffman as the domineering, exploitive Lancaster Dodd and Phoenix his hard-drinking, troubled acolyte.   Continued...

U.S. actors Philip Seymour Hoffman (R) and Joaquin Phoenix pose during a photocall for the movie "The Master" at the 69th Venice Film Festival September 1, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile