Alexander Payne‘s “Downsizing” starring Matt Damon opened the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 30. The social satire earned rave reviews that establish it as a serious Oscar contender. Last year’s festival opener, “La La Land,” won six Oscars while the first film to screen in 2014, “Birdman,” won Best Picture. Other films that have used this slot as a launching pad into awards season include “Black Swan” (2010) and “Gravity” (2013).
In “Downsizing,” Damon plays a man who decides his life would be better if he allows himself to be shrunk. While that sounds like an unusual concept for an Oscar contender, remember that “Birdman” was about an actor launching a Broadway show while being haunted by his old superhero film persona. And “Her,” a 2013 Academy Award winner, was about a man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system.
Both Payne and Damon have strong track records at the Academy Awards. Payne has won two Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay (2004’s “Sideways” and 2011’s “The Descendants”) and has been nominated seven times in total. Damon is also an Oscar winning screenwriter (1997’s “Good Will Hunting”) in addition to three acting nominations and one earlier this year as a producer of Best Picture nominee “Manchester by the Sea.”
Below, a sampling of the reviews for “Downsizing,” many of which single out Hong Chau as the breakout star of the film. This “Inherent Vice” star could well reap her first Oscar bid for this scene-stealing supporting performance. After reading these excerpts, be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.
Owen Gleiberman (Variety): “Payne may be the closest thing we have to a studio-system classicist. His films are built with a craftsmanship so beveled and honed that it’s beyond impeccable, yet that very precision can, at times, rob his movies of spontaneity. ‘Downsizing’ has a subtly structured arc of redemption, as well as a nifty metaphorical design.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter): “The rare director who has never made a bad film, Payne has now arguably created his best one with a work that easily accommodates many moods, flavors, intentions and ambitions.”
Xan Brooks (The Guardian): “No sooner I had it pegged as a jaunty black comedy than it starts folding in elements of dystopian sci-fi, or compassionate human drama. A less polished director might have become lost and confused along the film’s lengthy running-time. But Payne’s handling is perfect.”
Robbie Collin (The Telegraph): “This section feels a little wide-eyed at times, but it’s rescued from mawkishness by some well-placed jabs of dry humour and a terrifically appealing performance from Chau, whose character’s snappy matter-of-factness beautifully complements Damon’s nicely pitched bluff affability. Their chemistry turbo-charges the film through its increasingly foreboding final stretch, in which the fate of humanity (really!) hangs in the balance.”