The 65th Venice International Film Festival got off to an incendiary start on August 27 with "Burn After Reading," a political prank from the dizzily innovative, all-American Coen brothers. It was shown out of competition, but another U.S. film, Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married," was screened in competition and was warmly received. Another U.S. entry, Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," boasting a sensational comeback performance by Mickey Rourke, won the Golden Lion, the festival's top prize. All three movies are described below. For complete details on the festival, which ended on September 6, click here; for Variety’s review of “Burn After Reading,” click here; for its review of "Rachel Getting Married," click here; and for its review of "The Wrestler," click here.


BURN AFTER READING: Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton (Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; Focus Features)

How do you top a fiendishly scary heart-stopper like "No Country for Old Men"? That was the challenge facing Joel and Ethan Coen, who may or may not have found a sensible solution to their problem in this screwball comedy-thriller about a bunch of Washington weirdoes. Acting very, very strange are John Malkovich as a zealous CIA agent who gets the boot for being too efficient and then drives his wife crazy by devoting all of his waking hours to penning an intimate, spooky tell-all book; Tilda Swinton as his enraged spouse who seeks solace in the arms of a married--but not too married--federal marshal played by George Clooney; Frances McDormand as an out-of-shape fitness center employee who schemes against her bosses when they refuse to finance the abundant plastic surgery she feels she deserves; and Brad Pitt as an exceptionally excitable gymnast and bed-hopper champ who comes to the needy lady's aid. Sort of. Opens in theaters on 9/12/08

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED: Anne Hathaway, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Rosemarie DeWitt, Tunde Adebimpe, Anna Deavere Smith, Dorian Missick, Tamyra Gray, Daphne Rubin-Vega (Directed by Jonathan Demme; Written by Jenny Lumet; Sony Pictures Classics)

In 1983, director James Brooks skillfully explored the complicated relationship between an impetuous, disorderly rebel and her sweet, impeccably behaved daughter. Both Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress of 1983, and mama MacLaine took home the Oscar. Now, 25 years later, esteemed director Jonathan Demme is focusing on another intriguing mother-daughter combo in “Rachel Getting Married.” This time, it’s Debra Winger who plays mom, a divorcee who is not at all happy when her estranged daughter, a neurotic ex-model recently released from rehab, decides to come home for her sister’s wedding. Perhaps Winger, whose career could stand a little rehabilitation, will nab an Oscar as Best Actress of 2008--though it’s possible that the winner could be Anne Hathaway, who no doubt welcomes the chance to soil her squeaky clean image in the role of Winger’s wayward sprout. Opens in theaters on 10/3/08

THE WRESTLER: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood (Directed by Darren Aronofsky; Written by Robert Siegel; Fox Searchlight)

Washed-up, impoverished and demoralized, Ram is so down on his luck that he can’t gain admission to his trailer camp home until he comes up with his back rent. Which is why it is imperative that this former wrestling champ pull himself together and stage a comeback. Ram is played by former promising movie star Mickey Rourke, and people who caught this Golden Lion winner at the 2008 Venice Film Festival say the actor has staged a comeback worthy of an Oscar. Marisa Tomei, playing a hooker who has seen better days and nights, soothes Ram’s physical and emotional wounds, and Evan Rachel Wood is the estranged daughter with whom Ram struggles to reconnect. The big question is, can Ram reconnect with--and demolish--the big bad Ayatollah in a contest celebrating the 20th anniversary of their memorably brutal face-to-battered-face encounter in the ring? Opening date to be announced