US, Argentine titles frontrunners for Golden Lion

American musical “La La Land,” directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, kicked off the world’s oldest film festival and immediately brought the house down.

Top international film critics, gathered on the glamorous Lido di Venezia for the 10-day fest, cheered the quirky tale of a struggling jazz pianist and his actress girlfriend in Los Angeles, a joyful tribute to the Golden Age of American musicals.

Fellow front-runner “Jackie,” Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain’s portrayal of the days following U.S. President JFK’s assassination, wowed thanks largely to a stellar performance from Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy.

“I felt like it was the most dangerous film I’ve ever done, because everyone knows what Jackie looked like, sounded like, walked like,” Portman admitted to press at the star-studded festival, where A-listers arrived by water taxi.

Oscar Hungry

Terrence Malick’s long-awaited “Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey,” a documentary on the life and death of the universe, moved critics and the public alike with its use of stunning special effects and real-life images of earth’s most breathtaking creations.

But these glossy, U.S. heavyweights are being challenged by Argentinian directors Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn with their comedy “The Distinguished Citizen,” about a Nobel Prize-winning author who returns to his village for the first time in 40 years.

Also hot on their heels is Philippine director Lav Diaz’s “The Woman Who Left,” an acclaimed black and white tale about a wrongly convicted schoolteacher plotting her revenge against the ex-boyfriend who framed her.

The awards ceremony is set to begin at 17:00 GMT.

Venice has strengthened its reputation in recent years as a launch-pad for the Oscars — with “Gravity,” “Birdman” and “Spotlight” all premiering here — and former fashion designer Tom Ford’s offering “Nocturnal Animals” may follow suit.

Spooking and stirring in equal part, with arresting performances from U.S. stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal as lovers gone awry, the film tells a story within a story about self-harm, love, betrayal and revenge.

The Best Actor award is tipped to go either to Oscar Martinez, who plays the cynical novelist in “The Distinguished Citizen,” or Gosling, for his tap-dancing, crooning character in “La La Land.”

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