Two very different movies about the Iraq war are among the favorites for awards at this year's Venice film festival as it passes the halfway stage, and an unusually high number of male leads have stood out.
For pure shock value, Brian De Palma's Redacted wins hands down, stunning audiences with an uncompromising reconstruction of the real-life rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her family by US soldiers.
For those looking for a more nuanced take on the conflict, a hot topic in Hollywood today, Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah stands out, as does the performance of Tommy Lee Jones.
Paolo Mereghetti, film critic for Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper, gave his highest marks so far to Redacted, calling it "well and truly a blow to the stomach".
But not everyone agreed. Jay Weissberg, critic for the US-based Variety industry magazine, said De Palma "hits you over the head with a sledge hammer.
"My concern with films like that is that people sing their praises because of the subject matter and not because of the film itself."
He and Maria Giulia Minetti, who covers the festival for Italian daily La Stampa, preferred Haggis's picture.
"So far I think the hot favorite is In The Valley Of Elah more than Redacted, because it combines the high quality of the director, the message about the Iraq war and a thriller-type story that the public will enjoy," Minetti said.
Jones's performance as a man whose son is murdered by fellow soldiers after returning from Iraq is seen as an early Oscar contender, and much talked about was the film's defining image of an American flag hanging upside down, a symbol of distress.
Strong male leads
Critics said much would depend on whether the jury, led by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, rewarded a political movie.
The competition, which critics have praised overall, includes films about Iraq, migrant labor in Britain, corruption in America, the Italian mafia and police brutality in Egypt.
"There isn't one film that everyone is saying 'This is the one' about," said Weissberg. "People are very divided."
In terms of the Golden Lion for best film, critics also rate Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney as a washed out corporate "fixer" and French drama Les Amours d'Astree et de Celadon, set in the time of the druids.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, featuring Brad Pitt, has won good reviews, and La Graine et le Mulet, Abdellatif Kechiche's story of an Arab family living in southern France, was also popular.
Vying for best actor alongside Jones is Casey Affleck as a creepy social misfit in The Assassination, Jude Law and Michael Caine won plaudits for Sleuth, and Tony Leung impressed in Lust, Caution by Ang Lee, as did Clooney.
Best actress favorite, with just over half the 22 main competition films having had their premiere, is Briton Kierston Wareing for her portrayal of an ambitious single mother who recruits migrant workers in Ken Loach's It's a Free World....
Keira Knightley won praise in Atonement, Joe Wright's adaptation of the acclaimed Ian McEwan novel, and Cate Blanchett could figure for her portrayal of singer Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' unusual biopic I'm Not There.