Annette Bening’s jury will hand out its prizes later tonight as the Venice Film Festival wraps up here on the Lido. This is the first time since 2006 that a woman has chaired the main panel, and while women may have been under-represented behind the camera in the main section, there was no shortage of strong females on display.

REX/Shutterstock
They’ve included Hong Chau’s scene-stealing turn in Alexander Payne’s opening night Downsizing from Paramount; Frances McDormand strutting through her grief in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri; Sally Hawkins’ unabashedly sexual 1950s imp ready to risk it all in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape Of Water (the latter two both from Fox Searchlight); and Helen Mirren’s turn as a wife determined to live out her final days on the road with her ailing husband in Paolo Virzi’s The Leisure Seeker (Sony Pictures Classics).

Out of competition we saw Judi Dench as the formidable titular Queen in Universal/Focus’ Victoria And Abdul from Stephen Frears, and Jane Fonda as a woman with a plan in Netflix’s Ritesh Batra-helmed Our Souls At Night. Even John Woo was giddy about showcasing two female gunfighters for the first time in Manhunt, a return to his brand of hard-boiled action.

In the Critics’ Week sidebar, meanwhile, two female directors scooped prizes on Friday: Natalia Garagiola for Hunting Season and Annika Berg for Team Hurricane.

Back in the main strand, mother! Earth got a big shout-out here with climate change a running theme in both that divisive film from Darren Aronofsky and Payne’s Downsizing. The 1950s/Cold War-era and their parallels to today were also present in such films as The Shape Of Water, George Clooney’s Suburbicon and out-of-competition doc Wormwood from Errol Morris and Netflix.

Del Toro said of the 1962-set Shape, “it’s a movie about today.” Clooney noted, “The Eisenhower 50s were great if you were a straight white male. Lift up the veil and you see problems of the country that it hasn’t come to terms with. Unfortunately these issues are never out of vogue in our country and we’re still trying to exorcise them.”

REX/Shutterstock
The best reviewed competition pics here include the U.S. titles and notably Shape Of Water and Three Billboards — the latter also for Sam Rockwell’s turn as a small town racist cop who rides an arc to redemption. Among others that have had folks buzzing on the Lido are Samuel Moaz’s Foxtrot, Italian musical Ammore E Malavita from the Manetti brothers and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Third Murder.

Last year, Sam Mendes’ jury brought the studios back to the winners’ circle with prizes for La La Land, Nocturnal Animals and Jackie. But juries in Venice (much as with Cannes) are hardly predictable.

REX/Shutterstock
Whatever Bening’s group decides, the festival itself will again be able to claim world premiering some of the movies that we’ll be talking about all throughout awards season. Outside the screening rooms, it was a changeable 10 days on the Lido with pummeling rains the likes of which I’ve not seen here before. That didn’t dampen the proceedings at the world’s oldest festival (although I fractured a rib falling off my bike, but that’s a story for another day…) which has been elevated in recent years, yet remains an accessible and intimate affair.

For today, with much attention now focused on Toronto, the sun is out here as we await this evening’s verdicts. We’ll be back with the winners.