The Cannes Film Festival is all wrapped up for another year; the awards have been given out, and pundits are busy working out what’s going to go the distance in the coming awards season, and what will fall by the wayside.
In my first time at Cannes, I managed to watch 41 films, including all 20 films In Competition, and have arrived at the 10 films that I feel were the best of show. Put simply, these are ones to watch out for:
Alex van Warmerdam delivers the first Dutch film In Competition in almost 40 years, a darkly funny thriller-drama that proved to be one of the most beguiling films at this year’s fest. Jan Bijvoet plays a demon-like figure who infiltrates a middle-upper class family’s quaint life and promptly poisons it, sending married couple Richard (Jeroen Perceval) and Marina (Hadewych Minis) destined for a chaotic clash.
Think of it as a Michael Haneke film with added laughs; though this is an extremely sinister picture, it’s also suffused with cutting bouts of gallows humor, ensuring it never descends into self-seriousness. Punchily directed though perhaps too deliberately-paced for some, Borgman is delightfully weird and then some.
9. Fruitvale Station
Ryan Coogler‘s feature debut may not be bowing at Cannes – it first screened at Sundance, to rapturous acclaim – but it just might have the fuel to take its performers and screenplay all the way to the Academy Awards. Fruitvale Station dramatizes the final hours in the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant (an excellent Michael B. Jordan), a young man who winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time on one fateful night.
Coogler’s film avoids the trite cliches associated with the archetypal “gangster gone good” dramas we’ve seen over the years, crafting a riveting slice-of-life, almost neo-realist piece. Though it arguably reaches a little too far for cosmic significance here and there, the relaxed chemistry between the performers and a tension-soaked third act see it through. Octavia Spencer’s stupendous performance as Oscar’s mother is the one to watch for awards season.
8. Venus in Fur
Roman Polanski follows up his minimalist adaptation of a play, Carnage, with a formally similar effort in Venus in Fur. The director’s latest is not as accessible as his A-list-starring previous film, though it finds in Mathieu Amalric and Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner a deeply alluring double act, the former playing a theatre director who painstakingly has his submissive side revealed, and the latter playing the auditioning actress who runs rings around him.
Though the director’s film doesn’t leave the theatre once it begins, Polanski’s slick control of the project should not be sold short. He manages to keep the rat-a-rat dialogue as visually dynamic as possible, in part thanks to a sizzling Seigner and uproariously funny Amalric. The duel of words might make for the director’s slightest work in a while, but it’s still the sure sign of a master at work.
Alexander Payne‘s latest might be the director’s first feature that he didn’t also write, but it’s still jam-packed with outrageously witty one-liners, not to mention a pair of performances that should court Oscar contention next year. As senile old Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) heads to Lincoln, Nebraska to collective a million dollars he thinks he’s won in a sweepstake, his son David (Will Forte) tags along, hoping that he can bond with his father and convince him that the cash prize is, of course, a scam.
A depiction of small-town life that feels fully-realised and brilliantly funny without condescending its subjects, this is surely a change of pace from The Descendants, a more noble affair with more modest aspirations. Nevertheless, the portrait of an awkward father-son dynamic and the pains made to ease it is wholly affecting and brilliantly played by both Dern, who won Best Actor at Cannes, and Forte, who underplays it superbly. June Squibb, as David’s mother, is a riot, and will hopefully also garner awards attention.
6. Behind the Candelabra
Steven Soderbergh claims that his HBO TV movie is going to be his final narrative feature, and if so, he’s judiciously picked a belter of a project to go out on. This Liberace biopic, starring Michael Douglas in one of his strongest screen performances, manages to be devilishly funny while not playing the camp up too much, making for a film broached perfectly in tone.
Matt Damon somehow makes us forget that he’s playing a 17-year-old at the start of the story, delivering an affectionate, nuanced turn as Liberace’s young lover. Complementing the performances is another firmly controlled directing job from Soderbergh, who combines his lush lensing with outstanding production design to do considerable justice the oft-derided TV movie medium.
5. Blue is the Warmest Color
Director Abdellatif Kechiche scooped the Palme D’Or last Sunday for his exquisitely assembled, sublimely acted three-hour drama Blue is the Warmest Color. A potent meditation on young love and how feelings evolve over time, it is nevertheless a powerful statement that the Cannes Jury opted to co-award the Palme to leads Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos, an unprecedented move that is a testament to their part in forging the film.
Sure to be a tough sell with distributors in spite of the critical rapture surrounding it, Blue features graphic lesbian sex scenes between the two actresses that are guaranteed to cause quite a stir (though will likely be cut down before US audiences get a hold of them). However, this is far from salacious exploitation; while sexy, the film is a deeply-felt exploration of the forces impressing upon and forging our romantic relationships, one that never opts for the easy answer.
4. Like Father, Like Son
I Wish director Kore-ada Hirokazu crafts a riveting drama about two family units about to come apart at the seams as the parents discover that each has been raising the wrong child. Easily avoiding earnestness and reforming as a deeply affecting, stingingly funny examination of nature vs. nurture, Like Father, Like Son has the potential to be a breakout art-house hit, and puts itself in good stead for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award nomination.
If the dichotomy of comparing an upper class family with a working class one seems a little trite, this is a film with far more on its mind than that. Though light is made of the class differences, the film focuses its energy on two extremely spirited child performances, and an emotionally resonant through-point that makes up for its predictability with a load of heart.
3. Seduced and Abandoned
James Toback and Alec Baldwin explore in punishing detail the will-power and strength of stomach needed to get a film financed in this day and age. Though most of the film unfolds during last year’s Cannes Film Festival, this is far from a worship exercise, instead using the world’s largest film market to explore the beguiling nature of film selling.
The duo’s hilarious back-and-forth banter is itself worth seeing, but the probing interviews with the likes of Coppola, Scorsese, Bertolucci and Ryan Gosling seal the deal. With unexpected riffs on why we make and watch movies, this is an achingly human, superbly-shaped documentary film.
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
As materially strange as one would expect a vampire film from Jim Jarmusch to be, Only Lovers Left Alive tells the tale of an ennui-laden vampire, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) who reunites with his vampire wife Eve (Tilda Swinton), yet when her sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) comes to visit, their lives are thrown into disarray.
Beautifully filmed as one would expect, the film is a winner largely because of Jarmusch’s pithy script, which ably integrates these centuries-old character into the contemporary milieu of Detroit. Unexpectedly, it’s also a laugh riot, delivering some of the year’s heartiest laughs amid its dark backdrop, which are sure to go down a treat with the filmmaker’s fans. Even with a lackadaisical pace, it’s the sterling performances that really see it through; the trio of Hiddleston, Swinton and Wasikowska don’t falter for even a moment. What a rebuke to Twilight this is.
Easily the best film I saw at Cannes, it has regrettably garnered little fanfare so far despite debuting in the Un Certain Regard banner. Actress-turned-director Valeria Golino has nevertheless crafted an unsung gem, a haunting, riveting masterpiece in its own right that asks tough questions about our attitudes towards both terminal illness and depression.
Irene (Jasmine Trinca) helps terminally ill people die for a living, though when she finds out one of her patients is in fact just chronically depressed, she has to confront the nature of her line of work. Though unpleasant material, Golino shoots it through with plenty of dark wit, and most importantly, a wealth of heart and humanism that drives this character piece forward, right to its bittersweet conclusion. In a just world, Trinca would become a star in lieu, and Golino’s name would be one to watch.