The Big Bad Cannes 2011 Preview: Where Blockbusters, Auteurs, and Dangerous Filmmaking Mingle

With a little less than a week to go until I land at Nice Airport and get the hugely unglamorous Hack Bus into Cannes along with my boys from to begin FSR’s official Cannes film festival 2011 coverage, now is surely a prudent time to offer my thoughts on the biggest and brightest films showing on the Croisette this year. You already know what films are showing, so I won’t exhaustively trawl back through the list, but I wanted to take the opportunity to announce what I am particularly excited about.

This also gives me the opportunity post-festival to look back at happier, simpler times when my optimism at seeing four films a day wasn’t yet destroyed by watching three incredibly boring flicks in a row, followed by a blockbuster during which I fell asleep (as happened in 2009). Anyway, lesson learned, and this year I’ll be packing as many natural amphetamines as possible. If you’re heading out there look for me, I’ll be the guy with the grinding jaw, the sallow eyes and the notepad full of doodles/plans to change the future of cinema.

So anyway, here’s what I’m looking forward to most.Despite the festival’s reputation for offering something for everyone, I feel that I have to start with the blockbusters. I’m from the UK, and so grew up without the wonders of double-stuffed Orios*, Captain Crunch and Grits (which I’m still not entirely sure I understand), but while it might be quaint to imagine I only like the kitchen-sink realist melancholy of Mike Leigh and the faux-violence of Guy Ritchie, I do like big bold monstrous cinema as well. So the prospect of seeing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 3D at the festival in a prestigious Out of Competition slot is an appealing one – albeit one tempered by that rubber-necking fascination to see whether they’ve pulled it off.

Then there’s Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, reuniting the Cannes lovies with last year’s favorite man Ryan Gosling and surely coming as a bit of a thinking man’s actioner (though of course most of us are probably only thinking one thing about Gosling’s co-star Christina Hendricks). With a ridiculously talented cast – including elven wonder Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston – and Refn’s intriguing claim that it is a love story and not an action film, this one’s a top-drawer draw for me.

Next up comes arguably the strangest film included for the festival – Jodie Foster’s The Beaver – which could be a number of things, but probably won’t quite by the rejuvenating shot in the arm that Mel Gibson’s public image needs. I’d like to think the film will be great, since the premise of a broken man who seeks (and perhaps finds) redemption thanks to his relationship with a beaver puppet is genius-ly odd-ball, and the casting of Gibson, Foster herself and Anton Yelchin among others feels right. It would be a shame if it isn’t well-received, because God help us if the critics follow the pretty puerile and immature line of writing (that has so far seen headlines like YELCHIN BOARDS FOSTER’S BEAVER) and start talking about how it’s like, a bit “shitty.” Oh, God the imagery.

Moving swiftly on, I have to say Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris still excites me, even though I fear his music sheet has contained largely the same notes for the last few projects. Okay, so he recycles the same themes, but they’re grand enough and engaging enough universal ideas that it’s far more forgivable than in another director’s hands, and the fact that Midnight will be another City Love Letter film is surely tantalizing enough on its own. As with You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger last year, I hope to be surprised and delighted.

And finally of the Big Big Boys is Terrence Malick’s long-awaited (how often do those words appear with that name?!) Tree of Life, which was supposed to be screened way back at the 63rd Cannes festival last year, but which was even a doubt to be completed for this year. For this one, my interest lies most in finding out whether Malick can continue to make visually stunning movies, and also wrestle with the weight of expectation that also comes with every new film he makes, without evaporating under a cloud of egotism and heckling critics.

Beyond those inclusions which some might call “popcorn fodder,” there are also  a number of auteur-driven numbers showing. If you had suggested that within the course of a single week I could be seeing Refn’s Drive, Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, Takeshi Miike’s Ishimei, Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia and a host of other names including the Dardennes, Van Sant, Khoo and Kaurismaki I’d have punched you square in the mouth as a lying dog. As it is, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to choose which is the most exciting: Drive certainly holds a lot of the cards, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be Almodovar’s “terror film without screams or scares” that will have the longest lasting effect on me. The reunited pairing of the Spanish director and Antonio Banderas is irresistible enough before you add in the tension and brutality that Almodovar has been talking about on his pre-release rounds. I can’t ruddy well wait.

And since this is Cannes, there are a number of  comparatively smaller films that have pricked my interest, with Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin at the top of the pile (and, as I’ve already said, my outside bet for the Palme d’Or) thanks to compelling subject matter and a potentially powerhouse cast (and very early calls for Tilda Swinton to win an Oscar for her turn). I love dangerous filmmaking, and this one’s got red lights flashing all over the place. Next up is Indian film Dear Friend Hitler, which is not actually listed, but is included as part of the Marche Du Film selection (and I’ve blagged my way in already): the film centers on Gandhi’s relationship with Hitler, and three letters he sent the Fuhrer in the run up to WWII to try and avert global conflict. Controversial? Undoubtedly. But it is as unique a focus on pre-WWII Europe and India as I have ever heard of, and the controversy is only one aspect of its appeal for me.

Not only that, this year’s roll call is even further buoyed by what is a head-turning Cannes Classics selection, including the irresistible prospects of seeing A Clockwork Orange, Bertolucci’s The Conformist and Georges Melies’s A Trip To The Moon for the first time on a big screen. If only I had some sort of Harry Potter style Time Turner device, I could see all of the films I actually want to, as well as forcing my way into more of the closely-guarded Marche Du Film screenings that I always enviously cast my eye over.

These are but a drop in the ocean, but since I’m FSR’s eyes and ears on the ground, I thought it might be nice to get to know me through the wonderful medium of excited waffle!

P.S. Haven’t announced this one yet, but the Closing Film, which I have invariably always left before up until this year, is Christophe Honoré’s film, Les Bien-aimés, starring Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier, Chiara Mastroiani, Milos Forman, Louis Garrel, Michel Delpech and Paul Schneider. According to the official blurb: “they embody characters that draw us into Prague of the sixties, London of the ’80s, the world of Sept. 11 and Paris of today in a singular, melancholy and romantic work of art.”

Remember to follow me on @SiTheMovieGuy, where I shall be tweeting from sunny France, along with the team from my regular home

*Editor’s Note: Simon misspelled “Oreos,” but in the context, I decided to keep it to show just how UK-ian he really is. He also spells “color” as “colour” all the time, and I’m convinced he drinks tea 24 hours a day.

Born to the mean streets of Newcastle, England the same year that BMX Bandits was cruelly over-looked for the Best Film Oscar, Simon Gallagher's obsessive love of all things cinema blossomed during that one summer in which he watched Clueless every day for six weeks. This is not a joke. Eventually able to wean himself off that particular dirty habit, and encouraged by the revelation that was One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, he then spent many years reviewing films on the underground scene, throwing away thousands of pounds on a Masters Degree in English in the process, before landing feet-first at the doors of British movie site, where you can catch his blend of rapier wit and morbid sardony on a daily basis. Simon is also a hopeless collector of film paraphenalia, and counts his complete Star Wars Mr. Potato Heads collection among his friends.

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