22 films in 11 days. One walk-out. One mighty fine steak. Such is the story of this writer’s coverage of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and now that Robert De Niro and his panel of the great and the good of world filmmaking have sat down over coffee and cheese to decide the real winners, I’d like to offer my own thoughts on who I would have liked to see win. This is all based on my personal experiences of the films, and you might notice the categories don’t match up to the split competitions of the festival itself, but I’m in charge here, and I can do what the flaming hell I want.

So here we go with the best parts of the 64th Cannes Film Festival…

Best Film

  • Second Runner Up: We Need To Talk About Kevin
  • Runner Up: Drive
  • Winner: The Artist

The Tree of Life may have ultimately walked away with the holiest of holies at this year’s fest, but let’s be honest, there will always be something of an auteurs’ love-in about the entire Cannes set-up, and the winner, as I stated yesterday (and Robert De Niro confirmed) is often chosen on its appropriateness to the prestige of the award, and not necessarily its quality or how many fans it will get. And if the prize was based on more conventional factors, and most simply the way the film makes its audience feel, there can be only one winner from this year’s bunch. Because Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist is about as good as this or any year’s film-watching experiences are ever likely to get: forget the fact that it is one of the most acutely observed homages I have ever seen, judged on its own merits, on its performances, on its brilliant score and its hugely engaging storylines – it is just as exceptional.

Honorable mentions must also go to Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, a masterful example of tonal misdirection and a healthy injection of insanity. Romance meets exploitation meets modern Western – somebody beat that mix, and I’ll personally encourage the Queen to knight you. We are pretty tight.

And additional props to Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, which is an astounding and important piece of filmmaking, brilliantly visceral, and hinged on astounding performances by Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller. A must-watch by any definition, but far more difficult a viewing experience than the other two.

Best Director

  • Runner Up: Lars Von Trier
  • Winner: Michel Hazanavicius

Von Trier and Winding Refn did Denmark proud in terms of their skill this year, producing astounding aesthetic works that occasionally took the breath away, and prized beauty and composition above all else, but neither of them could match the sheer audacity and success of the man who brought a black and white silent film to the world’s biggest film festival. I don’t ever want seem insincere in my occasionally hyperbolic praise of The Artist, but the film is a triumph, and the fact that it is entirely convincing as a period piece and utterly enveloping as a nostalgia piece is all down to the brilliance of the film’s director.

Best Actor

  • Runner Up: Ezra Miller
  • Winner: Jean Dujardin

A clean sweep so far for The Artist, and probably the most remarkable victory (even though I just invented it in my head), since Jean Dujardin‘s performance out-strips the stunning, and startling performance by young upstart Ezra Miller in We Need To Talk About Kevin. Remember, this is an actor most famous for his roles as a spoof Bond in the OSS series, and yet here he is, effortlessly oozing Golden Age cool, and packing enough charisma to de-robe a whole nunnery from forty yards away. This one the Cannes Jury did get right, with Dujardin rightly walking away with the Best Actor gong on Sunday night, and it’s a performance that deserves to be hungrily devoured by all film fans everywhere.

Best Actress

  • Runner Up: Charlotte Gainsbourg
  • Winner: Tilda Swinton

Okay, so Kirsten Dunst was playing against type, and it was a hugely mature choice to play Justine in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (for which she won the Grand Jury’s Best Actress prize), but it doesn’t hide the fact that she was outshone by both her co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg, whose performance in Melancholia was far more refined and far more human, and Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin. Tilda’s physical transformation on-screen is something to behold, as is the way she handles the huge responsibilities of the role without ever becoming too detached or drowned by the emotion of it. The jarring chemistry she displays opposite on-screen son Ezra Miller is tangibly horrific.

The “Woops, I Wish I Hadn’t Said That” Award For Stupidity

Runner Up: Brad “I beat my kids” Pitt

Winner: Lars Von Trier

At one stage during the earlier, more light-hearted days of the festival, everyone was talking about how The Tree of Life had split critics, and the debate over art and entertainment, then after that everyone started going on about how Mel Gibson had resisted turning up to the Press Conference for The Beaver. Coward! Blaggard! But then, in one deftly catastrophic moment of lunacy, Lars Von Trier decided to make a joke (we hope) about Hitler. For anyone who missed it, here’s the video of what the silly boy did…

Obviously didn’t get the memo that mentioning Hitler in any favorable light isn’t really the best marketing technique. The Cannes officials obviously didn’t agree either, as they quickly distanced themselves from Von Trier by kicking him out of the festival, and banning him indefinitely for his comments, which they called “unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity that preside over the very existence of the festival.”

The director apologized, and claimed he was provoked into the “joke,” but who ever remembers the apology when the naughtiness was this provocative?

And, as if we needed a contrasting case-study, Brad Pitt stepped forward but a few days before Cannes went all “Lars-the-Nazi” crazy and responded to some ridiculous journalist question about sympathizing with his character by rolling his beautiful eyes and flinging razor-sharp daggers of sardony at the hack in question, confirming he beat his kids and sometimes deprived them meals. Cue hilarity, fireworks and hearty slaps on the back for Mr. Pitt. Jump forward a few days, and Von Trier is almost carried outside by a baying mob and cast out to sea on a Viking funeral raft for a joke that was probably no worse than Pitt’s. Perhaps the different reactions have something to do with the accepted public images of both men, or that one claim is ridiculous, and the other might not be the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever heard…

So, that’s it, no more Cannes 2011. The dust has settled, and the beer prices have probably gone back down to acceptable levels now that we “outsiders” have packed up and shipped out from the South of France. Now, what to do for the next 50-ish weeks until I head back out there…

Remember to follow me on Twitter for more on-site observations. You can also check out my other filmic writings at ObsessedWithFilm.com.

Complete Cannes Coverage. C’est vrai!


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