Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thoughts on the Cannes Film Festival Lineup

The Cannes Film Festival announced their lineup today, including 17 films in their “Official Competition”. They may well add a title or three before the festival next month – it’s usually right around 20 films – but for now let’s look at the films we’ll all be talking about for the next year. Last year’s competition included Oscar nominated films like Two Days One Night, Mr. Turner, Foxcatcher and three of the foreign language film nominees – Leviathan, Wild Tales and Timbuktu. It also included films that were endlessly talked about and made many year-end lists like Mommy, Maps to the Stars, Winter Sleep (the Palme D’Or Winner), The Homesman and Goodbye to Language 3-D. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving as some of the films are still rolling out in North American theaters – like Clouds of Sils Maria, which I cannot wait to see tomorrow. Of course, they all cannot be winners – last year also included the latest disappointment from Atom Egoyan – The Captive – and The Search, Michel Hazanavicius follow-up to The Artist, which is now on iTunes Canada – even though it still hasn’t been released in theaters (and likely won’t be). And that doesn’t even count all of the films.

So for now, let’s have a look at the 17 films in completion, and then I will do my ridiculously early picks on what the Coen Brothers led jury will give awards to. Last year, I guessed 8 winners (they really only give out 7 – but I had them giving Godard a special prize, which they kind of did, tying him with Dolan for Jury Prize) and four of those films actually did win prizes – but none in the category I predicted.

Dheepan (Jacques Audiard)- French filmmaker Audiard has become a staple of Cannes – winning the Grand Jury Prize for his best film A Prophet back in 2009, and having another hit there with 2012’s Rust & Bone (which didn’t win anything). He is back with his latest film – about a Tamil Warrior who flees to France – and ends up a caretaker. Other that than, I don’t know much – and the two cast members listed on IMDB weren’t immediately familiar to me (although one did play Jean Renoir in Renoir – a film I didn’t like). Still, anything by Audiard is to be hotly anticipated – especially in Cannes.

A Simple Man (Stephane Brize) – I don’t know this filmmaker, who only has 8 directing credits on IMDB (including this, and two shorts), and the site also has no real information on this film either. It does have its star listed as Vincent Lindon – who we should all remember from Claire Denis’ Bastards. With films like this, we could have a huge breakout, or else a film no one mentions. Cannes likes to have quite a few French filmmakers in the lineup, and Brize may be there just to fill out the requirements, or perhaps he’s made a masterpiece. We won’t know until it plays.

Marguerite and Julien (Valerie Donzelli) – The third French film in a row, and one of only two films directed by women in the official selection. Actress turned director Donzelli is probably best known for her Declaration of War (2011), which played Cannes, but not in the official lineup. She’s been bumped up this time – reportedly doing a film that Truffaut once tried to make back in the early 1970s. I don’t know Donzelli, having not seen her previous work, so I have no idea what to expect.

The Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone) – Italian filmmaker Garrone has become a Cannes favorite – his last two films, Gommorah (2008) and Reality (2012) won the Grand Jury Prize there (essentially second place). This time, he is making his English language debut – always tricky for Foreign Filmmakers (just ask Paolo Sorrentino, also in competition this year, how Cannes greeted his Sean Penn starring This Must Be the Place a few years ago). This is a “fantasy, history” film with Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassell, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson and Stacy Martin. Garrone is an interesting filmmaker, so this film is anticipated, but it always worries me when foreign directors work in English – it sometimes works, but often doesn’t.

Carol (Todd Haynes) – This is probably my most anticipated film in the Cannes lineup. Haynes, who hasn’t made a movie since 2007’s I’m Not There (not counting his very good HBO Miniseries Mildred Pierce), returns with Cate Blanchatt in an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith? Throw in a cast including Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson – and a 1950s setting (like Far From Heaven, Haynes’ most loved film, even if I prefer I’m Not There) and this becomes one of the must sees of the year for me. Oddly, Haynes has only been in the official Cannes lineup once – for Velvet Goldmine back in 1998- but if he delivers, this could come out of Cannes as a sure-fire winner.

The Assassin (Hou Hsiao Hsien) – Chinese filmmaker Hou is no stranger to Cannes – The Assassin marks his seventh feature to be in the Official lineup (two have won prizes, a Jury Prize and a Technical Grand Prize, which they don’t much give out anymore). It’s also his first feature since 2007’s highly acclaimed Flight of the Red Balloon, and with a budget of $15 million, his most expensive to date. Hou directing an action film, with a title like The Assassin, seems odd to say the least (his films are usually quiet, moving dramas) – but he is a major figure in world cinema, so anything he does is anticipated – this one even more because of the long wait between films, and the seeming departure from what he’s done previously.

Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhang-Ke) – Like his countrymen Hou, Jia Zhang-ke is no stranger to Cannes, as this will be his fourth film in the Official Competition – his latest being A Touch of Sin back in 2013, which won the screenplay prize. He is also a personal favorite of mine, so anything he does, I cannot wait for. This is said to be his most ambitious effort to date – a decades spanning romance, which starts in the past, and ends in the future. Other than that – and the fact that it will star his wife/muse Tao Zhao – I don’t know much. But it will be one of the most talked about films of Cannes to be sure.

Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-Eda) – Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda makes his fourth trip to the official Competition – his 2004 film Nobody Knows won a Best Actor prize here for its young star, and his 2013 film, Like Father Like Son, won a Jury Prize. According to IMDB, it is the story of three sisters who live with the grandmother, and the arrival of their younger, half-sister – so it sounds like another quiet, moving family drama from a modern master at them. The question with Kore-Eda is whether he’s so consistently good that he never quite gets the credit he deserves.

Macbeth (Justin Kurzel) – Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel, who excellent Snowtown is still disturbing me a few years after seeing it, gets promoted to the Official Lineup with his long anticipated screen version of Macbeth with Michael Fassbender in the title role, and Marion Cotillard as his wife. The interesting question here is Cotillard – who now marks her fourth straight trip to Cannes – following Rust & Bone, The Immigrant and Two Days One Night – and while she always seems to be in the conversation for an Actress win here, she never does it. Is the fourth time the charm?

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos) – If you saw Greek filmmaker Lanthimos’ breakthrough film, Dogtooth, then you likely have never forgotten it. His follow-up, Alps, wasn’t as good, but it was, well, it was something. His latest is his English language debut starring Colin Farrell, Lea Seydoux, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly and Olivia Colman, and is about a “dystopian future where people need to find a mate in 45 days, or else they are turned into animals and released into the wild”. Makes sense. This could end up being a masterpiece or a catastrophe, but there is almost no way it isn’t the most talked about film at the festival.

Mon Roi (Maiwenn) – Another French film, and the second directed by a woman. Maiwenn was first at Cannes in 2011 with Polisse – which surprising won the Jury Prize, despite not being very good (sorry, but it’s true). Her latest stars Vincent Cassell and Louis Garrell – but the plot isn’t on IMDB, so I have no clue – but with those two, it should at least be well acted.

Mia Madre (Nanni Moretti) – The first of two former Palme D’Or winners in the competition, Nanni Moretti is back once again. It’s his sixth film in Competition, and he won the Palme for The Son’s Room back in 2001, and also won a director prize for Caro Diaro back in 1994. Moretti’s best days as a filmmaker seem to be behind him – even if I found We Have a Pope to be a delightful comedy – but in Cannes, once you’re family, you’re family, and you’ll always be invited back no matter how far you fall (hi Egoyan!). Oddly, the film got released in Italy today – but I still don’t know much about it (stupid reviews being in Italian in all).

Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes) – This is Hungarian director Nemes’ debut feature – therefore it’s a little odd that it’s in the official competition, and not Un Certain Regard. Perhaps that means the festival really believes it’s great. According to the IMDB plot description “In the horror of 1944 Auschwitz, a prisoner forced to burn the corpses of his own people finds moral survival upon trying to salvage from the flames the body of a boy he takes for his son” it sounds horribly depressing.

Youth (Paolo Sorrentino) – Sorrentino’s sixth trip to the official competition, and his follow-up to his Oscar winning The Great Beauty. Bravely, Sorrentino is venturing back to the English language after This Must Be the Place bombed for him here. The film stars Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine, as old friends, on vacation in the Alps – and the plot description makes it sounds like something thriller-ish may happen (someone wants to hear Caine, as a retired conductor, conduct again – at all costs. The film also stars Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano, which is the type of cast you can get once you win an Oscar.

Louder Than Bombs (Joachim Trier) – Yet again, we have an acclaimed foreign director making his English language debut – this time, Norwegian Trier, who made Reprise and Oslo August 31, is making a drama with Jessie Eisenberg, Amy Ryan, Isabelle Huppert, David Straighthairn, Gabriel Bryne and Rachel Brosnahan. Trier is talented, so this is very intriguing.

The Sea of Trees (Gus Van Sant) – The second film from a former Palme winner, this is Van Sant’s fourth film in competition, following his Palme for Elephant, and a Technical Prize for Last Days, and a Special 60th Anniversary prize for Paranoid Park. The film stars Matthew McConaughey as a suicidal man lost in the forest near Mount Fuji, and his friendship with a Japanese man (Ken Watanabe) he meets, as the two search for a way out. It also stars Naomi Watts somehow. This kind of sounds like Gerry, right? Probably not, but who knows. Anyway, anything by Van Sant is a must see.

Sicario (Denis Villeneuve) – In recent year, we always seem to have one Canadian director in completion – and this year, it Villeneuve making his Cannes debut (okay, it’s an American film, but he’s Canadian!). The film stars Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro and Jon Bernthal, about a FBI agent, joining a CIA operation, to takedown a Mexican cartel leader. Sounds more mainstream thriller than Cannes film, and there’s always a chance it’s just there to bring out some star power (this year is lacking in that), but I’ll choose to believe it’s going to be better than last year’s thriller from a Canadian director (hi Egoyan!) – Especially since Villeneuve keeps doing interesting films like Incendies, Prisoners and Enemy. The interesting thing here is that the film is shot by Roger Deakins – the frequent cinematographer for Jury Presidents the Coens.

Palme D’Or: Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhang-Ke)
Grand Prize of the Jury: Dheepan – Jacques Audiard
Jury Prize: Our Little Sister – Hirokazu Kore-Eda
Best Director: The Assassin – Hou Hsiao Hsien
Best Actor: Michael Caine/Harvey Keitel, Youth
Best Actress: Cate Blanchatt, Carol
Best Screenplay: Louder Than Bombs
Special Award:  Roger Deakins, Sicario (Cinematography).

Why I Am Picking These: The Cannes Prizes are much like the Oscars in some ways – they often make you pay your dues before you win the big prize. I would six of the seven directors of films I have listed here have done that – none of them have won a Palme, but they’ve all been in the running before (the lone exception is Trier for Louder Than Bombs – the screenplay prize, which they often give to newcomers).

Why Jia over Audiard, Kore-Eda, Hou, Sorrentino and Haynes then? His film sounds the most ambitious, and he’s a director on the upswing at Cannes – finally winning a prize for A Touch of Sin in 2013. He’s due. Sure, you can say the same thing about Audiard, which is why I have him in the Grand Jury slot – he’s perhaps even more overdue. You could argue that about Kore-Eda, but as I mentioned, he’s always good, but always similar – will Our Little Sister really be special enough to get him the Palme? The Assassin is an action film, so even if Hou is more overdue than the rest, I have a tough time seeing him win the Palme.

That leaves Haynes, and giving Blanchatt the Best Actress prize seems like the way to go. He isn’t a Cannes regular, so there is no pressing need to give him a Palme. Blanchatt’s biggest competition may well be Cotillard, once again, trying to win here.

For Actor, I choose the Caine/Keitel duo – the jury often gives acting prizes to co-leads (like Distant, Beyond the Hills, The Eighth Day, The Dreamlife of Angels or the year they gave Best Actor to the entire cast of Days of Glory and the Best Actress to the entire cast of Volver). Caine and Keitel are legends, and have never won at Cannes, and are in a film by a highly regarded regular. The biggest competition may be another duo – McConaughey and Watanabe for the Van Sant.

Finally, can the Coens resist giving their important collaborator Deakins a special award? Perhaps a lifetime achievement award? Lord knows, the Oscar don’t seem to be giving him an Oscar anytime soon.

Of course, I know I’m wrong, on almost all of these. But it’s fun to speculate.

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