Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts on the Cannes Festival Lineup

I’m a little late on this, but last week, the Cannes Film Festival unveiled their official lineup. We all know it will be a mixed bag of films, but there will be some great films – ones that will define the movie year. Last year for example films like Blue is the Warmest Color, Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis were in the official competition. Below are my thoughts on each of the 19 films in the official lineup, plus winner predictions. I did pretty good on those last year – I nailed Bruce Dern for Best Actor, and also had Like Father Like Son, The Past and Inside Llewyn Davis winning prizes – although different prizes than they ended up winning. The big news for a Canadian like me is that three of the films are from Canadian directors – David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Xavier Dolan. For Cronenberg and Egoyan, this is old hat – they’ve been in competition, and won prizes, more than once – for Dolan it’s a promotion, after both his I Killed My Mother and Laurence Anyways played Cannes – just not in the main competition.

Anyway, onto the films.

1.       Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas) – It’s always hard to get a read on where Assayas is going next – as he goes from intimate family dramas like Summer Hours to epic, crime dramas like Carlos to a look at his own radical youth in Something in the Air. This one seems more mainstream – an aging actress Juliette Binoche, who has become a recluse, drawn back to the theatre. Co-starring Chloe Grace Mortez, Kristen Stewart (rediscovering her indie roots after Twilight) and Brady Corbet, this could be Assayas attempt to go more mainstream – or could be incredibly strange. Either way, I’m looking forward to this one.

2.    Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello) – The IMDB page doesn’t have a plot for this film from the director of House of Tolerance – which had quite a bit of critical acclaim at the 2011 festival. This one stars Lea Seydoux, Jeremie Renier, Brady Corbet (again) and Gaspard Ulliel as the title character – Yves Saint Laurent. This could be a sleeper at the festival for awards.

3.    Winter Sleep (Nuri Blige Ceylan) – This marks the fifth straight film by Turkish director Nuri Blige Ceylan that made the official competition – Distant won its stars the Best Actor prize, Three Monkeys won Best Director and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia won the Grand Prize. Is he finally in line for a Palme? I don’t know anything about the film other than its 3 hours and 16 minutes long.

4.    Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg) - David Cronenberg reteams with Robert Pattinson as well as Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Carrie Fisher and Sarah Gadon (for the third straight film). It is a look at the poisonous culture of Hollywood. Cronenberg was riding high on critical acclaim with A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, before two more divisive films in A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis. He is a fixture at Cannes, but never won the big prize. Will this film be the one?

5.    Grace of Monaco (Olivier Dahan) – Olivier Dahan is the latest of many directors warring with Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein over the cut of his film. This film was supposed to come out last fall, but was delayed until March – and then delayed again. It stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, and has had two trailers out. It is the “Opening Film”, and I suspect the French will be sympathetic to it, no matter the end result.

6.    Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne) – The Belgian filmmaking brothers are once again in the Cannes lineup. The already have two Palmes – for Rosetta and L’Enfant, and had several other films win awards there – The Son for Best Actor, Lorna’s Silence for Screenplay and The Kid with the Bike the Grand Jury Prize. This one stars Marion Cotillard as a woman who has to convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses so she can keep her job. They always win something. Perhaps they’re due to miss.

7.    Mommy (Xavier Dolan) – Canadian Wunderkind Dolan makes his Official Selection debut, reteaming with his I Killed My Mother star Anne Dorval for the story of a single mother raising her violent son alone – and their mysterious neighbor. Dolan continues to grow as a filmmaker, so I’m interested in seeing his fifth feature.

8.    Captives (Atom Egoyan) – Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson and Mirelle Enos star in the latest from Egoyan about a father trying to track down his kidnapped daughter. At this point, we’re fairly far removed from Egoyan’s last great film. Who knows, maybe this gets him back on track.

9.    Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard) – Apparently this is Godard’s swansong (I think I’ve heard that one before) a 3-D film, that will likely be another like Film Socialism – that has critics tying themselves in knots calling it a masterpiece, but that I find to be incoherent twaddle. I keep hoping to love a new Godard film, but never do.

10.  The Search (Michel Hazanavicius) – A sort of modern remake of Fred Zinneman’s The Search, which was about Montgomery Clift’s forming a relationship with a refuge in WWII. This one stars Annette Bening and Berenice Bejo about a woman forming a bond with a boy in Chechnya. Hazanavicius’ follow-up to The Artist will be one of the more anticipated films at the festival.

11.  The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones) – Jones long awaited directorial follow-up (save for the made for TV Sunset Limited) to his Cannes winning The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada – which many liked far more than me – it’s another Western, starring Jones and Hilary Swank about the pair escorting three insane women across the prairies. Melquiades Estrada won two awards when it played – for Jones as actor and the screenplay. Perhaps this one will as well.

12.  Still the Water (Naomi Kawase) – This is Japanese director Kawase’s fourth film in the Official Selection – having won the Grand Prize of the Jury for The Mourning Forest back in 2007 (not to mention the Golden Camera award for her first film). She has never really had a breakthrough in North America, and given that this film has no plot description yet, it’s tough to tell if this will be one.

13.  Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh) – Celebrated British filmmaker Mike Leigh returns with this biopic of painter JMW Turner – played by Timothy Spall. Any time Leigh makes a film, it’s an event in film buff circles, and it’s been four year since his last one – Another Year – which was brilliant. It’s his fifth film in completion – and he’s already won Best Director (for Naked) and the Palme (for Secrets and Lies).

14.  Jimmy’s Hall (Ken Loach) – The latest from Ken Loach, not surprisingly written by Paul Laverty, who have become shoo-ins for a competition slot at the festival. This will be Loach’s 12th film is completion – having won numerous prizes in the past, including the Palme for The Wind That Shakes the Barley. This one is about political activist Jimmy Gralton, who was deported from Ireland in the 1930s during the “Red Scare”.

15.  Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller) – Another film delayed from last year, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher stars Steve Carrell’s as a deranged millionaire, who sponsored the US Wrestling team, and eventually killed one of its stars. The trailer released last year looked great, but the delay raised some red flags. Perhaps they really did need more time for editing. This is one of my most anticipated films of the year.

16.  Le Meraviglie (Alice Rohrwacher) – A wild card in the race. This is only Rohrwacher’s second feature, and she’s never been to Cannes before. The Italian film stars Monica Belucci, but has no plot synopsis on IMDB, so I have no idea what it is about (the title translates into The Wonders, which doesn’t help).

17.  Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako) – African director Sissako’s film doesn’t even have an IMDB page yet – although it does have a film of his listed for 2015 with another title, so it’s a mystery. He’s never been to Cannes before.

18.  Wild Tales (Damian Szifron) – Another wild card. Argentinian director Szifron’s first film in 9 years – and none of the others I have heard of – all I learned from IMDB is that it is a comedy and a thriller. That’s it.

19.  Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev) – The Russian director behind The Return and Elena, which is according to IMDB is “A present day social drama spanning multiple characters about the human insecurity in a "new country" which gradually unwinds to a mythological scale concerning the human condition on earth entirely.” Sounds like it could be great, or not, as that’s fairly vague.

Palme D’Or: Maps to the Stars – David Cronenberg
Grand Jury Prize: The Search – Michel Hazanavicius
Jury Prize: Winter Sleep – Nuri Blige Ceylon
Director: Naomi Kawase, Still the Water
Actor: Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher
Actress: Marion Cottilard, Two Days, One Night
Screenplay: Clouds of Sils Maria
Special Award: Goodbye to Language – Jean-Luc Godard

Reasoning Behind My Predictions

The jury is led by Jane Campion, who is still the only woman who has ever won a Palme D’or. This may mean that Kawase and Rohrwacher have an edge, but I don’t know enough about either one to really go all in for the top prize for either based on the little information I know.

Why Cronenberg for the Palme? Easy, it’s his fifth film that has made the completion, and other than a Jury Prize for Crash, he’s got nothing. He’s one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of his generation, and a dark look at Hollywood will likely play better in Europe than America – and I think Campion may be sympathetic to it. They often give it to filmmakers the feel are overdue – like Loach for The Wind That Shakes the Barley. If the film is as non-mainstream as Cosmopolis though, all bets are off. A more crowd pleasing choice may well be The Search, by Hazanavicius, who knows how to work an audience, so I put that in the second slot. A 3 hour 16 minute Turkish film seems like it was tailor made for the more respect than loved slot of the Jury Prize - unless they ignore it altogether.

Of the two female filmmakers, Kawase has more profile, so I’ll put her in the director slot – I do think Campion will want to give something to a fellow woman filmmaker. Steve Carrell looks great in the trailer for Foxcatcher, so I give him an edge over Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner or Tommy Lee Jones for The Homesman – especially since the later has already won this prize before. The studio just announced a mid-November release date, so they are hoping for Oscar love. I gave Cotillard the actress prize, basically because other French actresses in competition – Bejo in The Search, Binoche in Clouds of Sils Maria and Seydoux in Saint Laurent have already won Cannes prizes (Seydoux shared the Palme last year for Blue is the Warmest Color, Bejo won last year for The Past and Binoche won for Certified Copy in 2010). Besides, the Dardennes films always wins something here, so it's a safe guess. Clouds of Sils Maria seems like the type of film they’ll reward somewhere, and screenplay was all I had left.

As for Godard, his post-1960s output has been divisive, and it’s getting more and more incoherent (at least to me), but if it truly is his swansong, I doubt they’ll let him walk away empty handed – so they’ll invent a prize for him. I cannot imagine getting a whole jury to agree to give him the Palme if the film is anything like Film Socialism.

Of course, this is all a crapshoot – last year, I had no information on Blue is the Warmest Color – I even had the name wrong (The Life of Adele I called it in my preview piece - which is the direct translation of its French title) and it won it all. In short, any of these 19 films could win.

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