With the actual schedule released today (cue charts and diagrams as attendees try to work out how to be in eight places at one time), the final pieces are falling into place for this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it's shaping up to be a terrific couple of weeks. The initial lineup was already impressive, but the addition of a couple of titles we were surprised not to see in the original announcement has made the selection even more an embarrassment of riches. As such, we were hard pressed to pick a top ten, but finally settled on the following choices, that, along with the honorable mentions, we feel represent the strongest of what is a very solid lineup. It should be noted that there's a great showing by the U.S. in this selection, as there is for French-language movies, which is reflective of the festival overall. With Steven Spielberg the head of the Cannes Competition jury too, it feels like Franco-American relations are at an all-time high, cinematically speaking at least.
"Only Lovers Left Alive"
Synopsis: Adam and Eve, a reclusive vampire couple who've been together for centuries, have their peaceful lives interrupted by her younger sister, Ava.
What You Need To Know: Um, it's Jim Jarmuschdoing a vampire movie. Allow us to rephrase: it's Jim Jarmusch doing a vampire movie with Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin and Tom Hiddleston. Goddamn. Its late addition to the festival, and the fact it's set to screen at the back end of the schedule, suggest Jarmusch will be coming down to the wire to finish it. That said, he rarely makes a wrong turn, and even when he does it leads somewhere interesting and distinctive. And now that the torrent of vampire movies has slowed to a more manageable trickle, we're hoping that Jarmusch's dalliance with bloodsuckers will be suffused with his ephemeral cool, and will deliver a more coffee-and-cigarette-stained bite. Cannes has been good to Jarmusch, and if this lives up to the promise it projects, it will be a welcome way to cap the fest.
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
Synopsis: Set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early '60s and loosely based on that world's father figure of sorts, Dave Van Ronk, this is the story of Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who, despite his talents, can't seem to make ends meet.
What You Need To Know: Already slated for a prime Oscar release date, with CBS Films gunning very early not only with Cannes premiere, but twotrailers already, expectations are super sky high for the ever-reliable Coens to turn in something extraordinary. Oscar Isaac will be carrying this picture in one of his first major lead roles (and first time collaborating with the Coens), though he's backed up by an able roster, including Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and F. Murray Abraham. The film already has good buzz thanks to an early industry screening (unusually made quite public), but the question is whether it has the sauce to stay in the awards race right for almost another year. We'll find out in the long run, but first things first, and as regulars on the red carpet on the Croisette, you can be sure the Coens will be welcomed with open arms.
Synopsis: In search of a new start and dreaming the American dream, a Polish immigrant is manipulated into a life of prostitution by a charming but wicked man on the mean streets of Manhattan, until a dazzling magician tries to save her. Full synopsis here.
What You Need To Know: While we're a little less enamored of this title than either of the film's previous ones ("Lowlife" and "The Nightingale"), our anticipation for director James Gray's fifth feature remains unabated. And the reasons for optimism are manifold: a cast of heavy hitters, including Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner and Gray regular Joaquin Phoenix; an intriguing premise and period setting; and most pertinently, the director's own unabashed opinion that the film might be "the best thing I've done." In fact both of the last times we've spoken with Gray, during filming and then after the preliminary screenings of the rough cut, he seemed truly excited by what he was working on, and uncharacteristically confident of its reception amongst his fans. The accepted wisdom is that Gray's films are more popular in France than his native U.S., and so Cannes seems like a natural home for him, but the director himself has asserted that that imbalance is not really the case any more, and with a story so germane to the American experience, we're hopeful that "The Immigrant" may be the film that finally lays that myth to rest.
"The Past" ("Le passe")
Synopsis: An Iranian man who left his French wife and children to return to his country is petitioned for a divorce when his wife starts a serious relationship with someone new. But when he returns to France he discovers that the new relationship is exerting a strain on the family unit, as the children's allegiances are tested and secrets bubble to the surface. Trailer here.
What You Need To Know: Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" was a small miracle of a film -- a domestic drama with such empathy for its characters that it pulled off that difficult trick of being both incredibly specific to a certain culture and a certain set of values, and still being universal, and wholly relatable. With Ali Mossafa (husband of "A Separation" star Leila Hatami, trivia fans, and himself the director of "The Last Step" which we greatly enjoyed) playing the husband, and Tahar Rahim, who elevates material both good ("A Prophet") and not so good ("Day of the Falcon" aka "Black Gold") as the lover, our hopes would already be high that Farhadi can pull of the same trick again on this slightly more expansive canvas. But then the last key role went to Bérénice Bejo after original choice Marion Cotillard had to drop out (presumably due to scheduling conflicts) and we're looking forward to see what "The Artist" star can bring to a more dramatic role too.
Synopsis: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes prize.
What You Need To Know: With directorAlexander Payne's follow up to the Oscar-winning "The Descendants" already landing a prime awards-friendly stateside release date, on foot of its somewhat surprising In Competition slot in Cannes, the low-key relationship dramedy/road movie clearly has a lot of confidence behind it. Shot in colour, but being theatrically distributed in black and white, the film also boasts the kind of smart casting that could make waves -- a welcome return to starring roles for veteran Bruce Dern, and an against-type dramatic role for 'SNL' comedian Will Forte. With Payne having had this script on the back burner since 2003 when he shelved it to take a break from the road movie genre, you can be sure it's got the same kind of polish and depth his previous films have had, especially as the Omaha-born director is on his home turf. In fact, so adept has Payne become at turning out these "little films that could" -style underdogs (with the director himself quick to downplay any notions of grandiosity, calling "Nebraska" "just an old-fashioned comedy"), perhaps we shouldn't consider them underdogs any more?
"The Bastards" ("Les Salauds")
Synopsis: The captain of a container ship seeks revenge on the businessman who caused the suicide of his sister's husband, by getting closer to the man's mistress and her young son. Full synopsis here.
What You Need To Know: With the first of what will no doubt be many minor kerfuffles erupting over the placement of Claire Denis' new film not in Competition, where it was widely regarded as a shoo-in, but in the prestigious but distinctly lesser Un Certain Regard category, it was clear in just what high esteem the African-born French-based director is held in cinephile circles. And not without reason; she is a uniquely talented filmmaker with the unusual ability to spin almost hypnotically graceful stories around grounded and authentic-feeling experiences. But after a prolific burst of activity in the late '00s, with the excellent duo of "35 Shots Of Rum" and "White Material" coming back to back in 2008/2009, things have been mostly quiet from her, bar a short film. "The Bastards," which marks her first time back to Cannes since 2001's "Trouble Every Day," stars Vincent Lindon("Vendredi Soir"), Chiara Mastrioanni ("A Christmas Tale") and Lola Creton ("Goodbye First Love," "Something In The Air"). And judging by the logline, may see Denis incorporate some almost thriller-ish elements into her repertoire, but whether it's a change of tack or more of the (brilliant) same, we're pretty much dying to see it.
"Behind The Candelabra"
Synopsis: Based on an autobiographical novel of the same name, the picture is a behind-the-scenes look at the tempestuous relationship between legendary entertainer Liberace and Scott Thorson, his younger lover.
What You Need To Know: So the much-vaunted "retirement" that Steven Soderbergh was threatening has now been thankfully downgraded to an "extended break," but it still means that his Liberace biopic will be the last thing we see from the polyglot filmmaker for at least a while. And it's a project that has only increased in stature since its inception -- from its humble movie-of-the-week style premise to a fully fledged Cannes Competition entry that boasts, if reports are to be believed, possibly career-defining performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as Liberace and Thornson. With Soderbergh talking openly about how it was judged by studios to be "too gay" a film to find an audience, HBO came to the rescue, which also means, unlike many of the films on this list, U.S. audiences will get to check out the film relatively soon -- May 26th to be precise. Check out the trailer here and when (not if) that whets your appetite, there is a behind the scenes featurette here and a making-of featurette here. It may be a great example of precisely the sort of movie of which Soderbergh recently mourned the decline.
"Only God Forgives"
Synopsis: An English gangster in Thailand sets out to avenge his murdered brother in a brutal story of rage, betrayal and the possibility of redemption. Watch the red-band trailer here.
What You Need To Know: Let's be honest, you probably already know all you need to know about "Only God Forgives" -- it's the reteaming of directorNicolas Winding Refn with his "Drive" star and current muse (isn't he everyone's? sigh) Ryan Gosling, with able support coming from the reliably bewitching Kristin Scott Thomas. With the aestheticized violence and minimalist storylines of his previous films, Winding Refn has established himself as a master of a kind of subzero cool, but while the surface pleasures are many, his sensibilities have more depth than just fetishizable costumes and dorm-wall-friendly poster design. There can be something almost subversive in the deconstructualism of his approach, for those who care to look for it, and we're hopeful that this Bangkok-set fable provides an even richer canvas for him to work against. And lots of heady sexy cool violence too, yes please -- for a taster of which, go here.
"The Bling Ring"
Synopsis: A group of teenagers obsessed with fashion and fame burglarize the homes of celebrities in Los Angeles.
What You Need To Know: Beautiful teens, celebrity, existential rich people ennui...yawn right? Well, if anyone has made that milieu their own, and added substance and real emotion, it's Sofia Coppola. And while the synopsis might seem trite,the first review has suggested there is lot more bubbling beneath the surface, and that it will display an unexpected pull and heft. Also? Emma Watsonplaying a bad girl has its own potential charms... Plus there's an added layer of interest here with this being based on a true story that most of us heard about in 2008/2009, when Paris Hilton and Orlando Bloom's (among other celebs) houses were broken into. The layers of truth and fiction, image and reality that exist here, and the potential for something with a degree of metatextuality, as well as the director's way with a visual, has us interested in a story that in any other hands we might skip on by.
"Blue is the Warmest Color" ("La Vie D'Adele, Chapitre 1 & 2")
Synopsis: Adele is a teenager who unexpectedly falls in love with another girl, Emma, who is noted for her striking blue hair. While her affection for Emma grows over time, Adele finds it difficult to escape the judgment of family and friends. See the poster here.
What You Need To Know: A 3-hour-long lesbian love story might seem like a tough watch, and from anyone else our expectations would be duly muted, but director Abdellatif Kechiche has earned such a reputation for exactitude and formal precision that we're hopeful this graphic-novel adaptation will earn its long running time. Kechiche also gets our special attention for being behind the wonderful "Secret of the Grain," which won the Special Jury Prize in Venice, and the top prize at the Cesars and made out . His fifth feature in 13 years, we're looking to 'Blue' to be one of those rewarding and contemplative cinematic experiences, and a welcome, if challenging lead role for Lea Seydoux, who is fast making good on her potential as one of the most interesting (and, yes, gorgeous) of the next generation of French film stars. She herself characterised the shoot (perhaps due to Kechiche's demanding ways) as "Difficult. Six days a week shooting, sometimes seven days, for five months. It was extreme." But she's also proud of this "very dramatic love story," and we look forward to seeing if it lives up to our high hopes.
|Like Father, Like Son|
"Like Father, Like Son"
Synopsis: A driven and ambitious businessman
find his certainties in life crumbling when he discovers that his 6-year-old son was in fact switched in the hospital at birth.
What You Need To Know: Director Hirokazu Koreeda can be a little hit-and-miss, but when he hits, he really hits, often right in the heart/solar plexus ("After Life," "Still Walking," "Nobody Knows"). And when it comes to familial relationships, his aim is almost alway true, including his last time at bat "I Wish," which we were also big fans of. With his best work following in the tradition of Japanese master Ozu, and with the logline here setting up an intriguing moral dilemma and laying ground for an interesting exploration of nature vs nurture, we think this could be right in Koreeda's sweet spot, and will be bringing our hankies along, to avoid the blubbering messiness of our encounter with "Still Walking." Seriously.
"As I Lay Dying"
Synopsis: Based on the 1930s William Faulknernovel, the story follows the various members of Addie Bundren's family in the immediate aftermath of her death, while they, for different reasons, attempt to honor her wish to be buried in the nearby town of Jefferson.
What You Need To Know: With James Francoclearly slacking off to an unforgivably lazy pace of late, Cannes is the first festival for a while to boast only one of his films. But as if in order to make up for that, Franco pulls triple duty as writer, director and star of this hugely ambitious period movie, based on a novel which boasts 15 different narrators in a stream-of-consciousness style. While his cast is not the stellar line up of heavy hitters Franco originally envisaged, it's a solid group, with some surprising but possibly inspired choices like Danny McBride, Logan Marshall Green and Tim Blake Nelson along for the ride. One can't accuse Franco of lacking either talent or work ethic, but what has been missing of late is a sense of focus and investment in his work -- we're hopeful that this film will change that perception. Further pictures here.
Synopsis: A drama centered on two brothers, the younger of which is asked by his older convict sibling to go back into the underworld to help out his family.
What You Need To Know: Well, it's a remake of the 2008 French thriller "Les Liens Du Sang" (which starred Guillaume Canet, who directs here) but outside of that, it's really the names that have us high on this one. Co-writer? James Gray. The cast? Clive Owen, Mila Kunis, Matthias Schoenaerts, Zoe Saldana. James Caan, Marion Cotillard, Noah Emmerich, Lili Taylor. All in a '70s-set thriller based in New York City? There's not much else we really need to say about this. The fact that it's not in competition may cause some slight pause, but even if this is just a well-executed, grimy, B-flick delivered by top-shelf talent, that'll be enough for us.
"A Touch of Sin"
Synopsis: Plot specifics are still vague, but this is an overlapping narrative with four strands that illuminate the social issues thrown up by China's emergence as an economic superpower.
What You Need To Know: Chinese social realist director Zhang Ke Jia is not particularly well-known internationally outside the festival circuit ("Still Life" won at Venice in 2006, but is still the best-known of his ten features). And certainly, his sometimes frustratingly opaque, meandering style can try the patience and make it hard to wholeheartedly recommend. But the circumstances of this film, his first, as it were "studio" film, suggests that perhaps some concessions to accessibility had to be made, and for once, aside from the politics of co-producing with a state-run company, we think stylistically that could be a good thing. Zhang's sincerity is never in question, and his social engagement credentials are beyond reproach -- if he harnesses those impulses in service of a strong narrative he could very well be the director to give us a true glimpse into modern China, which, to Western cinemagoers, largely remains an enigma. How far his state-financed production partners will allow him to go, of course remains an open question.
Synopsis: An aging out-of-work actress agrees to sell her likeness to a studio for them to do with what they will. But her decision has unforeseen consequences.
What You Need To Know: "Waltz with Bashir" director Ari Folman's next project is certainly a tantalising prospect, especially as regards how his aesthetic will translate
"Venus In Fur"
Synopsis: An adaptation of the David IvesBroadway play in which an actress attempts to convince a director that she is perfect for a particular role, despite being, initially, the polar opposite of what he is looking for.
What You Need To Know: It only ever seemed like an outside bet that Roman Polanski's latest would be ready in time for Cannes, but here it is, with a competition slot too. Our expectations are high of course, but tempered by the staginess and insubstantiality of his last adaptation "Carnage," and also the relative anonymity of Polanski behind the camera there. But we are ever hopeful of a return to form and he will certainly be familiar with the milieu as a director himself, with the script as the co-screenwriter with the play's author and with the cast, seeing as it comprises his wife Emmanuelle Seigner and the seemingly ubiquitous Mathieu Amalric (see also "Jimmy P" below). We hope there will be more room for Polanski's own flair this time out.