At the end of the day, all you really have to know about the Cannes Film Festival is that you should axiomatically despise everyone fortunate enough to attend it. It’s super swanky, it sits along the French Riviera, and it’s the one festival in which booing the films that don’t meet your approval isn’t just accepted, it’s practically tradition. Oh, and it’s also the the single most important event on the cinematic calendar, during which the films that will dominate the discourse for the next year and beyond receive their grand unveilings.
The films that compete for Best Picture at the Oscars serve as montage fodder for future Oscar ceremonies, while those vying for the coveted Palm d’ Or at Cannes serve to reinvigorate cinema itself, unrepentantly shaping the medium while the whole world watches. Cannes is where the boundaries of filmmaking are furiously erased and re-calibrated, and for the next few months all that most of us can do is read about the astonishing sights that lie just beyond what we know. We have to sit here and brave a flurry of breathless reports from across the sea -- write-ups awash with words like “Croisette,” missives devoted to strange movies in which not a single one of the Avengers shows up for a cameo (rumors that Ant-Man delivers some monotone voiceover in Tree of Life have sadly been debunked).
But if you’re somehow able to see past the intense jealousy (Enya helps), what remains is a tantalizing glimpse at the best of your movie-going future. Lots of films are primed to make waves during the next fortnight, but before the madness begins here are ten films worth following in all the coverage to come -- ten films, good or bad, that are either extremely likely (or even guaranteed) to be eventually heading your way.
10. Sleeping Beauty
Two movies in the same year that feature a scantily clad Emily Browning in a drug-induced stupor for the pleasure of her male captors? This is like Volcano vs. Dante’s Peak all over again! But seriously folks, Sleeping Beauty has some of the loudest early buzz of this year’s festival on the heels of an arresting trailer, an endorsement from Jane Campion, and the promise of naked young flesh in a film that you won’t have to pay to stream per minute.
The debut from acclaimed novelist Julia Leigh, this film (a riff on Yasunari Kawabata’s classic novella “The House of Sleeping Beauties,” which I’ve yet to see cited in any of the film’s promo materials), Sleeping Beauty is an austere psycho-sexual drama about a girl who funds her tuition by taking a lucrative job in which she’s an unconscious plaything for the male clients who partake in her oblivious evenings. Kawabata’s story was a pressing slice of introspective erotica, frank about the one-sided sexual transactions but more concerned with the quiet moral turpitude of the men who partake in the service. It’s hard to predict how this one will shake out, but if Sleeping Beauty makes good on its promise, expect to hear a lot more from Julia Leigh.
9. We Have A Pope
Cannes darling Nanni Moretti -- or the Italian Woody Allen -- is criminally under-appreciated here in the States, but the accessible premise of his latest film should guarantee more interest than usual. We Have a Pope chronicles the tumultuous time following the death of a pope in which the Vatican Conclave meets and elects a successor, and the early reviews from the Italian press have been rather positive (The Vatican’s raved that the film “Could have been meaner”). This sounds like prime material for Moretti’s wry, seriocomic touch, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an outfit like Sony Pictures Classics pick this up for a foreign-language Oscar push.
A Gus van Sant film that’s been in the can for what feels like a brief eternity now, Restless appears to harken back to the more lyrical stuff of upon which van Sant built his brand, telling the story of a terminally ill Mia Wasikowska who falls in love with a funeral-crasher. Oh, also, the wilting lovers like to kick it with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot, so... there’s that. Produced by both Ron and Bryce Howard, lensed by the brilliant Harris Savides, and finally locked into a September 16th release date, Restless seems like a sweet and solid oddball portrait that’s destined to be dismissed and embraced in equal measure.
Emerging art-house hero Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising, Bronson) returns with the story of a stunt-car driver who moonlights as a getaway car driver. If that’s not fetching enough, said driver is played by Ryan Gosling, and the film somehow finds a way to envelop Christina Hendricks, Carey Mulligan, and even Albert Brooks into the madcap mayhem promised by the early clips we’ve seen. But this isn’t the stuff of Jerry Bruckheimer, this is Nicolas Refn, who shoots with a straight face and utterly refuses to compromise. A cool critical hit in the making and a likely reminder that Cannes knows how to have a good time, expect Drive to be the film that Justin Lin wishes he had the interest to make.
6. The Kid With A Bike
For a Dardenne brothers’ film to be titled The Kid With a Bike, seems simple to the point of parody -- after two decades of the Belgian duo’s uniquely brusque brand of poetic realism (with their direct titles, like The Son, The Promise, and The Infant), The Kid With a Bike almost sounds like the most unexpected Friedberg & Seltzer (they of Vampires Suck renown) spoof ever made. But no, I’m guessing that The Kid With a Bike -- the first Dardenne feature in three years -- is probably the measured but penetrating steadicam saga of a kid with a bike, and maybe also some major daddy issues (this is me Googling the film’s synopsis in real-time and... bingo, it’s the story of a 12 year-old boy looking for the father who abandoned him in a children’s home). Expect rave reviews, a limited release later this fall (hooray for VOD!), and one of the very best films of the year.
5. Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai
Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins is a strong dose of chanbara glory, but it’s not quite worthy of the Kurosawa comparisons that some have been quick to hurl its way, and Miike knows that. But Miike has never been one to rest on his laurels (probably because his laurels are made of severed limbs and pig heads), and so he’s decided to up his game by re-imagining a film that Kurosawa himself seldom bettered, Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri. The bloody tale of a samurai who kneels before the lord of a local house and -- in advance of his scheduled suicide -- begins to recount the twisted saga of revenge that lead him to his knees, Miike’s film promises to literally add another dimension to the sword-swinging classic. Yup, Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai is in 3D, which means that we get another chance to see if a proven auteur was able to carve greatness from a gimmick. Either way, 13 Assassins has slayed adventurous audiences all spring, so you can expect a sword to the face later this year.
4. Guilty of Romance
Deranged and brilliant Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono (Suicide Circle, Love Exposure) doesn’t make movies so much as he unleashes them, like little pinholes jabbed into the side of Pandora’s Box. Sono has always been rather prolific, but only in recent years has he really hit his stride, knocking out a string of instant classics that effectively blur the lines between art-house and grind-house. Guilty of Romance sounds like another untethered bit of barely controlled madness, 143 fleet minutes about a kept housewife who begins to dabble in pornographic webcam shows before some dead people start popping up in local love hotels. Or something. Knowing Sono, that all goes down before the opening credits and the film ends on the surface of the sun. It’s sure to make you squeal, it’s sure to cross lines you never dared to draw, and it’s sure to play at Fantastic Fest later this year. Watch out.
3. We Need To Talk About Kevin
Scottish auteur Lynn Ramsay only has two previous features to her name, but on the strength of those films alone, any new work of her’s is a veritable event (Ratcatcher, remains one of the cinema’s most gracefully devastating portraits of adolescence, and a debut for the ages). We Need to Talk About Kevin is the first we’ve heard from Ramsay in nine years, and it looks as if it might have been worth the wait.
An adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin concerns a family (Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly as the parents, Ezra Miller as their titular son) cataclysmically interrupted by a school shooting. The twist: Kevin isn’t a victim, he’s the gunman. Ramsay tends to direct with a lyrical touch, but early clips suggest that she’s embraced the challenge of a more plot-driven narrative, folding long stretches of dialogue into her aesthetic rather than pausing for them. But I was in the bag for this thing from the moment it was announced that Radiohead demi-god Jonny Greenwood was writing the film’s score, especially considering the profoundly deepening effect his tense compositions contributed to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.
2. This Is Not a Film
A new film from Jafar Panahi tends to be a masterpiece, but these days a new film from Jafar Panahi is practically a miracle. The Iranian filmmaker has always been unafraid to challenge his home country’s oppressive status quo, and the government powers that seek to silence such voices have recently redoubled their efforts so far as the arts are concerned, an initiative which lead to police storming into Panahi’s home and hauling him away to prison for unspecified crimes against the state.
This Is Not A Film (co-directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmas) is a last-minute addition to the festival (a Special Screening in the Official Competition), a 75-minute document chronicling Panahi’s intolerable wait for the verdict to his appeal, Cannes describes the film as “A depiction of a day in his life... an overview of the current situation of Iranian cinema.” This Is Not A Film may not be met with the same critical scrutiny as the other festival selections, but it’s sure to be one of the most valuable films (or not films) that the Croisette has seen in a long time.
How can you hate Lars von Trier (don’t answer that)? The man is a maverick (do Photoshop him over Mel Gibson’s face on the Maverick poster), preternaturally versatile within the brimstone boundaries of his own imagination. Every chapter of his career feels like a different universe ripped from the same book, and with Melancholia it appears as if the unapologetic Dane is continuing the austere aesthetic with which he composed Antichrist back in 2009. An apocalyptic fable of a wedding party that’s interrupted by Earth’s impending collision with the eponymous planet, it’s unclear whether Melancholia will share Antichrist’s debt to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, but the totally incredible trailer suggests that this thing is Another Earth + The Celebration ÷ Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland might seem like a strange casting choice, but his droll and dulcet voice is a natural fit for post-millennium von Trier). Melancholia is already slated for a stateside release on November 4th -- brace for impact.