The Cannes Film Festival often brings together the best and worst, as well as the weirdest and wildest that cinema today has to offer. This year’s festival was no exception, with everything from thought-provoking social commentary to full-frontal 3D sex.
No Brits. No selfies. No Expendables 3 cast. This year’s 68th Cannes Film Festival was a very different beast to the one before it. But, as the dust settles over Cannes 2015 and the photographers finish shouting the winners into poses that please them, the festival – although going down as one of the most cross-grained in years – is still very much a celebration of gaudiness and glamour, fascinating and infuriating cinema, at times a sprint and at others a plod… And only in Cannes do these contradictions make a weird and wonderful kind of sense.
Cannes is still Cannes for a reason, and the sensation of trawling through films that are truly new and original (or realizing what a terrible mess you’ve stumbled across) is nothing if not thrilling. But, helping you to sift through all of the entries and confirm the movies that you should be seeking out this fall, here are our top 10 films to come out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Scroll through them below and see which films we’re excited about from Sundance, the Berlinale and Tribeca. For a more comprehensive view, take a look at the 25 films we’re looking forward to in 2015.
Ice & Sky
Director: Luc Jacquet
The much talked about La Glace et le Ciel – an environmental documentary from March of the Penguins director Jacquet – occupied the prestigious closing slot at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Focusing on the work of glaciologist Claude Lorius, whose pioneering analysis of ice samples in the late ’50s led to our current understanding of global warming, the film will have a very different impact on moviegoers than Jacquet’s Morgan Freeman-narrated La marche de l’empereur (although – don’t worry – it still does feature some penguins).
With Jacquet’s take on the moral aspects climate change (“I can’t still tell stories about nature and animals without telling people there is something very important to do to conserve this planet,” he says), it’s quite refreshing to see the subject taken seriously – especially after the baffling controversy surrounding Attenborough’s Frozen Planet screening in America back in 2011. Cynics: Just don’t ask how many millions of air miles are covered by shipping auteurs, press, and red carpet-ready celebs to and from the French Riviera for the yearly occasion…
A Tale of Love and Darkness
Director: Natalie Portman
Although she may be getting more attention for her underwear-visibility to dress ratio on the red carpet (looking at you, tabloids), Natalie Portman’s impressive directorial debut is certainly not one to be sniffed at. A project drawn from someone else’s autobiography, she’s adapted Amos Oz’s sombre memoir of the early years of Israel’s statehood – something close to Jerusalem-born Portman’s heart. Her story picks up in 1945; the eight-year-old protagonist whose parents are observing the mounting tensions between Jews and Arabs in Palestine starts out with a two-state solution which then dissipates as the film progresses into violence, turmoil, and melancholy.
There seems to be little room for doubt that the Arabs are the aggressors in the flick. But if you’re able to (stop thinking of Portman as the Black Swan ballet girl pulling bird feathers out of her skin and) overlook a definite bias, you’ll see that she has something interesting to say about Israel. A nuanced portrait of the place that demonstrates a commitment to, and real connection with, her home country, Portman’s potential for embarrassment on this project was pretty huge. Bravo, then, that she pulled it off brilliantly.
Director: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
We’ve had a new Pixar movie every year for eight years now and although Inside Out may be no great leap forward in terms of what Pixar have already accomplished, hey, when you’re Pixar, you’ve already mastered the technical prowess of animation skills, superb scripting and directing, a varied yet consistent tone suitable for all audiences and – the really important bit – knowing how to connect with the stuff in life that really matters (and how to remind us of it). Essentially, Pixar is at the top of their game in terms of heartstring-tugging powers and it doesn’t look to be different for the tremendous, instant animation classic Inside Out.
The plot unfolds inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley, whose personified emotions serve as the main characters, all competing for control; fear, sadness, joy, disgust, anger. As she struggles to adjust to a new life in San Francisco with her parents, turmoil ensues inside her head. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school. It’s a fitting metaphor for family, growing up and…just being a bit down in the dumps, really. And by plunging our protagonist into a fantastical, Spirited Away-esque wonderland, the flick’s central concept – that we’re all controlled by voices in our head – is a gorgeous one.
Director: Justin Kurzel
Anyone who saw Kurzel’s supremely unsettling portrait of an Australian serial killer in Snowtown would probably tell anyone they cared about to avoid it like rabies; there’s just no getting past how difficult it is to watch. His version of Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender as the titular character and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth – the nice, murderous Scottish couple – is just as gruesome. Traditionally, Macbeth affords a good opportunity for some serious guts, which Kurzel has shown to be his forte – from kangaroo slop all over front porches, to the torturous extraction of toenails in a bathtub.
But, this movie reawakening certainly isn’t just one for gore – the acting is as strong as the smell of blood. Fassbender can can do ambition and paranoia like no-one else and Cotillard excels at trouble beneath the surface (La Vie en Rose, Inception). That’s one hell of a combination for one of Shakespeare’s darker plays. A brooding, dense, magnificent visual marvel.
Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien
Based on the tale of Nie Yinniang or The Assassin (from the era of the Tang dynasty), Hou’s first feature flick for eight years follows a young girl who is kidnapped from her home and trained as – you guessed it – an assassin. She returns to her family after several years in exile, her mission to assassinate a political rival of the Emperor, but is forced to choose between sacrificing the man she loves or violating the assassin’s code. In certain respects, at least with regard to the plot, this is one of Hou’s most conventional movies in decades, but it’s also enigmatic in ways that some will find mesmerizing, and others annoying.
A movie of aesthetic refinement, The Assassin is a visual masterpiece of majesty and mystery; super-saturated with colour and smudged by fire and fluttering curtains – it’s hard to overstate just how sharply exquisite the film is. This year’s Best Director, Hou commented that he hadn’t wanted to make the customary roundhouse kickfest martial arts movie: Nie Yinniang (played by Transporter actor Qi Shu) jumps on her prey from roofs or trees to kill them with all the beauty of a floating hallucination – The Assassin is anything but.
Director: Todd Haynes
Cate Blanchett was predictably brilliant at bringing Bob Dylan to life in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. This time around, she’s back for his adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Carol and the emotional place she reaches this time is just extraordinary. Carol is a sublime, delicately groundbreaking Cannes entry that – if it isn’t the saddest thing you’ll ever see – is certainly the most melancholy thing this side of the South of France. But somehow, Haynes makes unhappiness beautiful in his story of two women falling in love in 1950s America, reminding us that love is the riskiest but most necessary gamble in anyone’s experience.
The movie’s simplicity of plot belies a mastery of nostalgia, too. At some points, it’s hard to believe that the film was produced this year; Haynes uses none of the flashy angles, shaky tracking shots, or fancy flashbacks that we’re so used to seeing in contemporary cinema. In other movies, such a decision might seem boring, but it only suits Carol perfectly. A textbook of cinematic beauty, Carol is one true, living classic.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
The Jury Prize winner from Greek arthouse sensation Lanthimos (Dogtooth) is very much its own unique beast; a weird fusion of satire, allegory, and metaphor that makes a sorrowful tragicomedy of modern romance as it asks the age-old question: is it better to live single or be coupled off? After Colin Farrell’s ageing architect character gets dumped, he’s sent to a countryside hotel where he has just 45 days to find a new girlfriend or find himself turned into an animal. There, he spends most of his days heading into the nearby woods to shoot and capture single people known as “Loners.” This faction – headed by Léa Seydoux’s character – turn out to be just as dangerously strident in their beliefs as the couple-filled world.
Essentially, Lanthimos seems interested in what online dating has done to human interaction. The guests are told to assign themselves a defining characteristic (a limp or a lisp), the hope being that they match with someone of the same trait. A joke about how Tinder and the like reduce the complexity of a person to quick bullet points, perhaps? Strange, funny, elegant and eccentric, The Lobster is one piece of social commentary that you need to see. This being a Yorgos Lanthimos film, it’s also full of startling and lovely images.
Director: Jacques Audiard
Audiard is at the top of his game in depicting the emotional strain on individuals obliged to make new lives from the ashes of the people they once were – A Prophet and Rust and Bone being prime examples. Similarly, Palme d’Or winner Dheepan follows an extreme case and opens with a funeral pyre in which the events of the past are seemingly laid to rest. The story of a former Tamil Tiger making a fresh start in a French housing project proceeds beautifully.
Part social-issues drama focused tightly around the topic of immigration, part love story, the movie follows three Sri Lankan refugees taking on the identities of a murdered family. Titular protagonist Dheepan takes a woman and a child under his wing in the hope that they will better his chances for asylum. But, our very flawed hero protagonist lets his warrior instincts take over when his new-formed family become threatened in the midst of a gang turf war, injecting an obscene amount of tension.
The best thing about it? Audiard chose non-professional acting virtuoso Jesuthasan Antonythasan for the lead role – a man who comes from a very similar background as the story’s principal figure. Antonythasan fought for the Liberation Tigers and was jailed in numerous countries before seeking asylum in France in 1997, making the film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head all the more brilliantly convincing.
Director: Asif Kapadia
There’s a sadness beyond words at the centre of Kapadia’s brilliant new film about Amy Winehouse, the singer who died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27. The film has also been dogged by controversy: since he saw Amy, Wino’s dad has withdrawn his support from the flick and slammed it for painting an “inaccurate” portrait of his daughter. But her father – amongst others – Kapadia’s movie says, could’ve done more to help. His movie is a damning indictment of the people who surrounded Amy, without indulging in underdeveloped accusations about who was ultimately responsible for her death.
Kapadia – the only Brit director at this year’s festival – creates a sad and beautiful film starting with Amy as a cocky, jazz-singing teen in Southgate and takes us through her short but rich life. He’s unearthed a massive amount of movie footage shot by her friends, as well as old photos and demos, and in-depth interviews from those close to her. Amy is a harrowing archive of a talent undone by excess; heartbreaking, insightful, and an incredible tribute to Winehouse as an artist.
Director: Gaspar Noé
It’s been thirteen years now since Gaspar Noé released his notorious rape-revenge flick Irréversible – the super-violent, super-extreme movie that surely exceeded in shock value anything, by anyone, ever. His latest labour of Love is as magnificent in its sheer deranged brilliance, telling the story of the disintegration of the relationship between an American expat in Paris and his artist girlfriend after they decide to bring a third person into their bed. Noé denies that the flick is transgressive, saying that he’s not showing his audiences anything they haven’t seen before; penetration, masturbation and an ejacuation that arcs out of the screen towards the viewer (cheers for that, 3D technology).
Love him or loathe him, Noé is one of the very few directors who is actually trying to do something new with the medium, battling at the boundaries of the possible. It has its obvious debts, but Love – his joyful account of love through sex – is utterly original filmmaking, and Noé a magician of camera movement.
Written by Sarah Gibson for Highsnobiety.com