Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Entertainment Junkie's 2015 Cannes Film Festival Preview: Meet the Jury + 11 Films To Look Forward To

Before we begin, don't get too excited: once again, I will not be on the French Riviera this year, so you won't be getting any festival recaps from me as this year's slate of films premiere (it's my goal to do so one day, though).

That doesn't mean we can't look forward to this year's festival, though. Cannes is arguably the most prestigious film festival in the world, and this year's set - running from May 13 through May 24 - has a number of promising films debuting, both in the main competition and in the fest's other various events. And that's what we're going to cover here; however, unlike last year's list of ten films, we're going to crank it up to eleven this year, as there's just so much potentially-great stuff on the horizon.

But before we get into that, meet the nine members of the competition jury, headlined by a pair of idiosyncratic directors who are themselves Cannes favorites.

Ethan and Joel Coen, presidents

The Coen Brothers have a long history with Cannes: their 1991 film Barton Fink claimed the festival's most prestigious prize, the Palme d'Or, while Joel Coen has received three Best Director awards (1991 for Barton Fink, 1996 for Fargo, 2001 for The Man Who Wasn't There; in all three cases, Ethan was an uncredited co-director). A total of eight of their films have competed in the competition. The duo's last film was Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), though they have written several screenplays that they have not directed, such as last year's Unbroken (directed by Angelina Jolie) and the upcoming Bridge of Spies (directed by Steven Spielberg).

More after the jump.

Rossy de Palma

De Palma is a longtime Spanish actress, best known for her many collaborations with director Pedro Almodovar, as well as her unusual facial structure. She has worked as a model for several major designers, including Jean-Paul Gautier, and is also a renowned theatre actress. Her most notable previous experience with Cannes was her role in Almodovar's 2009 film Broken Embraces, which appeared in the main competition.

Sophie Marceau

Though French actress Marceau has long been a major star in France, winning the Cesar for Most Promising Newcomer in 1982 and having directed a few films in addition to acting, she is best known to American audiences for her roles in Braveheart (1995) and the James Bond adventure The World is Not Enough (1997). Her 2009 film Don't Look Back premiered out-of-competition at Cannes that year.

Sienna Miller

An English actress and model, Miller's career seemed mostly stalled out until she appeared in two major Academy Award players last year: Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher and Clint Eastwood's American Sniper. She now has a number of films on her schedule, indicating that her professional comeback is only just beginning. Foxcatcher is her only previous brush with Cannes.

Guillermo del Toro

Del Toro is practically a man who needs no introduction: the Mexican filmmaker has been a longtime favorite of sci-fi and horror fans for his films such as Hellboy (2004), Pan's Labyrinth (2006), and Pacific Rim (2013), as well as for his involvement in the recent Hobbit films. His feature debut, Cronos (1993), won the Mercedes-Benz Prize at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, and his most famous and beloved (and greatest) film, Pan's Labyrinth, competed for the Palme d'Or in 2006.

Rokia Traore

Traore is a Malian singer/songwriter who has limited experience in film. In addition to earning worldwide acclaim for her music, she has also worked on a composer for Toni Morrison's play Desdemona and contributed to the multimedia project Half the Sky: Turning Oppression to Opportunity for Women Worldwide. She has no previous experience with Cannes.

Jake Gyllenhaal

American actor Gyllenhaal, like Del Toro and Coens, essentially needs no introduction. He's been having some of the best roles of his life in recent years, with his performance in last year's Nightcrawler earning him some the best reviews of his career, as well as a number of accolades (including from yours truly). His most recent experience at Cannes was in 2007, when David Fincher's Zodiac (which he starred in) premiered in competition.

Xavier Dolan

Dolan hasn't broken through to the American mainstream, but he is beloved by cinephiles worldwide for his remarkable streak of success. Since 2009, he has made five feature films, with his most recent, Mommy (2014), claiming a share of the Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival (in fact, four of his five films made their premieres at the festival). The kicker? He's only 26. He should become better known soon: he's currently shooting his first English-language film, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, starring Kit Harrington and Jessica Chastain. 

And now, on to the films, listed in no particular order, and the reasons why you should be ready to seek them out when (if) they make their way Stateside. Each film is listed with a summary, what part of the festival it is screening in, and reasons to see it.

The Sea of Trees (directed by Gus Van Sant)

What's it about? Arthur (Matthew McConaughey) travels to Japan's Mount Fuji to commit suicide and meets another suicidal man, Takumi (Ken Watanabe). Together they journey to Aokigahara Forest for self-discovery.

Where's it screening? Main competition

Why should I want to see it? With the McConassiance still in full swing, it should be interesting to see McConaughey take on a character who's quite the opposite of the actor's laid-back persona. Pairing him with Watanabe should be a great chance to remind American audiences of what a terrific presence the latter is. And it comes from Van Sant, who's been oddly quiet in recent years after his not-quite-beloved 2012 film Promised Land. This one could bring him back not only to form, but to the mainstream.

The Lobster (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

What's it about? Well, nobody really seems certain at the moment. What we do know is that its set in a dystopian future where people are given 45 days to find a partner, lest they be transformed into animals and the cast involves Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, and Ben Whishaw playing characters such as "Lisping Man" and "Biscuit Woman."

Where's it screening? Main competition

Why should I want to see it? Greek director Lanthimos first made a big splash internationally with 2010's Dogtooth, which was a festival hit and picked up an unexpected Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. That film is a modern masterpiece of dense political allegory, and his follow-up, Alps (2011), was equally bonkers and engaging. The Lobster will be his first English-language film, and the premise sounds ripe for his brand of filmmaking. This film has been the works for several years now, so the expectations are high.

Youth (directed by Paolo Sorrentino)

What's it about? A retired composer (Michael Caine) is invited by Queen Elizabeth II to perform at Prince Philip's birthday party.

Where's it screening? Main competition

Why should I want to see it? Sorrentino's previous film, The Great Beauty (2013), was a near-masterpiece and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This will be his second English-language film (the first being 2011's odd, Sean Penn-starring drama This Must Be The Place), and he's amassed a talented cast in Caine, Harvey Kietel, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz, and Paul Dano. If nothing else, we can expect sumptuous cinematography and droll reflections of the wealthy.

Carol (directed by Todd Haynes)

What's it about? Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley), the film focuses on Carol (Cate Blanchett), a 1950s housewife who begins a torrid affair with a younger woman (Rooney Mara). 

Where's it screening? Main competition

Why should I want to see it? This is Haynes' first film since the unconventional Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There a full eight years ago (he directed the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce in 2011). Haynes has already mined (velvet) gold in this genre before with 2002's Far From Heaven, and there's plenty of reason to suggest that he can do it again. Plus Blanchett and Mara are joined in the cast by Kyle Chandler (as Carol's husband) and Sarah Paulson. He is a filmmaker who constantly raises the bar for himself; he should be able to do it again.

Sicario (directed by Denis Villeneuve)

What's it about? An American police officer (Emily Blunt) teams up with a mercenary (Benicio Del Toro) to track a drug lord in Mexico.

Where's it screening? Main competition.

Why should I want to see it? Villeneuve has been on a hot streak lately: after his 2010 drama Incendies picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, he landed in Hollywood with the superb thriller Prisoners (2013) and the strange Jose Saramago adaptation Enemy (2014), both starring Jake Gyllenhaal. This film pairs him with his Prisoners cinematographer Roger Deakins, and it should give Blunt a chance to further prove her range as an actress. If nothing else, it should be a gorgeous film to look at.

A Tale of Love and Darkness (directed by Natalie Portman)

What's it about? Amos Oz, a controversial political figure in Israel who was one of the earliest vocal proponents of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Where's it screening? Special screening

Why should I want to see it? The film marks Portman's feature-directing debut, so it should be interesting to see how she adapts to working behind the camera. The material is strong, but little else is known about it yet.

Macbeth (directed by Justin Kurzel)

What's it about? Based on the famous Shakespeare play, aka "The Scottish Play," the film follows tyrannical king Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Marion Cotillard) as they struggle to hold onto the kingdom they took with blood.

Where's it screening? Main competition

Why should I want to see it? You need a reason other than Fassbender and Cotillard taking on the roles of Shakespeare's most psychotic couple? Fine. The film is directed by Kurzel, who made the terrific (and terrifying) true-crime indie The Snowtown Murders back in 2011. And the cast is set to also feature Sean Harris, Paddy Considine, Elizabeth Debecki, and David Thewlis. It has a strong possibility of becoming the definitive film version of this play.

Mountains May Depart (directed by Jia Zhangke)

What's it about? Set in three different time periods - 1990s Shanxi province, present-day Shanxi, 2025 Australia - the film tells the story of a woman (Zhao Tao), her former lover, and her son over the years as their relationships fall apart.

Where's it screening? Main competition

Why should I want to see it? Jia's previous film, A Touch of Sin, won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes two years ago, and his latest seems even more ambitious. The episodic structure is consistent with his previous work, but this will be his first film shot outside of his native China. Jia's proven to be a fresh, exciting voice in Chinese cinema, so any new film from him should be worth checking out.

The Assassin (directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien)

What's it about? Shu Qi plays Nie Yinniang, an assassin in Tang Dynasty China. Not much else is known at the present.

Where's it screening? Main competition.

Why should I want to see it? Like Haynes, Taiwanese director Hou hasn't made a feature film in seven years, the French production Flight of the Red Balloon. Given his reputation as one of the leading figures of the Taiwanese New Wave of the 1980s and 1990s, it might seem strange for Hou to take on a big-budget martial arts epic that's also a Chinese co-production. However, it seems like fertile ground for him to explore; at best, he could prove to be as keen to adapt as compatriot Ang Lee.

Our Little Sister (directed by Hirokazu Koreeda)

What's it about? Three sisters in their twenties who live together are joined by their 14-year-old half-sister when their father dies.

Where's it screening? Main competition

Why should I want to see it? Koreeda is a master of intimate family dramas, as evidenced by his beautiful previous film Like Father, Like Son (2013). The most recognizable (to Americans) name in the cast is Ryo Kase (Letters from Iwo Jima, Restless), yet Koreeda has such a way with actors that any of the actors could find their international breakout here.

Inside Out (directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen)

What's it about? Set inside the mind of a young girl, feelings Joy (voice of Amy Poehler) and Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) get lost in her mind while the other feelings - Anger (voice of Lewis Black), Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling), and Fear (voice of Bill Hader) - try to help the girl navigate her new home in San Francisco.

Where's it screening? Out-of-competition

Why should I want to see it? It's the first original film Pixar has produced since Brave (2012), and there are high expectations on this one to restore the company to its 2000s glory, when it enjoyed one of the most remarkable runs of films in history (from 2001's Monsters, Inc. to 2010's Toy Story 3, 2006's Cars possibly excluded). While that's probably a bit unreasonable to expect, the concept here is rife with possibility, and the first trailers have been, pardon me, emotional. It will be well worth seeing even if it doesn't quite meet its lofty expectations.

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