We are precious few days from the kickoff of Cannes Film Festival, which pretty much begins the season of strong films coming to the fore. Of last year's festival, six films premiered that ended up making my end of year list, an additional one if you count "Certified Copy" of the previous year. "The Artist" went on to win Best Picture just less than a year after it premiered, so the festival clearly holds a strong place at the center of the cinematic year. This year obviously has a much different dynamic to it, skewing somewhat more mellow beforehand, but that could very well change depending on how the films perform.
So it figured like an appealing idea to spotlight ahead of time some of the more intriguing offerings of this year's festival circuit. Obviously I don't have quite a complete attachment to many of the foreign films showing, though I'm not discounting them altogether. I'm waiting for them to surprise, which they hopefully might. To that effect, I want to believe that "The Paperboy" is more than it seems to be. Lee Daniels isn't the most spectacular of directors, nor is Zac Efron the most skillful of leading men, but I am one for surprises. I can only hope there will be many, but I hope none of those are that the films I am anticipating aren't worthy of such.
Directed by John Hillcoat
I have multiple hesitations in the pool when placing this film even on the edge of this list, and that mostly lies on the reputation of director John Hillcoat. No offense intended towards the guy, but he has not at all proven himself given the talent he has at his disposal. Having not yet seen "The Road", I'll have to get back to you on whether or not my prognosis is correct, but for a man who has made so little in his entire career, you've got to worry about him. Would I like to find out that the film is great? Absolutely, though Shia Labeouf is not at all an encouraging sight for any film, even if his energy accented well to "Transformers". Performers like Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, and Jessica Chastain are what keep me planted on this film. I do hope the film manages to be just as good as the sum of its parts.
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Last year, Jeff Nicholas blasted onto the scene with "Take Shelter", his psych-thiller bait-and-switch to passionate family drama that offered two powerhouse performances from Michael Shannon and the not-quite-placed-yet Jessica Chastain. Now he's been upgraded to the competition circuit to see if he can fulfill a second time, though I can't say I'm entirely sure it will. The leads of Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon have been rather misguided recently, though perhaps what they need is a strong role to bring them back on track. I think we can infer that Nichols gives dialogue that actors can build off of, so maybe that will be the key to making this film tick.
8. "Moonrise Kingdom"
Directed by Wes Anderson
To be perfectly honest, I'm not all that sure why this film makes my list at all. I think there's been a common tendency to escalate Wes Anderson as one of the strongest filmmakers working today, but I've never been able to make it through ten minutes of any of his films, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" being the exception. Not that they're bad, but they just don't keep me interested in the bland and perhaps too close to real characters, not to mention his hollow visual sensibilities. So why does this seem like a different story, maybe? Well, it again focuses on a childhood world, which Anderson may be most appropriate to handle. Or maybe I just want to see Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and Tilda Swinton in a movie together. That's no bad thing, right?
7. "Killing them Softly"
Directed by Andrew Dominik
A copy of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is laying around my place somewhere, just waiting for me to slip it in to make a boring afternoon exciting. That film's general praise has not gone unnoticed by me, and Andrew Dominik is one who is certainly looking to make a permanent name for himself. A crime film such as this looks like just the sort of game to establish his strengths, and it's no bad period of time to have Brad Pitt in your film. He's been on a roll, and I count on him playing strongly into the Oscar race once again this year. Time will tell if it's a standout or just another solid, though not fantastic, film.
6. "Beyond the Hills"
Directed by Cristian Mungiu
There is very little that I know about this particular effort, varying from cast to crew, but the one thing I do have assurances about is director Cristian Mungiu, who many were quite impressed with when he brought "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" to the Croisette five years ago. It took the Palme D'or, which is enough to suggest that this won't be a massive misfire, and in fact could be quite amazing. Now my continued excitement is pending my viewing of Mungiu's previous films, but if the positive vibes I've gotten don't let me down, this will be quite a nice treat when it eventually turns our ways.
Directed by Matteo Garrone
I think we're getting into a trend of me being impressed by directors based on what I've heard is good that they've done. "Gomorrah" was one of the big hits in 2008, which is another suggestion at repeated greatness for this director. Again, that really is pending, and the subject of his new film is rather far apart from that of his last. A film set in the world of Italian reality television is something to cause people to raise their eyebrows. Matter of fact, it's worth questioning whether or not this is a comedy or a drama, but from the small portions of "Gomorrah" that I've seen, I'd say I'm pretty firmly in Garrone's camp. Stun me!
Directed by Michael Haneke
For once I am at least partially familiar with the strength of a director here, and Michael Haneke is undoubtedly one to constantly keep an eye on. He's not really known for doing simply and easy films, as planted firmly by "Cache", a confounding and politically charged mystery of sorts that absolutely precludes answers, more interested in watching his character squirm in pain, fear, and paranoia. Even the title of "Amour" instantly tells us that this is going to be a cruelly ironic piece of cinema. Isabelle Huppert is often somebody to watch for, and it's a criminal disservice that she hasn't yet been noticed by Oscar. I have no idea what to expect, as per usual, but it won't be something to frown upon, for certain.
3. "Like Someone in Love"
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Remember Abbas Kiarostami's last film, a little flick set in Tuscany about two strangers who play the roles of a married couple for a day? Or that same film when a married couple plays strangers for a day. "Certified Copy" was an absolute mirage of filmmaking, and showed what the Iranian filmmaker could do when stretching beyond his own borders. He's doing that once again, this time in Japan, and once again with very little knowledge of what's going on. The previous title, "The End", seems so foreboding for a film now with such a romantic title. What is Kiarostami getting at now, and will it even be half as introspective and astounding as his last film?
Directed by David Cronenberg
Can somebody just give me the benefit of saying exactly what the hell is going on with this film. My trailer blinders have been on, so I haven't a clue, but all I know is that Robert Pattinson plays a guy who travels around the city in a limo, all in search of a haircut. How everybody else factors into this, I really have no idea whatsoever. The simple fact that it's provoked divisive opinions is enough to suggest that Cronenberg is indeed back into the wilder territory that best defines him. After the extreme lack of energy that "A Dangerous Method" provoked, Cronenberg needed to go wild with this one, and I can certainly hope the effects are positive.
1. "Rust and Bone"
Directed by Jacques Audiard
A bit of an anticlimax, but this is probably the single most reliable film opening on the croisette this year, simply based on the esteem of director Jacques Audiard. I recently revisited "A Prophet" to much enjoyment, and discovered an enthralling and gorgeously constructed film. With the story of a whale trainer who loses her legs, Audiard is again going in a somewhat challenging direction, but I doubt he'd take it on if he wasn't up to the challenge. Even more so, Marion Cotillard is always a draw, even in her less fantastic of roles. The opportunity to look at her face is an immense gift. And she's also a great at acting, so that's something. The promise of Cotillard and Audiard together is enough to clinch the top spot, and then some.