Last year at the Cannes Film Festival, attendees gossiped that the following year would potentially be "a banner year" with a host of big name directors slated to complete their projects in time for the 2011 festival. That was indeed the case. People were already talking about Terrance Malick's "The Tree of Life" 12 months ago, and then there were others such as "The Kid with a Bike" from the Dardennes, Pedro Almodóvar's "La Piel que Habito" (The Skin I Live In), Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" and Gus van Sant's "Restless," just to name but a few. And there also ending up being some gems not in the official selection that were worth noting.
Not all press was limited to the films themselves this year, of course. Lars von Trier's infamous press conference dominated the Cannes headlines for a day or two, outshining his critically acclaimed film, starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Below are the 12 "Must Sees" from Cannes 2011 with several more that are certainly worth a trip to a festival - or hopefully a full release. This list is simply the films iW has initially identified as ones to keep an eye for in the coming months. Many may be obvious to some, but still relatively new for others and maybe there's also a below the radar gem or two. A caveat to keep in mind: There were other titles that played this year's Cannes and had their world premieres elsewhere, so they're not included in this list nor are films that are slated for U.S. release in the coming weeks (this includes Palme d'Or winner, "The Tree of Life," which is of course a must view).
12 Films To Watch From Cannes:
"The Artist," directed by Michel Hazanavicius
It's a silent film and in black and white, so on the surface, that's not necessarily a recipe that will appeal to the masses. But "The Artist" had people talking during Cannes and it was mostly good (plus, they were talking about it at all). Starring Jean Dujardin (who won the Best Actor award Sunday night at the festival), Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller, the feature is set in Hollywood, 1927. George Valentin is a silent screen sensation, but the dawn of 'the talkies' threatens his stardom, while a young extra may very well see his luster explode. The film is already set for release in the U.S. via The Weinstein Company, which announced a deal for the film out of Cannes.
"Footnote," directed by Joseph Cedar
As with any given film, this may not be for everyone, but for those who have ever lived through a family drama, parent-child turmoil and the clash of traditions, this Israeli film can transcend cultural specificity. "Footnote" is a father & son rivalry. Both eccentric professors, both have dedicated their lives to the study of Judaism, but the son has received much more recognition for his work than his father. When the father is accidentally named the winner of Israel's top prize, the tension really rises. The film will head Stateside courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
"Le Havre," directed by Aki Kaurismaki
Chatter began even before Cannes started that Kaurismaki's return to French in his latest feature would be a serious Palme d'Or contender. As it were, it didn't get a prize, but jury president Robert De Niro revealed it did make a serious discussion point during their deliberations when talking about their decision process Sunday evening following the awards ceremony. Still others on the street gave praise, while others were more blasé. iW critic Eric Kohn noted: "With its bouncy soundtrack, deadpan humor and good-natured disposition, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s 'Le Havre' is an endearing affair. Combining his clownish storytelling with a life-affirming plot, Kaurismaki churns a fundamental scenario through his own unique narrative tendencies, yielding a product both heartwarming and irreverent, two qualities that should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his distinctive touch."
"The Kid with a Bike," directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
The Dardennes have won two Palme d'Ors and some people thought this could be the duo's oh-so-unheard-of third. It was not to be, but the film, which Sundance Selecta picked up at the festival, did score the Grand Prix, which it shared with "Once upon a Time in Anatolia." Could it have been a more serious contender for Palme d'Or had they never received the prize? Only the Cannes gods know for sure. The story centers on 12 year-old Cyril who is desperate to find the father who left him at a children's home. He meets a woman who runs a hair salon and he stays with her on weekends and she develops a strong love for the boy... Somewhat tempering official praise in his review of the film for iW, Boyd van Hoeij notes, "Something that, on the surface, looks startlingly new, slowly reveals itself to be something surprisingly familiar and not all that effective in the latest film from the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Their Cannes competition film 'The Kid With a Bike' is the arthouse equivalent of the 'Emperor’s New Clothes.'"
"Melancholia," directed by Lars von Trier
Always an explosive tour de force, von Trier generally didn't disappoint with his latest film. Like his previous film, "Antichrist," "Melancholia" opens with a stunning montage. Starring Kirsten Dunst (who won Best Actress in Cannes for her role), Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, a couple of Skaarsgards, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling and Udo Kier, the film starts off with a wedding celebration in the sumptuous home of the happy couple's relatives, but there's a massive planet - Melancholia - moving toward earth... While iW's word on the street polls are by no means scientific, the overall consensus was that the film was a definite favorite - if not complete favorite - among many of the industry attending the festival.
"Michael," directed by Markus Schleinzer
"'Michael' is a triumph of uneasy cinema: Not since Todd Solondz's 'Happiness' has a movie portrayed pedophilia in such uncomfortable detail," iW critic Kohn opens in his review of one of Cannes' more controversial titles this year. It's certainly quite possible "Michael" may not make it to U.S. shores beyond the festival circuit. Pedophilia is simply not a great sell, yet despite the uncomfortable story, the film had its admirers. Set in Austria, the film revolves around a quaint suburban home that hides a secret - a man who holds a child locked in his basement. Despite good word of mouth for the film's storytelling, one film exec told iW his boss, "wouldn't even consider" talking about releasing this film in the U.S. So there you go...
"Miss Bala," directed by Gerardo Naranjo
With a stunning performance by newcomer and star, Stephanie Sigman, the Spanish-language feature set in Mexico was one of the "sleeperish" hits of Cannes. Sigman stars as an aspiring beauty queen who unwittingly gets tangled into a vicious gangster syndicate. The film was a favorite for iW at the festival and the word-of-mouth on the film had many queueing up to get into the Un Certain Regard selection for its various screenings. "What attracted me was the story but mostly, I fell in love with the character. She's so fragile and at the same time so strong," "Bala" star Sigman told iW in a Futures interview with indieWIRE in Cannes. "The film is going to be controversial in Mexico, but I think it’s something that will be good both in Mexico and hopefully the U.S."
"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
A bit below the radar compared to its competition bretheren, "Anatolia" shared the spotlight Sunday night with a tie win for the Festival de Cannes' second prize, the Grand Prix, along with the Dardennes' "The Kid with a Bike." At two-and-a-half hours, the film may be long for some, but it's "mesmerizing," according to iW'sreview.
"Oslo, August 31st," directed by Joachim Trier
This film may be more of a question mark for the list, but star Anders Danielsen Lie's ("Reprise") performance as a recovering drug addict confronting his demons may give it some form of release Stateside. In iW's review of the film in Cannes, Kohn notes, "Trier’s astute screenplay presents [Danielsen Lie] as a sort of adult Holden Caulfield, still holding onto his elements of his former self but anxious to move beyond them.
"We Need to Talk About Kevin," directed by Lynne Ramsay
An early favorite as the Cannes Film Festival got underway, people were already bantering around an Oscar nomination for Tilda Swinton, who stars along with John C. Reilly, young actor Ezra Miller ("Beware the Gonzo") and Ashley Gerasimovich. In the film, Swinton plays Eva who puts her career on hold to be a mother to Kevin (Miller). Their relationship is stormy from the start and trouble is compounded when he becomes a teen by an "unforgivable act," leaving Eva to deal with her grief and responsibility. New York-based distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories recently picked up "Kevin" for the U.S.
"Return," directed by Liza Johnson
A moving portrait of a returning soldier to a Rust Belt town, Johnson's "Return" is a sign of the times. Linda Cardellini ("Brokeback Mountain") plays Kelli, who returns from the front to her adoring husband and two daughters. At first, she is happy to pick up where she left off with her family and work at a local factory, but slowly she becomes more and more alienated by her surroundings. "I think it may be criticized by some because there are people who want it to be polarizing," Cardellini told indieWIRE in Cannes. "But the beautiful way that Liza [Johnson] tells this story is that it doesn't take a political position. It’s not telling you how to think about war or PTSD, soldiers or people’s families. It's just showing you one person’s life and how she deals with her return." Look for "Return" on the festival circuit this summer and fall.
"Walk Away Renée, directed by Jonathan Caouette
Caouette made a splash back in 2003 with "Tarnation," which had a "soft debut" at an experimental LGBT festival in New York and went on to be the talk of the Sundance Film Festival and even found a slot at the New York Film Festival, despite its low, low budget and experimental elements. After a series of shorts and other projects, Caouette brought a "follow-up" to "Tarnation" to Cannes with "Renée." In this film, the focus of the film is again his mother who underwent shock treatments in the 1950s, which left her permanently debilitated. The film did not receive the overwhelming splash "Tarnation" received in Cannes, but word is that the director was still working on the film and a new version should be ready for festivals in the coming months.
Other notable films to keep a watch for:
"This is Not a Film" by Jafar Panahi - a self-portrait of the Iranian director living under house arrest in Tehran.
"Poliss" by Maïwenn - Cannes jury prize winner that was picked up by IFC Films.
"Sleeping Beauty" by Julia Leigh - A Cannes shocker that kept people talking throughout the festival. It has been picked up for U.S. distribution by Sundance Selects.
"El Piel Que Habito" (The Skin I Live In) by Pedro Almodóvar - Anything the celebrated Spanish director does will get attention, and the return of Antonio Banderas in this "thrillerish" new feature will no doubt make its way to the big fall festivals in North America.
"Bonsai" by Cristián Jimenéz - This Un Certain Regard selection had people giving good word of mouth along the Croisette by people who saw it. "Bonsai" should also be making its way to North America this fall.