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5 Ways for Cannes to Improve Its Old-Fashioned Lineup, Plus Top Contender Lists

5 Ways for Cannes to Improve Its Old-Fashioned Lineup, Plus Top Contender Lists

So we will soon find out which titles will be in this year’s Cannes Official Selection (May 13-24), which is broken down into 20 Competition titles competing for the Palme d’Or and other prizes; 20 films in Un Certain Regard, which has its own less prestigious competition with high-profile opening and closing night slots; 10 competition shorts, and other features and classics screened out of competition. The often more adventurous and avant-garde Director’s Fortnight and Critics’ Week programs tend to play more edgy fare and take chances on not-yet-proven talent. 

Cannes does pretty well overall. Which is why I look forward to going every year. But like any festival director, Thierry Fremaux has to juggle many considerations when making his picks. Here are five things that effect the Cannes selection:

1. Country politics. Fremaux has developed relationships with powerful suppliers. Over the years he has leaned on reliables such as French production and sales company Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval (“The Artist,” “Che”), Harvey Weinstein (“sex, lies and videotape,” Pulp Fiction,” “The Piano”) and Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker and Tom Bernard (“Midnight in Paris,” “Mr. Turner,” “Amour”). They put pressure on him, as do the equivalent top players in the French film industry, not to mention the Germans, Italians, Japanese, Danish, Brazilians and so on around the world.

Fremaux needs to make his own critical judgements. 

2. The red carpet. Fremaux also has to deliver glamour for those nightly climbs up the red steps of the Palais in front of a global phalanx of photographers and video cameras. He sets out-of-Competition openers all the time, from “The Da Vinci Code” starring Tom Hanks to last year’s opener “Grace of Monaco,” starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly. Chances are good that Woody Allen’s 45th film “Irrational Man” (SPC, July 24), a darker story starring Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix, will turn up out of Competition (as did fest openers “Midnight in Paris” and “Match Point”), along with the already booked Mad Max: Fury Road,” from Australian George Miller, which starts rolling out May 13 in France, and in all likelihood, Brad Bird’s sci-fi fantasy “Tomorrowland” (May 20 in France, May 22 in US) for Disney starring George Clooney. 

Cannes also demands red carpet elements with global appeal for the Competition selection, which helps to explain the inclusion of such odd entries over the years as Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro, Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny,” starring Gallo and Chloe Sevigne, or Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Sarah Michele Gellar and Bai Ling. All were dismissed with chair-slapping disdain by the demanding Cannes critics corps.

Cannes should not accept bad movies just to feed the media frenzy. 

3. The auteurs. Over the years Fremaux and his predecessor Gilles Jacob have nurtured generations of auteurs who have been defined by Cannes as master filmmakers worthy of world class status. Unfortunately, the festival has coddled many of their chosen faves by accepting their weaker films along with their stronger ones. Weak auteur entries include “The Search,” director Michel Hazanavicius’s follow-up to “The Artist,” Paolo Sorrentino’s English-language misfire “This Must Be the Place,” starring Sean Penn, as well as Nanni Moretti’s sixth competition title, “We Have a Pope.” (The next year he accepted the job of presiding over the Cannes jury.)

Last year Cannes booked films from Canadian regulars David Cronenberg (“Maps to the Stars,” his fifth film in Competition) and Atom Egoyan (“The Captive,” starring Ryan Reynolds and Rosario Dawson, his sixth), neither of whom were at the top of their game. (“Maps to the Stars” did yield a Best Actress win for Julianne Moore, which boosted her eventual Oscar win for Toronto debut “Still Alice.”) 

Other familiar returning Cannes faces in 2014 included Olivier Assayas (“Clouds of Sils Maria”), seven-timer Jean-Luc Godard (3D “Goodbye to Language”), four-timer Mike Leigh (Sony Pictures Classics’ “Mr. Turner,” starring eventual Cannes Best Actor winner Timothy Spall), twelve-timer Ken Loach (“Jimmy’s Hall”), and six-timers the Dardennes brothers (Sundance Selects’ “Two Days, One Night”). Tommy Lee Jones returned to Cannes with period western “The Homesman,” in which he co-starred with Hilary Swank. His 2005 debut, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” earned him an acting prize.

Make room for new auteurs, please. 

4. Favoring live action theatrical fiction by males. Cannes has been slow to warm up to documentaries (Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” made the cut) and animated features as Competition fodder. Pixar’s “Up” (“l’auteur, Pete Docter!”) was the first animated and first 3D feature to open the festival, out of Competition. Ari Folman’s superb animated war documentary “Waltz with Bashir” –which is far from a family film–did debut in Competition (it was picked up by SPC and contended for the documentary Oscar). Only DreamWorks’ “Shrek” and “Shrek 2” have screened in Competition.

This year, why not let Docter’s “Inside/Out” (USA, June 19) compete, if it’s worthy? Or Mark Osborne’s $80-million “The Little Prince,” Paramount’s English-language, Wild Bunch-backed, stop-motion movie version of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s children’s fable? Marion Cotillard and James Franco are in the voice cast. (Osborne’s “Kung Fu Panda” debuted out of Competition.)

Davis Guggenheim played Cannes with out-of-Competition “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006 and could well debut Fox Searchlight’s “He Named Me Malala.” And with so many strong docs at Sundance, why not book Netflix’s Euro-friendly jazz biodoc “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and add another woman director to the mix for good measure? Fremaux insists that he tries to include women in the Competition. But how quickly they wind up in Un Certain Regard…

And the Competition has been slow to include TV movies, which are now desirable staples at other film festivals. Fremaux did chase auteur Steven Soderbergh’s HBO film “Behind the Candelabra.” Cannes had allowed HBO’s “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” to compete in 2004, but not French auteur Olivier Assayas’ remarkable TV miniseries “Carlos” in 2010. Phil Kaufman’s HBO movie “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman, played out of Competition. 

Will Cannes recognize, for example, Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre,” “Jane Eyre,” “True Detective”) as an auteur for his Netflix pickup “Beasts of No Nation,” starring Idris Elba as an African warlord? Netflix outbid Focus Features with a reported astronomical $12 million offer for world rights. Focus had first and last look rights to the two-hours-plus movie, which they screened before Sundance. The ultra-violent picture based on the Uzodinma Iweala bestseller follows a boy forced into joining a West African militia. Finally, Focus wasn’t willing to meet that price. Thus a movie that might not be a guaranteed success as a theatrical release is worth more to media distributor Netflix, which is also driving subscribers to its service with such Oscar-nominated documentaries “Virunga” and “The Square.” 

But will Cannes consider a Netflix movie a Competition movie? And an HBO series director a film director? “Beasts of No Nation” has no theatrical distributor as yet, which it will have to find if Netflix is going to mount an Oscar campaign. 

Cannes need to catch up with the new world order and not follow the Academy’s myopia about considering only movies that are theatrically released.

 5. The other sections. Cannes has tended to slot exciting new work from emerging directors–many of them women– into sidebar sections rather than the main Competition. And then accept lesser follow-ups with star power. Lee Daniels’ eventual Oscar-winning “Precious,” a 2009 hit at Sundance, went to Un Certain Regard, while lesser “The Paperboy” was in the 2012 Competition. One boasted a cast of largely unknown African Americans, while the latter boasted red carpet-friendly Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Ephron and John Cusack.

Jeff Nichols’ Sundance leftover “Take Shelter” won two prizes in Critics’ Week (the festival hates to follow Sundance in the Competition, although it did make an exception for Steven Soderbergh’s eventual Palme d’Or winner “sex lies and videotape”), while “Mud,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, played in Competition. Sundance hits from Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale”) and Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) both wound up in Un Certain Regard, while Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” went to Director’s Fortnight.

This year’s candidates? James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour,” Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s audience and jury winner “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and Marielle Heller’s “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” which played New Directors/New Films, are possibilities. 

Typically, Canadian Xavier Dolan made the climb from Director’s Fortnight (“I Killed My Mother”) to Un Certain Regard (“Heartbeats” and “Laurence Anyways”) to Competition title “Mommy.”  But SPC’s “Foxcatcher,” starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carrell, went straight to Competition with Director Bennett Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball”) as a newly minted Cannes auteur. 

Admittedly, some movies won’t stand up to the intense focus on the Competition. Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” was dismissed when it played in Competition; “The Bling Ring” opened Un Certain Regard. Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Warner Bros.’ retitled dark drama “Lost River,” starring Christina Hendricks, went to Un Certain Regard (the star of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is a Cannes red carpet favorite), and Cannes newcomer David Michod’s violent follow-up to “Animal Kingdom,” “The Rover” (A24) played as a Midnight Screening with Guy Pearce and Rob Pattinson on hand. 

But it’s time to be more rigorous about taking chances on emerging talent. 

Speculation about what will play at the 68th Cannes Film Festival (May 13-24) has been rampant. (Here’s Indiewire.) So rather than lean toward the same list of established auteur perennials for the Competition fray, why not look at the movies themselves and pick the best ones?

Here are the established Competition auteurs with new films who could return to the lineup:

  • Spain’s Alejandro Amenabar (“2009’s “Agora”) has directed crime mystery “Regression,” starring Emma Watson, Ethan Hawke and David Thewlis. 
  • French Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet,” “Rust and Bone”) is hastening to finish emigre drama “Erran” (IFC Sundance Selects).
  • Italy’s veteran Marco Bellocchio (“Vincere”), with six Competition titles behind him, has a new film, “L’Ultimo Vampirothe.”
  • British Terence Davies (“The Long Day Closes,” “The Neon Bible”) stars Peter Mullen in literary adaptation “Sunset Song.” 
  • France’s Arnaud Desplechin (“A Christmas Tale”) is back in France with “Three Memories of Childhood,” starring his usual alter-ego, Mathieu Amalric. 
  • British Stephen Frears (“Prick Up Your Ears,” “The Van”) centers “Icon” on a journalist’s quest to expose cyclist Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster)’s use of performance-enhancers. Lee Pace, Dustin Hoffman and Ben Foster star.
  • Italy’s Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah”) has moved to English with historical fantasy “The Tale of Tales,” starring Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones. 
  • Israel’s Amos Gitai (“Free Zone”) has been in Competition four times; “Le dernier jour de Rabin” is a dramatization of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
  • American Todd Haynes (“Velvet Goldmine”) is finally ready to screen his Patricia Highsmith adaptation “Carol,” starring Cate Blanchett (“I’m Not There”) and Rooney Mara. 
  • South Korea’s Im Sang-soo (“The Housemaid,” “The Taste of Money”) directed contemporary anti-corruption thriller “My Friendly Villains.” 
  • Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda (2013 Jury Prize for “Like Father, Like Son”) has family drama “Our Little Sister.”
  • Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2003’s “Bright Future”) stars Eri Fukatsu in literary adaptation “Journey to the Shore” as a woman with a disappearing husband. 
  • Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien’s China-financed period epic “The Assassin” may finally be ready after decades of stop-and-go development and production–and would mark his seventh Competition contender.
  • Japan’s Naomi Kawase (“Still the Water”) has been in Competition four times; “Sweet Red Bean Paste” should be a strong contender.
  • France’s Abdellatif Kechiche follows up 2013 Palme d’Or-winner “Blue is the Warmest Color” with Gerard Depardieu vehicle “la blessure.”
  • French director-actress Maïwenn follows 2011’s “Polisse” with “Mon Roi,” starring Vincent Cassel and Louis Garrel. 
  • America’s Terrence Malick (“Palme d’Or winner “The Tree of Life”) finished up “Knight of Cups” in time for Berlin, so the odds are slim that “Weightless,” also starring Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett, will be ready for Cannes. 
  • Italian Nanni Moretti‘s “Mia Madre” stars Moretti, John Turturro, and frequent collaborator Margherita Bay. This would be his sixth Competition title.
  • America’s Jeff Nichols (“Mud”) could return with sci-fi John Carpenter homage “Midnight Special” (Warner Bros.), starring Michael Shannon, Kristen Dunst, Adam Driver and Joel Edgerton. 
  • France’s Gaspar Noé (“Irreversible”) is back with very erotic “Love.” 
  • France’s Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 82 (“Cyrano de Bergerac”) directs “Belles Familles,” starring Mathieu Amalric. 
  • France’s Barbet Schroeder (not in Competition since “Barfly,” 1987) directs techno-music drama “Amnesia,” set on the Spanish island Ibiza.
  • Poland’s Jerzy Skolimowski (“Torrents of Spring”), who hasn’t had a film in Competition since 1989, is finishing “11 Minutes.” 
  • Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino (Oscar-winner “The Great Beauty”) goes English again with “The Early Years,” starring Michael Caine as an orchestra conductor considering coming out of retirement, with Rachel Weisz, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano and Jane Fonda.
  • Hong Kong’s Johnnie To has created a musical of Noel Coward’s “Design for Living” starring Chow Yun Fat and Sylvia Chang.
  • Argentinian Pablo Trapero ( 2008’s “Lion’s Den”) directs 80s true story “The Clan,” starring Argentinean Guillermo Francella as the head of a wealthy and murderous Buenos Aires family. His last three films were slotted in Un Certain Regard.
  • Belgian Jaco van Dormael (“The Eighth Day”) could return to the Competition with “The Brand New Testament,” a religious satire starring Benoit Poelvoorde as God, who tips plans of the apocalypse to his daughter (Yolande Moreau); Catherine Deneuve also stars. 
  • America’s Gus Van Sant (Palme d’Or-winner “Elephant,” “Last Days,” “Paranoid Park”) directs Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe as two depressed men in “Sea of Trees.” 
  • Netherlands’ Alex van Warmerdam (“Borgman”) has crime drama “Schneider vs. Bax.” 
  • Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme D’or with “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.” His next: “Love in Khon Kaen.”

Here are some worthy potential contenders for first-time Competition slots:

  • American Scott Cooper‘s Whitey Bulger biopic “Black Mass” stars Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • Mexican Michel Franco‘s “Chronic” (Wild Bunch), his first English-language effort, stars the Un Certain Regard jury president Tim Roth who awarded “After Lucia” the top prize in 2012. Franco’s “Daniel and Ana” played Directors’ Fortnight in 2009. 
  • American Cary Fukunaga‘s Africa-set “Beast with No Name” (Netflix) stars Idris Elba.  
  • Italy’s Luca Guadagnino (“I Am Love”) reteams with Tilda Swinton in erotic drama “A Bigger Splash,” but has never played Cannes. Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes, and Matthias Schoenaerts costar.
  • American Davis Guggenheim documentary “He Named Me Malala” was scooped up by Fox Searchlight; he brought Sundance doc “An Inconvenient Truth” to Cannes in 2006.  
  • France’s Lucile Hadzhihalilovic (2004’s “Innocence”) delivers her sophomore film, sci-fi fantasy “Evolution” (Wild Bunch), about boys subjected to medical experiments. 
  • American Angelina Jolie‘s France-set romantic comedy “By the Sea” reunites Jolie and husband Brad Pitt in front of the camera for the first time since “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
  • Australian Justin Kurzel‘s “The Snowtown Murders” won Critics’ Week in 2011; the Weinsteins could muscle “MacBeth,” starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, into the main selection.
  • Greece’s Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth,” Un Certain Regard) makes his English-language debut with “The Lobster,” starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and Léa Seydoux.
  • French Guillaume Nicloux‘s “The Valley of Love” stars Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert.
  • American debuting writer-director Natalie Portman leads an Israeli cast in a Jerusalem period drama based on the Amos Oz autobiography, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” which could compete for the Camera d’Or. 
  • Norway’s Joachim Trier hit “Oslo August 31st” played Un Certain Regard, he could be back with New York drama “Louder than Bombs,” starring Jesse Eisenberg, Isabelle Huppert, David Strathairn, Gabriel Byrne and Amy Ryan.
  • Canadian Denis Villeneuve‘s Mexican cartel drama “Sicario” (Lionsgate, September) starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro and Jon Bernthal is getting strong advance buzz. 1996’s “Cosmos” played outside Competition while in 1998 “Un 32 Aout Sur Terre” played Un Certain Regard. 
  • French Elie Wajeman‘s follow-up to her 2012 Director’s Fortnight debut film “Aliyah” is 19th century policier  “Les Anarchistes” (Wild Bunch), starring Tahar Rahim (“A Prophet,” “The Past”) and Adele Exarchopoulos (“Blue Is the Warmest Color”).
  • British Ben Wheatley has yet to play in Competition. (Delightfully nasty comedy “Sightseers” was in the Fortnight.) Will his edgy J.G. Ballard adaptation starring Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons, “High-Rise,” make the cut? 
  • Belgian Alice Winocour‘s “Close Protection” stars Mathias Schoenaerts as a French soldier returned from Afghanistan with PTSD; Diane Kruger costars. Winocour’s “Augustine” (2012) debuted in Critics’ Week.
  • Poland’s Andrzej Zulawski, who played two films in Cannes sidebars in the early 80s, has finished his first film in 15 years, metaphysical drama “Cosmos.”

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