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The Top 10 Films Of The 2015 Cannes Film Festival

"Inside Out," "Amy" and more.

5. “Inside Out(Jess’ review)
With their only original film in six years being the little-loved but undervalued “Brave,” it was starting to feel like Pixar was losing its lustre, particularly given that two of those sequels were the decidedly disappointing “Cars 2” and “Monsters University.” But the studio has come roaring back with “Inside Out,” as inventive, moving and funny a film as they’ve ever made, and one that should end up ranking among the studio’s very finest. Some (as Jess did in her review) may take issue with the level of exposition needed to set up the film’s conceit and of the emotions driving young Riley as she has to deal with her move to a new city and new school, but most will be so giddy at the ingenuity of the visual ways that director Pete Docter and his team have come up with to show ordinary thought processes that it won’t be a much of a roadblock. Once it gets rolling, few will fail to be engaged by the level of adventure, visual splendor and emotion that’s being played with here —Pixar has returned to the immaculate storytelling of their late-00s run,with this film brought to life by one of the best voice casts they’ve ever assembled. It’s not just a return to former glories, though: the film uses its conceit to tackle a psychological realism of a sort that feels like genuinely new ground, and it’s borderline revolutionary for American family cinema to produce a giant tentpole that is essentially about the idea that sometimes it’s ok, or even important, to be a little bit sad.

4. “Macbeth(Jess’ review)
In recent years, the Shakespeare adaptation has been a thing to be feared rather than celebrated —since Baz Luhrmann’s schoolroom favorite, we’ve mostly had a series of Kenneth Branagh pictures of descending quality, the odd modern-dress version, or the hilarious Julian Fellowes-penned “Romeo & Juliet” with Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth. But given this cast, the new “Macbeth” always looked a little more promising, and our faith was rewarded with “The Snowtown Murders”’ helmer Justin Kurzel’s thrilling, atmospheric adaptation of the play. Featuring Michael Fassbender as the title character and Marion Cotillard as his other half (with David Thewlis, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris and Jack Reynor in the supporting cast), this production takes its place with films from Welles and Kurosawa among the top-flight versions of The Scottish Play, keeping a period setting of sorts but stripping the text down and boldly reinventing elements as such to create a sort of expressionistic anti-war nightmare about the effect that ambition and greed can have on future generations. Fassbender might go from 0-60 when it comes to the tyrant’s madness, but is otherwise basically faultless, while Cotillard starts measured but then reaches a fevered peak by the time of her “out damned spot” speech —it’s hard to imagine two actors you’d rather see in the roles. And Kurzel confirms his position as one of contemporary cinema’s most exciting up-and-coming directors. “Macbeth” for the “Game Of Thrones” generation is a reductive way to describe what he’s come up with, in part because he packs as much spartan beauty, shock and awe into two hours as HBO can manage in a whole season in Westeros. 

3. “Carol (Jess’ review)
As luminous and lovely as its leads, Todd Haynes‘ “Carol” is so sumptuous in execution, in photography, costuming, set design and considered choreography that it’s no surprise that detractors accuse it of shallowness. To do so ignores not only the volcanic feeling that courses between Cate Blanchett‘s Carol and Rooney Mara‘s Therese, but it misses the point —the film’s surface, if you’ll forgive the paradox, has titanic depth. Told in complex, layered images that speak volumes about power relationships and hidden desires in terms of their composition and framing, the film is about trying to parse what an unruffled surface of perfect lipstick and softly waved hair might conceal. As such, there’s no doubt it will not be to everyone’s taste —it is slow and considered in its plotting, because time is taken to ensure that every moment is exquisite, even the painful parts: it’s not unlike when you fall madly in love. And there are insights other than those into the social stigma of a same-sex relationship in 1950s America  —Carol and Therese engage in a relationship that is as much about their May-December age gap and the sophistication that Carol represents and the freshness that Therese brings as it is about their being lesbians. Mara, who shared the Cannes Best Actress prize, is a revelation, but Blanchett is splendid, presenting a facade so flawless it must be brittle. “Carol” might seem like a wardrobe movie hung with Sandy Powell‘s incredible dress designs, but if so, it is one that opens out into a Narnia of suppressed desire if you care to look closer.

2. “Arabian Nights(Oli’s review)
It was no easy feat to get a review of “Arabian Nights” ensured: a six-hour, three-part film shown over five days in the Directors’ Fortnight (which again proved to be a more exciting collection of pictures than the Official Competition), it took more than a little schedule wrangling to ensure that the same person could see the whole of Portuguese director Miguel Gomes’ follow-up to his wonderful “Tabu.” In the end, it couldn’t have been more worth it: the film’s a gorgeous, textured state-of-the-nation epic that constantly surprises, moves, and almost surprisingly for a film that seems so potentially intimidating, entertains across its miniseries-length running time. Mixing the docudrama hybrid of “Our Beloved Month Of August” with the more playful, heightened spirit of “Tabu,” it borrows the structure and central Scheherazade figure from the classic story “1001 Nights,” but little else. Instead using the framework to weave diverse stories of modern, austerity-racked, economically stricken Portugal, as well as the story of an elderly killer on the run, that of a dog’s passage between owners, that of an erection-granting wizard and an exploding whale and genies of the air along the way. If we had a complaint, it’s that the third part feels more like a coda than a part of the whole, and doesn’t quite gel with the previous instalments, but it still contains more ideas than most of the rest of the festival put together, and did little to dampen a beautifully shot (on actual film, even!), wonderfully executed triptych that should be manna for cinephiles.

1. “The Lobster (Oli’s review)
While we try to present a unified front and maintain a facade of politeness, careful readers will probably understand that actually Oli Lyttelton and I (Jess) loathe each other. The passive aggression that characterizes our everyday exchanges turned into unadulterated hostility when trying to decide in advance who got to review what during this year’s Cannes, and it is a source of abiding resentment and bitterness to me that Oli got to write up “The Lobster.” And also that he did an okay job of it I GUESS, if misleadingly instantaneous, insightful and witty writing is, you know, your thing. Yorgos Lanthimos is a huge favorite around here, and has been since “Dogtooth” introduced us to his beautifully skewed, compact, snow-globe universes in which everything runs according to rigid rules that make no sense from the outside, but possesses a perpetual-motion-machine logic when viewed from within. As our access point into this very particular system of enforced coupledom, conformity and rebellion against that conformity which turns out to be just as rigidly ordered, Colin Farrell gives his best-ever performance, somehow wearing the sustained lunacy of Lanthimos’ involved script as comfortably as he does his Dadbod™. The nearest comparison, as Oli mentions, is Charlie Kaufman, yet this is like a Kaufman collaboration with someone with a lighter heart and dafter humor (more “Being John Malkovich” or “Eternal Sunshine” than “Synecdoche“) which is all the more remarkable for coming from one mind, and operating (perfectly) in a language not Lanthimos’ own. Beautifully shot, deeply funny, surprisingly touching and wise, the only complaint that anyone’s been able to muster really is that it changes tack mid way through. But to me, that bifurcation means we get two Lanthimos movies for the price of one, with each commenting on the other to resplendently absurd yet wholly meaningful effect.

Special Mention: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
So did we decide to exclude George Miller‘s insta-iconic reinvention of the action genre because of legitimate reasons, or because we didn’t want to be the types to come home from Cannes and crown the big-budget Hollywood tentpole the best thing we’d seen there? We’ll never tell, but ‘Mad Max’ undoubtedly rides high (with a chrome-sprayed mouth and a “WHATALOVELYDAY!”) on our list of Cannes 2015 experiences and being shown early on the first full day of screenings was more of a celebratory, adrenaline-injection kick-off than any opening film in living memory. Our review is here, and if anything Cannes reporters Jess and Oli would probably have had an even more breathlessly enthusiastic response —it is an unreservedly adored blast, a sleek yet (mad) maximalist orgy of design and detail and a brilliant step forward for the action film. In fact, in its overtly, unabashedly feminist outlook, it reminded us summarily of the simple truth that the action genre, contrary to the watered-down, reactionary cartoonishness it’s characterises by mostly these days, has the ability and the responsibility to pursue a progressive agenda, because done well it is the most inclusive genre of them all. Way to raise the bar for the lowest common denominator, George Miller, you absolute legend.

Worst Film: “Sea Of Trees” (Oli’s review)
Last year’s opener, “Grace Of Monaco,” fell instantly into the annals of all-time Cannes disasters: booed, mocked, derided and eventually ending up as a Lifetime movie. Now we’re not saying that “Sea Of Trees” (which was somehow in Competition, rather than out of it like ‘Grace’) is objectively worse. It looks like an actual movie at least, and features actors who haven’t forgotten how to act. But it was certainly less well-liked: literally no one we spoke to during the festival even vaguely defended it, and it racked up all-time low scores on the various critics grids. The melodrama, which sees Matthew McConaughey heading to Japan’s favorite ‘suicide forest’ (a location literally picked, and I swear I’m not making this up, after he Googles the words “the perfect place to die”) to kill himself, only to meet another distraught soul in the shape of Ken Watanabe’s businessman, has to rank as director Gus Van Sant’s worst film, superseding even “Finding Forrester” and “Restless” in its emptiness and sentimentality. Nothing here is really effective: from the appropriated, ignorant view of Japan, to making Ed Zwick look like Ozu, to the overbearing score. But the prime culprit has to be the script, from “ATM” writer Chris Sparling, which heaps cliche upon cliche, cultural ignorance upon ignorance, until unveiling two twists among the film’s five different endings, one of which is cheap and cruel, the other of which you guessed ten minutes in. Of all the film’s possible endings, the only one that would have truly made sense is that McConaughey’s character was attempting to commit suicide because someone was trying to make him watch “Sea Of Trees.”

Jess’ Faves That Didn’t Make The List: “Yakuza Apocalypse,” “The Treasure”
Somewhat aware that I’ve been impressed by slow-moving, extremely beautiful, glacially paced visual feasts this year more than usual, I’m attempting to prove I haven’t lost my sense of humor or my sense of fun by choosing Takashi Miike‘s ludicrous “Yakuza Apocalypse” (review here) for this slot. It’s a blisteringly inventive, silly, grotesque slice of vampire-gangster hybrid mayhem from an incredibly uneven and over-prolific genre director. Damn if I didn’t think I was out when Takashi Miike and a guy in a grotty frog mascot suit pulled me back in. And I also want to shout out Corneliu Porumboiu‘s  Un Certain Regard prize-winner “The Treasure,” (review here), that starts off drab before turning into a loose-limbed hangdog black comedy and finally leaping up seven octaves in register for an ending as delightful and whimsical as it is totally unexpected.

Oli’s Faves That Didn’t Make The List: “Dheepan,” “Louder Than Bombs”
A significant group of Cannes-goers (including several who didn’t actually see the movie) seemed to greet the surprise Palme D’Or victory of Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” (review here) as a miscarriage of justice to compare with the Best Picture Oscar for “Crash.” It’s not what I would have had given top prize to necessarily, but I’d certainly side with the Coens and their journey in finding a lot to love in the “Rust & Bone” helmer’s latest, a powerful story of a makeshift Sri Lankan family embroiled in a conflict with drug dealers in a French housing project (until the last couple of minutes, anyway). But my fave that didn’t make our Top 10 was also one of my anticipated of the festival, the latest from “Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st” director Joachim Trier, his English-language debut “Louder Than Bombs” (review here). The film divided critics as a whole, and it’s not difficult to see why: it’s an unruly film, a sort of literary take on the grieving-family melodrama typified by “Ordinary People.” But in Trier’s hands, it’s a dense, sharply edited collection of loss and lies that was at once a little unsatisfying and entirely enriching.

And finally, a further two to mention that came close to contending for the top ten but didn’t quite make it in: Asif Kapadia‘s “Amy about singer Amy Winehouse, and Grand Prix winner Son of Saul” from debut director Laszlo Nemes. Oddly enough, while Jess reviewed the former and Oli the latter and while they’re obviously extremely different films, the slight reservations we had in each case were similar: a concern over the form of the finished film interfering with or at least problematising the filmmaker’s intentions and the nature of the audience’s response. Whatever the case, both are undoubtedly worthwhile, extraordinarily well-made films, and signal, we hope, that the richness of the Cannes program, across not just the official selection but the sidebars too, goes way beyond the titles listed above.

Check out the rest of our Cannes coverage here if you fancy, and let us know what you think of it and of this year’s festival in general, in the comments below.

— Jessica Kiang, Oli Lyttelton

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