While it’s one of the top prizes of the film world, the Palme d’Or is also among the hardest to predict. A jury comprised largely of filmmakers and actors watches two films a day over the course of the 10-day gathering, then spends a matter of hours discussing their favorites before landing on a decision. The jurors are under strict orders not to speak publicly about their preferences, so in truth, anything can happen. However, one can easily get a sense for likely frontrunners by simply combing through reactions to the competition films as they screen for members of the press and industry each day. This is one of the trickiest years for Palme d’Or predictions in ages; every day brings another film that could, under the right circumstances, win big. And the jury isn’t the same as the press who are watching and reacting to movies throughout the festival, so there’s no exact science here. As director Laszlo Nemes said at the jury press conference, “every jury is different and random.”
We’ll keep this ongoing breakdown of the odds updated over the course of the next week. The awards ceremony, where jury president George Miller will announce the final prize, takes place on Sunday, May 22.
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In order of likelihood:
1. “Toni Erdmann”: German director Maren Ade follows up her acclaimed 2009 debut “Everyone Else” with this touching, nuanced look at a young workaholic (Sandra Hüller) whose goofy father (Peter Simonischek) attempts to mend their broken relationship by going under cover to invade her personal life. The film’s mixture of comedy and drama has drawn raves for its subtle emotions and is a definite Palme contender; it could also nab a screenplay prize as well as acting prizes for Hüller, Simonischek, or both. Here’s our review.
2. “American Honey”: Andrea Arnold’s epic look at an 18-year-old outcast who joins a gang of misfits traveling the midwest is her most ambitious film to date, a gorgeous and expressionistic look at young rebels searching for their place in the world. Arnold is a favorite at Cannes, which also screened her second feature “Fish Tank” in competition (where it won the runner-up prize) and where she served on the jury two years ago. The film is also a strong contender for a directing award as well as an acting prize for newcomer Sasha Lane. Here’s our review.
3. “I, Daniel Blake”: The 79-year-old British director Ken Loach returns with another sympathetic tale of working class woes, this time featuring a middle-aged carpenter (Dave Johns) who’s recovering from a heart attack and seeking financial aid from the state. In the process, he befriends a young single mother (Hayley Squires) facing a similar situation. Loach is a Cannes favorite and won the Palme d’Or 10 years ago for “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”; this film, which was an early competition favorite that led many audiences to tears, could be a quick consensus choice. It’s also a serious contender for acting and screenplay prizes. Here’s our review.
4. “Paterson”: Jim Jarmusch’s low key tale of a New Jersey bus driver (Adam Driver) with aspirations of being a poet has the director with some of the best reviews of his careers—which means he’s a natural fit for the directing prize. But the movie’s touching portrait of creative struggles could wind up with the Palme if enough of the jury is on Jarmusch’s wavelength. Here’s our review.
5. “Loving”: Jeff Nichols’ romantic portrait of Richard and Mildred Loving—the interracial couple whose 1967 Supreme Court case overturned oppressive state laws—sports fine performances from Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton. Its timely hook, rich atmosphere and accessible story could make it an easy consensus choice. Both actors could also win for their performances, while Nichols is in contention for his screenplay. Here’s our review.
6. “Aquarius”: Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho’s thematically complex tale of a 65-year-old widow (Sonia Braga) fighting a real estate company that attempts to kick her out of her longtime home was immediately well-received at Cannes for its pointed look at one woman’s commitment to her ideals. Braga seems like a serious contender for best actress, and even if the patient film isn’t an immediate Palme frontrunner, it’s possible that the jury could gravitate towards its subtle charms if other films face sharper division. Here’s our review.
7. “Graduation”: Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” won the Palme d’Or 10 years ago, and his next film, “Beyond the Hills,” nabbed him a screenwriting prize. This latest look at his country’s complex social problems finds a passionate surgeon doting over his teenage daughter and willing to go to certain immoral extremes for the sake of her college education. The measured character study was respectively received by critics and could certainly impress this year’s jury, though they may not see quite the edginess or originality of some other entries.
8. “The Handmaiden”: Park Chan-wook’s salacious tale of lesbian lovers and con men in 1930’s-era Korea is a typically stylized and graphic good time from the “Oldboy” filmmaker. It’s wackiness is not to everyone’s taste, so it’s hard to imagine this one taking home the Palme, unless the jury is entirely comprised of diehard Park fans. Here’s our review.
9. “Elle”: Paul Verhoeven’s twisted tale of a workaholic videogame developer (Isabelle Huppert) who gets raped in the first scene and spends most of the movie tracking down her assailant was met with strong reviews that embraced its controversial premise. With its taut narrative and Verhoeven’s longstanding reputation, “Elle” may wind up as a consensus choice over some of the other divisive titles, but it’s still a tough possibility for the Palme given its politically incorrect hook. Huppert is a definite candidate for best actress. Here’s our review.
10. “Neon Demon”: Nicolas Winding Refn’s twisted, bloody look at a young fashion model (Elle Fanning) who faces fierce competition in the form of cannibals and other menacing forces didn’t please every member of the press (it was the second film in competition to elicit some boos). But the wacky, hyperstylized movie certainly displays Refn’s filmmaking ambition in a memorable fashion designed to provoke an extreme reaction from audiences. If there’s any truth to the possibility that jury president’s past work has an influence on the films they tend to reward, this year’s head — “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller — may appreciate Refn’s merging of gorgeous images and grotesque extremes.
10. “Staying Vertical”: Alain Giraudie’s oddball portrait of a man coming to grips with his sexuality and family life divided audiences, but its imaginative approach to depicting its character’s subjectivity could be an asset if the jury decides to reward originality above all else. Here’s our review.
11. “Personal Shopper”: Olivier Assayas’ ghost story starring Kristen Stewart as a woman in Paris trying to contact the ghost of her twin brother elicited boos at its first press screening, but critics leapt to its defense and the public screening went over much better. Assayas is well-liked at Cannes, where some jurors may want to reward Stewart or the director in some capacity, but its initial divisiveness suggests it’s not a leading contender for the Palme this year. Here’s our review.
12. “Sieranevada”: Romania’s Cristi Puiu has been a festival favorite since “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” and this epic black comedy portrait of a family dealing with the aftermath of a loved one is his first time in Cannes competition. Anyone hip to the long takes and dreary, introspective style of the Romanian New Wave will appreciate its application here, but the film’s nearly three-hour running time has alienated many people. It’s less likely to land the Palme than a prize for its talky screenplay. Here’s our review.
13. “The Unknown Girl”: The Dardenne brothers are among the few filmmakers to win the Palme d’Or twice, and they regularly leave a mark on Cannes competition. But it seems unlikely that their latest socially conscious drama, the story of a young doctor (Adèle Haenel) investigating the death of young woman, could have a real shot at the biggest prize since it has already received a mixed response for offering a lot of familiar ingredients from the Dardennes’ other films. Here’s our review.
14. “Ma’ Rosa”: Filipino director Brillante Mendoza is a Cannes regular, although not an audience favorite even on the Croisette, where his violent kidnapping thriller “Kinatay” caused quite the stir a few years ago. His latest effort, a naturalistic look at police corruption, has found some positive reception but nothing too enthusiastic; it’s being seen as a “small” film unlikely to win over new fans for the filmmaker, which makes it hard to imagine it will have much of a different impact on this year’s jury.
15. “Julieta”: Pedro Almodovar’s 20th film is an adaptation of several Alice Munro stories about a middle-aged woman (Emma Suarez) searching for her missing daughter and discovering that much about her traumatic past is not what it seems. The film, which already opened in Spain, has received mixed reviews—although the director’s biggest fans are largely appreciative. Suarez may be a contender for an acting prize, but there are too many other well-liked movies this year to consider this one a major Palme contender. Here’s our review.
16. “The Salesman”: Iran’s Asghar Farhadi follows up his well-regarded “The Past” with this mannered tale of a middle-class couple who moonlight as actors in an Iranian production of “Death of a Salesman” while dealing with more pedestrian issues pertaining the stability of their apartment. While some critics have greeted the film kindly, few have been especially enthusiastic, and everyone seems to agree that Farhadi has done much better before. It’s just not the kind of movie that wins a big prize in this sort of crowded field.
17. “It’s Only the End of World”: Cannes regular Xavier Dolan’s starry drama about a young man attempting to reunite with his estranged family features strong performances from Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel and Marion Cotillard, but as a whole the movie has been received negatively by press as one of Dolan’s weaker efforts. A jury might appreciate some of the performances and the film’s lively visual style, but there are too much other more ambitious films in contention this year to consider this one a real contender for the Palme.
18. “From the Land of the Moon”: Nicole Garcia’s slick period drama starring Louis Garrell and Marion Cotillard has been described as the most conventional film in this year’s competition, and not in a good way.
19. “The Last Face”: The Sean Penn-directed tale of a UN activist (Charlize Theron) and a rugged surgeon (Javier Bardem) who fall in and out of a passionate love affair at various African refugee camps has been largely regarded as the biggest dud of the festival. While jury president Miller recently worked with Theron on “Mad Max: Fury Road,” it’s hard to imagine widely reviled movie getting any prizes, much less the big one.