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Cannes 2019 Palme d’Or Contenders: Here’s a Look at the Likely Winners (FINAL PREDICTIONS)

One final, major tweak to our predictions as buzz flies wildly around the Croisette, and a new frontrunner reshapes the race.

View of the Palme d'Or award, which will be presented at the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern FrancePalme Award, Cannes, France - 15 May 2018

The Palme d’Or

Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

UPDATE: The 2019 Palme d’Or has been awarded to Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite.” Browse the full list of winners here.

This list was last updated on Sunday, May 25. The Palme d’Or ceremony for the 2019 Cannes Film Festival will take place at 8:15pm GMT on May 25.

Since 1955, the Cannes Film Festival has awarded the Palme d’Or to some of the greatest filmmakers of all time, from Frances Ford Coppola to Jane Campion. However, the prestigious golden leaf remains one of the hardest prizes to predict. While Oscar season involves thousands of voters and aggressive, months-long campaigns, the Palme d’Or race among the 20-odd films selected for Official Competition screen across 10 days for a jury of celebrated actors, filmmakers, and other influencers, some of whom can be fickle about their tastes. The jury typically watches two or three films per day, convening throughout the festival before deliberating at the very end. And while the jury president can wield some influence over the outcome, everyone gets a vote.

That means there’s no precise science for predicting the Palme d’Or contenders, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give it a shot. Each year, IndieWire ranks the Palme d’Or contenders as they screen throughout the festival. The list is updated daily as new films premiere and the buzz evolves. The odds are based on a range factors, from the identity of the jurors to the overall reception of the films at the festival and the profile of the talent involved.

This year’s jury stands out for being particularly filmmaker-centric. Cannes veteran Alejandro G. Iñarritu is serving as president, marking the first time a Latin American has served in that role. He’s joined by fellow directors Kelly Reichardt, Alice Rohrwatcher, Maimouna N’Diaye, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Pawel Pawlikowski — as well as Elle Fanning, the youngest Cannes juror in history. Almost all of them have screened work at the festival, and their projects suggest a jury composed of complex, disparate sensibilities.

Needless to say, anything can happen. Some jury decisions are unanimous; others stem from divided reactions. The most acclaimed movie of the festival can reach the finish line with ease — as with last year’s “Shoplifters,” which later scored an Oscar nomination — or the prize can fall to a late surprise, as it did in 2008 with “The Class.” The most recent surprise may have been 2014’s “Winter Sleep,” a three-hour plus Turkish drama from Nuri Bilge Ceylan that barely got a U.S. release.

Here are our final picks, tweaked one final time as some last-minute speculation swirls around the Croisette.

1. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Review)

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”

Is it time for another historical win? No woman has won the Palme d’Or since Jane Campion became the first, in 1993, for “The Piano.” Since then, plenty of women have won prizes for their filmmaking at Cannes, from Andrea Arnold to 2019 Cannes juror Alice Rohrwacher. But acclaimed French director Céline Sciamma (“Girlhood”) is in the perfect position to seal the deal, with one of the most widely beloved movies at this year’s festival. Sciamma makes her long-overdue Competition debut with this vivid period drama, which focuses on an 18th century lesbian romance about a painter (Noémie Merlant) hired to create a portrait of a woman from a wealthy family (Adèle Haenel) without her knowledge. In the process, the two women fall in love, against the backdrop of a magical seaside landscape. Sciamma’s sharp, picturesque imagery meshes with the palpable erotic sparks between her two stars, who transform this emotionally resonant two-hander into a riveting portrait of hidden sexuality without reducing the premise to a gimmick.

In the process, the movie is also shrewd rumination on art, family, and the broader quest for companionship that gives its story a universal hook. Sciamma’s film isn’t a groundbreaking narrative achievement, and its quiet narrative arc means that descriptions of it don’t jump off the page the way some flashier entries (like “Les Misérables”) do — but the Cannes jury will have plenty of time to consider which Competition film truly showcases the very best filmmaking as a whole, and it’s hard to imagine that many of them wouldn’t put Sciamma’s achievement at the top of the list. Plus, Sciamma’s just the sort of rising talent for whom a historic win could seal her stature as a major auteur.

2. “Parasite” (Review)

“Parasite”

Neon

Bong Joon-ho’s follow-up to “Okja” finds the master Korean director delivering another his fascinating genre hybrids, the story of a poor family in Seoul that schemes to overtake a wealthy household by replacing their hired help. The layered drama is equal parts social thriller, family drama, and pitch-black satire as it builds to a violent showdown following a series of unpredictable twists. Bong has been revered as Korea’s preeminent auteur for years now, but many critics have been calling “Parasite” his greatest achievement to date. The filmmakers on this year’s jury are certain to appreciate Bong’s elaborate camera work and mise-en-scene, as well as the way the movie juggles its wilder circumstances with an emotional foundation that pays off at the very end. The unclassifiable quality of storytelling could wind up dividing some juries when there are a few more obvious consensus choices in the mix. But filmmakers revere Bong, and the movie delivers so well that it’s impossible to imagine it won’t win a major prize. Grand Prix is another safe bet, but the Palme wouldn’t be a surprise, either.

3.”Pain and Glory” (Review)

pain and glory

“Pain and Glory”

Cannes

Pedro Almódovar has spent much of Cannes as the centerpiece of Palme d’Or buzz. “Pain and Glory,” a subtle masterwork from a Cannes staple, has been a frontrunner for much of the festival. But as the festival draws to a close, it has settled into a still-respectable slot as one of the top three contenders.

Almodóvar has maintained godly stature at Cannes for years, but never won the Palme d’Or, and on one level, this may be his best shot: The Spanish auteur’s most personal film features his ever-reliable star Antonio Banderas as a fictionalized version of the filmmaker as he grapples with memories of his childhood and a past relationship ruined by drug abuse. Crippled by a range of physical maladies and struggling to figure out the material for his next project, he careens into a cycle of depression and addiction as he attempts to make sense of a confused life. While films about filmmaking tend to get reduced to navel-gazing, Almodóvar has mined a rich and tender narrative that had many critics declaring his best in years. The movie is very understated, perhaps almost too understated for some jurors who might want to reward a more ambitious filmmaking achievement, but there’s no question that “Pain and Glory” has been well-received at the festival for the way it speaks to Almodóvar’s achievements as a major film artist.

However, much of the buzz around “Pain and Glory” centers on Banderas’ performance. And per Cannes rules, a film that wins acting prizes can’t win the Palme. So if the Palme d’Pedro doesn’t happen this time, it’s probably because Banderas is going home happy.

4. “Les Misérables” (Review)

“Les Misérables”

The directorial debut of Ladj Ly is a relentless tale of mounting tension between tough police officers and an oppressed Muslim population in modern-day Paris. Ly’s jittery, naturalistic style spends much of its running time focused on several officers as they clash with the neighborhood youth, and one conflicted new recruit (Damien Bonnard) with a moral conscience. The suspense builds to an anxiety-inducting showdown involves the bubbling frustrations of a local Muslim boy (Issa Perica) whose pithy crimes receive a nasty comeuppance.

In the immediate aftermath of the movie’s wrenching finale, audiences were immediately drawing thematic parallels to “Do the Right Thing,” and while that may point to some of the more reductive qualities of the story, the combination of socially relevant storytelling and intense filmmaking could yield a lot of jury support akin to the wave of enthusiasm for Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” in 2015, which culminated with its Palme d’Or. The two movies have much in common beyond French directors, and it’s safe to assume that “Les Misérables” will remain a sturdy contender for some sort of prize throughout the festival.

5. “A Hidden Life” (Review)

“A Hidden LIfe”

Terrence Malick’s first movie in Competition at Cannes since “The Tree of Life” won the Palme d’Or back in 2011 is also his best movie since that time, and his first more traditional storytelling feat in much longer. The poetic director’s emotional WWII drama revolves around conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (August Dielh) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner), whose tranquil life in the mountains of Germany grows complicated when Franz refuses to sign a loyalty pledge and gets thrown in jail. His moral crisis forms the bulk of this touching, soulful movie, which brings Malick back to his “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven” years as a filmmaker even as the spiritual dimension of his work has deepened with time. Malick is a revered artist and this return to form will surely impress plenty of Cannes jurors, though his previous win — and the movie’s more traditional plot — could make it less of a contender than some of the other well-liked titles. Nevertheless, “A Hidden Life” showcases a master filmmaker fully in control of his material, and the filmmakers on the jury may want to reward that with a major prize.

6. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Review)

"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Sony/YouTube

The most anticipated movie in this year’s lineup brought Quentin Tarantino back to Cannes 25 years after his Palme d’Or win for “Pulp Fiction.” Unlike some of the other treasured auteurs at the festival, including 2019 competitors Ken Loach and the Dardenne brothers, Tarantino hasn’t been able to repeat his success in Competition, where he also screened “Death Proof” and “Inglorious Basterds.” With “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Tarantino succeeded at making a big splash at the festival, where co-stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio hit the red carpet alongside Margot Robbie for the 1969-set love letter for the film industry.

Critics have mostly been kind to Tarantino’s latest playful period piece, which finds DiCaprio and Pitt as an actor-stuntman pair entering a wistful stage of their life as the film industry undergoes changes and the specter of the Manson murders looms on the horizon. At the same time, the rambling odyssey left many viewers wondering if the movie lacked a center, and found some of the bolder narrative swings less impressive than the central performances. It has an outside shot at the Palme as a consensus choice relative some of the more divisive titles, but stands a better chance at winning for one of its performances or Tarantino’s idiosyncratic screenplay.

7. “Bacurau” (Review)

“Bacurau”

Brazilian critic-turned-filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho returns to Cannes competition three years after his acclaimed Sonia Braga vehicle “Aquarius” with co-director Juliano Dornelles for an ambitious, bloody Western set in the near future. The movie revolves around the events of a remote desert village maintaining their parochial way of life in the face of a debilitating water crisis, and a mysterious group of dangerous vigilantes — led by a psychotic Udo Kier — who begin to attack the vulnerable settlement from afar.

Braga returns as a hard-drinking doctor whose eventual showdown with Kier marks one of the many, many absorbing moments in this enigmatic genre hybrid, which levels a sharp critique against American imperialism and Brazilian political corruption alike. It also stuffs in UFOs and psychedelic drugs into a surreal plot that forces viewers to chase its wavelength, and even then leaves them with many questions.

It’s an exciting cinematic experience that in some situations could alienate or divide a jury, but the director’s distinctive, dreamlike vision could just as easily set it apart from more familiar (and less topical) storytelling at this year’s festival. If that’s the case, we could be look at this year’s “Apichatpalme” — that is, a throwback to the year Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” impressed Tim Burton with its otherworldly qualities and took the festival’s top prize. “Bacurau” would be a bold pick for the Palme, but not an indefensible one.

8. “Atlantics” (Review)

atlantics

“Atlantics”

Netflix

Mati Diop entered Official Competition at Cannes with plenty of attention, as she’s the first black woman with a film in the section across the festival’s 72 years. But the real reason to pay attention to “Atlantics” is its singular vision of the migration crisis. Diop’s gorgeous, mesmerizing feature directorial debut focuses on the experiences of a young woman named Ada (Mama Sané) stuck in repressive circumstances on the coast of Dakar after her boyfriend vanishes en route to Spain. But it’s less fixated on his departure with other locals than its impact on Ada, and the community around her, as it contends with the eerie specter of the boys who went away. Diop’s enigmatic, lyrical narrative left some audiences a little confused about the plot specifics, but most were dazzled by its cinematic textures and haunting atmosphere. Diop is one of four women directors in contention for the Palme, which so far has only gone to one female director in its history (Jane Campion, for “The Piano”). The peculiar allegorical nature of its story, and a supernatural twist that creeps into the plot, could make it a tough consensus choice for this year’s jury. But it’s quite the impressive debut, and could very well wind up with some sort of prize by the end of the festival.

9. “Sorry We Missed You” (Review)

sorry we missed you

“Sorry We Missed You”

Cannes

Ken Loach is one of the most dependable auteurs in the stable of Cannes regulars in Competition. The veteran British director won the Palme d’Or for “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” in 2006, and again in 2016 for “I, Daniel Blake.” He follows that standard working-class drama up with another one typical of his style, the bittersweet tale of a committed family man (Kris Hitchen) inadvertently victimized by the gig economy. When he accepts a job as a deliveryman for a company with questionable values, he winds up absorbing the expenses. “Sorry We Missed You” follows the typical Loach trajectory of a desperate lower-class figure pushed to various extremes until his situation builds to an insurmountable crisis. It hits a lot of obvious beats, but the emotion sinks in well enough to get its points across. In a year with more actors on the jury, this sort of traditional crowdpleaser might have a better chance with the Palme, but it’s hard to see it standing out when more ambitious cinematic achievements are on display this year.

10. “Frankie” (Review)

“Frankie”

Sony Pictures Classics

American director Ira Sachs makes his Cannes debut with one of the festival’s most beloved actresses, Isabelle Huppert, at the center of a colorful ensemble drama set in Portugal. The story, which also features subtle turns from Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, and Greg Kinnear, finds Huppert’s famous actress gathering her friends and relatives for a gorgeous vacation gathering to discuss their future. Sachs, best known for “Keep the Lights On” and “Love Is Strange,” brings his nuanced storytelling style to an intriguing international plane with this talky, philosophical work, which gives the actors opportunities to showcase their formidable skills. While the understated narrative left some viewers scratching their heads, there’s no denying Sachs’ ability to conjure wise observations about human relationships and personal crises with his inquisitive dialogue. The movie may be too minor key for Palme d’Or potential in such a significant year for the Competition, but could stand a chance for a screenplay prize.

11. “The Whistlers” (Review)

whistlers

“The Whistlers”

Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s enjoyable riff on the heist movie is a breezy alternative to his artier previous efforts, including Cannes sleeper hit “Police, Adjective.” The movie finds middle-aged police inspector Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) traveling to the Canary Islands to learn a secret whistling language; in the process, he gets pulled into a high-stakes robbery alongside a mysterious femme fatale (Catrinel Marlon). In the grand tradition of “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Big Sleep,” Porumboiu treasures the chemistry between his characters over the meandering scenario that grows around them, and audiences have responded kindly. However, this slick genre exercise may impress the jury on some level and could win a screenplay prize for its clever toying with genre traditions — but it’s just not the sort of major cinematic achievement that tends to win the Palme d’Or.

12. “Mattias and Maxime” (Review)

Quebecois director Xavier Dolan broke his Cannes streak last year when his poorly-received drama “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” premiered at TIFF. Prior to that, the prolific 30-year-old director had screened all of his films in Cannes, and while 2016’s “It’s Only the End of the World” was a dud with critics, it still won the Grand Prix. With “Mattias and Maxime,” Dolan returns to Competition and, according to many critics, returns to form as well.  The filmmaker co-stars in the story of two old pals who may actually be attracted to each other as they mature into their thirties. The endearing, character-focused movie is closer in terms of its concerns to Dolan’s concise debut “I Killed My Mother than any of the more style-heavy efforts he has made since then. Juries often appreciate Dolan’s filmmaking, but this minor-key movie isn’t a major Palme contender.

13. “Sibyl” (Review)

Justine Triet’s erotic thriller and black comedy may be the most commercial French movie at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which explains the decision by the festival to screen it at the end. But that’s hardly a knock on its quality: Triet’s clever psychodrama finds a therapist-turned-writer (Virginie Efira) attempting to usurp the troubled experiences of a young actress (Adele Exarchopoulos) for a novel. The scenario grows doubly complicated when both women convene at a troubled film shoot overseen by a neurotic filmmaker (“Toni Erdmann” star Sandra Hüller). The sophisticated narrative has played decently well with critics at Cannes, though it’s not exactly a groundbreaking work of storytelling, and suffers from some messy transitions. The jury is less likely to champion “Sibyl” over more daring options, but it remains a contender for acting and screenplay prizes.

14. “It Must Be Heaven” (Review)

Palestinian director Elia Suleiman returns to Cannes with his first film since “The Time That Remains” 10 years ago. His latest slapstick look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict finds the actor-filmmaker traveling to Paris and New York as he attempts to pitch a project that fails to garner interest. As usual, Suleiman eschews standard dialogue-driven scenes for clever sight gags and deadpan encounters. This genuine crowdpleaser brings the filmmaker back to the festival as a welcome reminder of his talents, but the small-scale, vignette-based nature of the film means that it is best appreciated in small doses. It’s hard to imagine Suleiman’s amiable filmmaking standing a chance at the Palme in light of the intensity of the competition this year, but it’s safe to assume that many jurors probably appreciated Suleiman’s outlook and his tone to the extent that movie could win some sort of prize for its writing, directing, or lead performance.

15. “Little Joe” (Review)

“Little Joe”

Austrian director Jessica Hausner’s follow-up to 2014’s “Amour Fou” is a slow-burn sci-fi thriller about genetically-altered plans designed to make people happy. While some critics were impressed by stars Emily Beecham and Ben Whishaw as scientists drawn into the potential of the plants as their ominous power grows, the underlying metaphor of the premise has been criticized for heavy-handedness. Nevertheless, its cerebral tone hasn’t proven so divisive as to render the movie a dud. It’s easy to see how some of the filmmakers on this year’s jury could appreciate the disquieting atmosphere and Hausner’s sharp mise-en-scene, but “Little Joe” is the kind of sturdy, familiar genre effort that sometimes surfaces in Competition but rarely stands a chance at nabbing the Palme.

16. “The Traitor” (Review)

At 79, Italian director Marco Bellochio has nothing to prove, but he’s still delivering complex stories about his country’s history. Ten years after “Vincere,” Bellochio returns to Cannes Competition with this ensemble period drama about Tommaso Buscetta, the Italian mob boss who became an informant in the 1980s. The film screened to a very enthusiastic crowd response, but critics were less enthused, with most referring to the film’s solid but unremarkable narrative style and finding it largely unmemorable. This is the sort of sturdy filmmaking from a veteran auteur that could win a prize for its screenplay or another award, but it’s hard to see it taking the Palme over a more exciting entry in Competition.

17. “Young Ahmed” (Review)

The Dardenne brothers are among the few Cannes regulars who have won the Palme d’Or more than once, and their naturalistic approach to social thrillers are unparalleled in contemporary cinema. With “Young Ahmed,” they once again tackle the story of an impoverished character driven to desperate ends — in this case, a Muslim teen radicalized by a local imam and motivated to kill his secular teacher. The movie features a lot of Dardenne hallmarks, from roving camerawork to absorbing, suspenseful sequences as the protagonist concocts his scheme. However, the concise movie is such familiar terrain for the Dardennes that it almost feels like an afterthought, and doesn’t leave the same lasting impression as many films in Competition. It’s a movie that filmmakers on the jury may respect on many levels, but not the sort of powerful statement likely to score them a third Palme win.

18. “Wild Goose Lake” (Review)

Chinese director Diao Yinan won the Golden Bear at Berlinale for his debut “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” but his first movie in Cannes Competition left a lot of critics cold: The stylish noir revolves around a man caught up in criminal antics and accidentally involved in a police killing as his life falls apart. Diao may be one of the most impressive filmmakers on the rise, and it’s possible that this year’s jury may find some aspect of the craft on display worthy of an award. But the consensus on “Wild Goose Lake” has been that it’s more style than substance, which makes its Palme d’Or prospects pretty weak in such a strong year for Competition.

19. “Oh, Mercy!” (Review)

French director Arnaud Desplechin has been a Cannes regular for some time, but it’s been several years since he cracked the Competition section. The police procedural “Oh, Mercy!” brings him back there, but not with his best work. Critics have been uniformly unkind to the story, set in Desplechin’s birthplace and revolving around a police investigation into an arsonist. The film’s later scenes include a preponderance of interrogation scenes drawn from real police transcripts that slow the film down, and while the device may impress the jury for its ambition, the dramatically inert result means they’re almost certainly not giving this one the Palme.

20. “The Dead Don’t Die” (Review)

Tilda Swinton stars as "Zelda Winston" in writer/director Jim Jarmusch's THE DEAD DON'T DIE, a Focus Features release. Credit : Frederick Elmes / Focus Features © 2019 Image Eleven Productions, Inc.

Tilda Swinton stars as “Zelda Winston” in writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s THE DEAD DON’T DIE, a Focus Features release. Credit : Frederick Elmes / Focus Features © 2019 Image Eleven Productions, Inc.

Frederick Elmes / Focus Features

Cannes chose to open with a Competition film for the first time since “Moonrise Kingdom,” but this time, it didn’t go over quite as well. Jim Jarmusch’s deadpan zombie romp succeeded at bringing out a snazzy ensemble of beloved stars to the red carpet, including Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Tilda Swinton, all of whom deliver amusing turns in Jarmusch’s wry anti-capitalist satire.

But Jarmusch’s maximalist approach results in a jumble of self-referential jokes, kooky tangents, and blunt jabs at America’s consumerist obsessions that played well enough in the room but left many audiences wanting more from this Cannes mainstay, and plenty of audiences questioning whether the film belonged in competition in the first place. This is the kind of off-the-wall selection that a quirky jury might award for its screenplay or some other random category, but don’t bet on it for the Palme.

21. “Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo” (Review)

Returning to Cannes Competition after winning the Palme d’Or for “Blue is the Warmest Colour,” Abdellatif Kechiche’s latest sexual opus is the most baffling entry in the section this year — a four-hour chronicle of men and women circling each other and having sex in a nightclub, which is technically a sequel to the first installment that premiered at Venice two years ago. Kechiche actually solid his Palme d’Or to finance this installment, which inspired plenty of audience walkouts and angry, confounded reviews. This would be the most controversial Palme d’Or pick in Cannes history, but it’s a safe bet to assume that this year’s jury knows better.

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