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The 5 Best Films Plus The Highs & Lows Of The Playlist's Cannes 2013

Features
by The Playlist Staff
May 29, 2013 12:57 PM
5 Comments
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Only God Forgives, Ryan Gosling
Highlights And Lowlights -- Kevin Jagernauth
2013 marked my fourth year stomping the grounds at the Cannes Film Festival, and as always it's a disorienting, exhausting, excellent, amazing experience that I hope to do again. Of course, the films are always the draw, but it's also the atmosphere. And no, I'm not talking about the red carpets, parties or endless array of celebrities and events. It's actually the people.

Cannes is unique in that because the lineup is so select, almost everyone sees the same thing at the same time, and the immediate discussions, buzz and reaction that follow is pretty fascinating and fun to be a part of. It's also one of the rare fests I've experienced where press are so welcoming and outgoing with one another; Cannes just wouldn't be the same if not for rubbing elbows and sharing conversations with folks from all over so special shoutouts to: Aurelien and Emma from CinemaTeaser (France); Brad from Rope Of Silicon (USA); Eric from IonCinema (Canada) and Lieven from Metro Belgium. (You see what I mean?) Speaking of international flavor, The Playlist was also helped on the Croisette this year by our roving Euro reporter Jessica Kiang who has previously contributed dispatches from far flung locales like Marrakech, Goteburg and Karlovy Vary; and that she handled her first time at Cannes like a pro. She's also as whipsmart and delightful in person as her writing would suggest.

Note: I was only on the ground for the first seven days of Cannes (boo hoo, poor me) so I missed some key films ("The Immigrant," "Nebraska," "Only Lovers Left Alive"). Nevertheless, I saw all kinds of other stuff, so here are some of other movies that left an impression within the whirlwind that is Cannes.

HELI BY AMAT ESCALANTE
Director whose next film I can't wait see: Amat Escalante
It's hard for movies shown at the beginning of any festival to stick in the memory, as schedules and screenings get busier and busier as things get underway. And yet, the very first film I saw at Cannes showcased a talent I'm eager to see more of. The methodically paced and at times brutally unforgiving (I'll get to that) "Heli" (review here) tells the story of one small family who are ripped apart and scarred forever by Mexico's drug war. But this isn't a slick bullets-and-messages movie. Instead, director Amat Escalante tells his story with Michael Haneke-like precision, with gorgeously shot composition and long takes, building to some devastating conclusions. As I noted in my review, it doesn't all work, but the directorial hand is assured and there is much to admire in the picture from the cinematography to the powerful drama that unfolds with an economy of storytelling. I was so compelled by Escalante's work that I'll be there to see what he does next. In the meantime, I'm going to try and track down his previous efforts "Los Bastardos" and "Sangre," which also played Cannes in previous years.

The Bastards, Claire Denis
Most disturbing scene: TIE between final sequence of Claire Denis' "Bastards" and the torture sequence in "Heli."
SPOILERS There were a lot of genitals on display this year at Cannes, and it seemed you couldn't go a day without a vagina or penis crossing your field of vision on the big screen. And while they were mostly in the service of romantic interludes, in two movies, the scenes left you crossing your legs in discomfort. You will probably lose your appetite for corn on the cob after the final climatic sequence in Claire Denis' already jarring sex-trafficking-revenge-movie-or-whatever "Bastards" (our review is here). The final scene, shot in grimy, sleazy digital video, is almost like a snuff movie, with a young girl engaging in a sexual transaction with a much older dude. The line between discomfort and disgusting is quickly crossed when a corn on the cob becomes the newest vegetable I've seen used to enter an orifice below the equator and my eyeballs nearly fell out of my skull. And that would've been the same reaction I had during the unbroken and vicious torture sequence in "Heli" (review here) that marks a major turning point in the movie. It's one thing to see young men bound, gagged, stripped, hung from a hook in the ceiling and then beaten with a heavy cricket bat (or something similar). It's another to watch someone pour lighter fluid on a penis, set it on fire and watch the victim writhe in agony. Like I said, I would've been looking for my eyeballs on the ground had I not sat there oddly fascinated, wondering how on Earth the director got that shot. Stunt penis?

The Bling Ring
"The Bling Ring"
Best movie to start great only to go downhill from there: "The Bling Ring"
Opening Un Certain Regard, which tends to be the "edgier" lineup of the official Cannes slate, Sofia Coppola was bringing some swagger with "The Bling Ring." And damn if the opening wasn't promising with Sleigh Bells' red-line-pushing "Crown On The Ground" helping to tie together the garish credit sequence. It immediately gets that youthful adrenaline pumping and brings an energy that the rest of movie mostly fails to live up to. As outlined in my review, from here on out it's an endless string of repetitive heists, with the notion of pushing the emptiness of celebrity culture becoming an empty exercise in and of itself.

Blood Ties
Most disappointing movie: "Blood Ties"
How could this not work? A '70s styled crime flick with Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis, Matthias Schoenaerts, Zoe Saldana, James Caan, Marion Cotillard, Noah Emmerich and Lili Taylor, directed by Guillaume Canet, co-scripted by James Gray and featuring the most dazzling facial hair of any movie on the Croisette? And yet, as I noted in my review it's somehow overplotted to death, with "Blood Ties" being the rare remake that is 40 minutes longer than the original (the 2008 film "Les Liens De Sang") for no discernible reason. And it's a real shame given how good Owen and Crudup are and how great some individual scenes are as well. But for all the star wattage, vintage cars and authentic New York locations (and though many actors struggled with authentic accents, sorry Cotillard) this was the movie that faded fastest after seeing it, and lingers as the biggest missed opportunity of any movie I saw.

Only God Forgives, Gosling
Movie that many were too quick to dismiss: "Only God Forgives"
The word that quickly came out of Cannes regarding Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives" was that it was booed, and the mixed to negative reviews that followed quickly cooled the excitement around the movie. But I think many were too quick to dismiss this one. Firstly, let's get the record straight -- yes, there was some booing, but there was also applause as well. But that kind of kneejerk stuff in either direction is kind of bullshit most of the time. For me, Refn's film is a highly stylized, but also really well thought-out and wickedly lean tale of one damaged man trying to escape a cycle of violence, created by his family, that has ensnared him. Does the style get in the way of itself at times? Sure. Does Refn's stripping away of narrative almost go too far? Yes. But for me, it all worked and I was hooked by his slow, slow burn, felt rewarded by the payoffs and thought the audacity of the entire thing was really impressive (you gotta love Refn giving Ryan Gosling even less to say here than in "Drive"). I almost wonder how this movie would've played if it was screened in the evening like some of other competition titles were for press, instead of first thing at 8:30 a.m. Either way, for the Refn faithful, don't be swayed by whatever you heard out of Cannes -- this is one I hope will get better appraised away from the expectations foisted upon the previous winner of the Palme d'Or for Best Director, expectations we tried to somewhat address in our Cannes review.

Like father, like son,  BY HIROKAZU KORE-EDA
Movie you should make an effort to track down: "Like Father, Like Son"
Most of the sizzling, big name movies that debuted at Cannes have distribution locked up, starry casts and bold visions guaranteeing an audience when they finally debut stateside. But one film moving at different beat is Hirokazu Kore-eda's lovely, low-key and beautifully told "Like Father, Like Son" (reviewed here). The plot hinges on two couples discovering their respective sons were switched at birth, but instead of a soapy melodrama, what emerges is a potent and moving portrait of parenthood, and what it means to truly raise a child. Subtly touching on issues of class as well, Kore-eda's picture is layered and rich, slowly building to a finale that have you wiping tears from your eyes, while also keeping the fates of these characters open-ended as well. It's one of the best crafted movies I saw at Cannes, and when Sundance Selects releases it (hopefully later this year?), do what you can to see it. And until then get (re)acquainted with Kore-eda's filmography by checking out "Still Walking," "Nobody Knows" and "After Life."

Jodorowsky's Dune
Best movie I can't wait to see with complete English subtitles: "Jodorowsky's Dune"
While I unfortunately missed Alejandro Jodorowsky's first movie in over two decades, "The Dance Of Reality," I sorta did the opposite by catching the documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune," a chronicle of the movie he never got to make. As I outlined in this feature, there is a staggering array of great information in the film, but I likely missed even more during my screening, due to a lack of English subtitles (Jodorowsky spoke mostly in English, but some of his collaborators spoke only French or French-subtitled Spanish, leaving me to my high school lessons to get the gist of it). But there are few movies about movies with a story as fascinating as "Jodorowsky's Dune" and few people whose love of filmmaking is as infectious and hilarious as Jodorowsky's, so I'll be eager to see it again, this time with English subs to help get the whole picture.

Shield of Straw
Why was this in Competition? "Shield of Straw"
While Cannes has the distinction of being the most prestigious film festival in the world, let's face it, sometimes their choices are head-scratchingly bizarre. And after Takashi Miike's "Shield of Straw," I was left wondering if anyone actually watched this movie before placing it in the lineup (our review is here). There is the side-issue that it had already opened in Japan a month earlier and thus wasn't truly a premiere, though it wasn't the first time Cannes bent the rules for an auteur. Simply put, this movie is terrible. The thing with Miike is you just never know what director you're going to get -- the gonzo filmmaker who made international waves with stuff like "Ichi The Killer" and "Visitor Q" (among many more) or the workmanlike drone, cranking out genre movies because he had nothing better to do that week. And the latter was in effect here, with "Shield Of Straw" taking a great premise (cops have to protect a criminal with a billion dollar bounty on his head) and turning it into a dull movie that is essentially "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" but with lots of standing around and debating (in the most mindnumbingly simplistic terms possible) the ethics of protecting a murderer. There's no depth, no filmmaking verve and very little of anything worth latching onto with what must have been the most direct-to-DVD movie I've ever seen in competition.

So that's our wrap-up, um, wrapped up. We've had an amazing time of it this year in Cannes, and thank you all for reading. You can find all of our Cannes coverage -- reviews, news and more -- by following this link. À bientôt!

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5 Comments

  • A | May 29, 2013 3:21 PMReply

    Weird to read that even in the most prestigious of movie festivals there is a lack of subtitles for the attendees in some movies . I always get frustrated by that.

  • Kevin | May 29, 2013 3:36 PM

    It's actually a rarity at Cannes. 95% of the movie are shown with English and French subtitles. For whatever reason, this particular screening of "Jodorowsky's Dune" just didn't have it.

  • Andy | May 29, 2013 1:41 PMReply

    Kevin, think you mean "Still Walking" for Kore-eda. "Still Life" is the Jia film. Both great, though.

  • JD | May 29, 2013 1:30 PMReply

    Pretty puzzled by JK's assessment, but most of KJ's impressions were true to my experience of the festival. Based on critical response (which is far more reliable in relation to formulaic Hollywood fare than art cinema), you may think Only God Forgives is some kind of mess, but as KJ suggests, it's actually a really lean, precise film. I would put it in the tradition of unfairly trashed Cannes oddities like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Enter the Void. If you like those films, you have nothing to worry about.

  • Chris | May 29, 2013 1:13 PMReply

    Humor doesn't translate across cultural boundaries? What the fuck are you talking about? Unless you're talking exclusively about comedy where you HAVE to be a part of a certain society to understand all the jokes, your statement is demonstrably false.

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