By The Playlist Staff | Indiewire May 27, 2014 at 3:33PM
Our suitcases are only partially unpacked and our accreditation badges are still rattling around the bottom of our bags, but this year's Cannes is now well and truly over, and perhaps the only way for us to attain true closure, is to run through our highlights and lowlights. In general, we'd agree with the overall feeling that this was not the most scintillating Cannes lineup ever (though very far from being the dud that some critics rushed to judgement on), and that's probably due to a few factors: there was nothing equivalent to last year's "Blue is the Warmest Color" to prove a major unifying breakthrough; the Un Certain Regard sidebar selection felt weak overall despite a few outstanding films; and "Winter Sleep" winning the Palme, whatever you think of the film, was hardly the most startling choice—it had been the bookie's favorite even before the festival began.
But for us at The Playlist, this year's Cannes was kind of fab. With three contributors (Jess, Oli and Nikola) in France for the duration, we got to cover a great deal more than ever before, meaning that where the Official Selection left something to be desired, we each had time to make our own discoveries. It amounts to roughly 50 reviews (or at least it will once the final couple go up) as well as news pieces and other tidbits, and you can catch up on all of it here at your leisure. In the meantime, however, here's a rundown of the best and worst of our Cannes, from our consensus picks to our more individual reactions that follow. It's been a long, amazing festival that we feel privileged and passionate about covering: thank you for reading.
The 5 Best Films
Bennett Miller might, until about ten days ago, have been the least well-known filmmaker ever to have had his first two movies turn out as hugely acclaimed Best Picture nominees. Both "Capote" and "Moneyball" were praised to the skies, but in both cases, it felt like others involved with the project overshadowed the director: Philip Seymour Hoffman's titanic performance in the former; producer/star Brad Pitt, who fought for years to get the movie made, with the latter. But now he's won Best Director at Cannes, there's little chance of Miller's contribution ever being undervalued again, especially as "Foxcatcher" is the best of his three outstanding pictures to date (review here). On the one hand, it's almost a modest little story, a (mostly) platonic love triangle between Channing Tatum's Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, his older, more successful and happier brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), and eerie millionaire heir John Du Pont (an unrecognizable Steve Carell). And it's furiously, scintillatingly acted by all three: Carell's performance has been the headliner, and it's an amazing turn, but Tatum and Ruffalo are subtly just as astonishingly transformed, entirely lived-in and fully realized. But this isn't just a three-hander: the script (by "Capote" writer Dan Futterman and "Something Wild" scribe E. Max Frye) takes the story of these three people and turns it into something massive: this is a look at America, the privilege bought by immense, unearned wealth, the emotional toll of failure, and brotherhood, both literal and figurative. It's an incredibly rich, complex work, and Miller directs the hell out of it: his technique isn't showy (his Cannes win undoubtedly annoyed the auteurist crowd to no end), but meticulously judged and technically perfect (one scene, as Du Pont gives a speech to his wrestling team in front of his mother, should be taught in film schools). From the score to Greig Fraser's photography (there's one shot in particular that made us short of breath), it's remarkable from top to bottom. We tried to resist hyperbole coming out of the film, but a week or so on, "Foxcatcher" feels more and more like it could be the best American movie of the last few years.
Ladies and gentlemen, there's a new Russian masterpiece in town and its name is "Leviathan." Screening towards the end of the festival, when festival fatigue is in full force and your whole body craves all the nutrients it was denied for the past two weeks, Andrey Zvyagintsev's film was in slight danger of losing its audience quicker than most. But, like most critics out there, we were transfixed immediately (read our review here) and there was no going anywhere; the opening crashing waves and colossal sounds of Philip Glass pulling us in and not letting go during one of the most absorbing hundred and forty minutes we've experienced at this year's Cannes. For a parable on suffering, its thematic issue of divine justice from the Book Of Job, and deep symbolism through its titular sea-monster, Leviathan is much funnier than it sounds thanks to characters diving into biblical amounts of vodka and a razor sharp wit aimed at the fallacy of authority. This humor balances out the bleakness and incredibly heart-felt storyline very effectively, and makes this Zyvagintsev's most entertaining film to date. The plot follows a down-on-his-luck mechanic, Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov), as he struggles to preserve everything that's dear to him; his home, his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and his friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenko), while going up against the town's corrupt mayor, the terrifically Charles Laughton-esque Vadim (Roman Madyanov). The film is an artistic behemoth; from the incredible performances that breath life into each character, to the fastidious mise-en-scene that make surroundings feel like second-homes in record time, to the balletic camera movements that are such an integral part of the film's feeling of intimacy. It flew back to Russia as a well-deserved Best Screenplay winner, but Zvyagintsev created something so special with this film, we were secretly (or in Jessica's case, loudly and volubly) hoping it would nab the Palme d'Or away from the eventual winner.
Xavier Dolan's Venice film "Tom at the Farm" had been our favorite of his before we went to watch his Cannes Competition entry "Mommy" (our rave review here). And so the news that he'd gone back to themes and indeed cast members from before that film (Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clement both appeared in "Laurence Anyways" and "I Killed My Mother") had us wondering whether he was moving forward or backward. But "Mommy" was a wonderful surprise—a synthesis of the aesthetic confidence and curiosity of 'Tom' (right down to aspect ratio experimentation within the film) with a soapish, almost Almodovar-esque story of mothers and sons and female friendship and the beauty that the messiness of life sometimes hides. And it also has quite the most remarkable soundtrack of any Cannes entry in that it's hard to imagine we'll ever listen to this one on its own: Dido, Counting Crows, Celine Dion, Oasis and Eiffel 65 tracks are used in a baldfaced attempt to be deliberately unhip (I mean, most of this shit isn't even cheesy pop, it's just awful MOR). It's almost annoying the way this utter bravado totally works, but, rather like the moment we found ourselves getting a little caught by the opening to a Sheryl Crow track in Richard Linklater's "Boyhood," time and again here we felt almost embarrassed by how our heart was swelling to the point of bursting while something like "Colorblind" blasted over the speakers. Add to that the stellar performances, from Dorval, Clement and Antoine Olivier Pilon, the stunning, largely square-format photography and a real compassion and wisdom even in its soapiest moments, and you have a pure, joyous thrill of a film. There's a moment in which Steve (Pilon) cycling on his bike with the blue sky behind him stretches his arms out, literally pushing back the sides of frame so that the 1:1 aspect ratio becomes widescreen. It brought a spontaneous round of applause from the audience, and a burst of giddy pure-joy laughter that you rarely hear from a few thousand gathered journalists, but that ludicrously uplifting moment did for the film what the film did for us at the festival—it opened wide the shutters and let in more life than we'd imagined possible to that point.
The appearance of Mike Leigh's new film was the easiest to predict as far as the Cannes' main competition was concerned, but just how much we'd end up loving it was not so obvious. After all, it was slightly new territory for Leigh and a biopic of controversial painter J.M.W. Turner didn't exactly sound like the frolicking good times we had with "Topsy-Turvy," its closest cousin from Leigh's filmography. So you can imagine how happy we were to have any tenuous reservations quickly dismissed by one of Leigh's greatest achievements (read our review). With Timothy Spall at his most boisterous and thunderously introverted, and resplendent photography evoking Turner's genius and bridging the artistic gaps of cinema and painting, along with Mike Leigh's signature style of organic writing and seamless directing, this easily slips into our top five. Much like the rest of our best picks, Mr. Turner balances out a refreshing sense of humor (here, mostly in the form of the bellowing Spall and his many variations on the grunt) with an affecting story of a deeply troubled soul; a man whose relationship with his father, his colleagues, and his different kinds of families all suffered due to his inability to fully express himself. This caged feeling was only truly liberated when he was painting his shipwrecks and tumultuous seas, and with Leigh's craftsmanship this liberation is magically captured and contained throughout its running time. This biopic sheds itself of all the formality and predictable beats which usually drag the genre down to obscurity and 5$ DVD bins, and makes for one of the greatest biopics we've seen in quite some time. Spall deservedly picked up Best Actor, and we'll be crossing our fingers that the good word carries "Mr. Turner " all the way to the end of the year awards talk, most especially for the beauteous cinematography by Dick Pope.
"Two Days, One Night"
So what, exactly, does Marion Cotillard have to do to get a Cannes Best Actress award? Because if turning in a completely immersed and transparent performance in a film in which she is not offscreen for a single moment, directed by two-time Palme d'Or winners can't do it for her we're really not sure what can. Not to detract in any way from Julianne Moore's win (hers is a turn we absolutely loved) but Cotillard seemed to us like the no-brainer choice here; we don't even consider ourselves among the actress's most unquestioning fans (that honor is reserved for that one commenter of ours who likes to go onto unrelated posts and write long diatribes about how great she is) but here even off her high bar, she's quite revelatory. And the film itself is a wonder. Despite two unnecessary turns of the melodrama screw late on (that Cotillard nearly sells, that's how good she is), the film is a gripping, deeply moving examination of one person caught up in an unfair system and trying to quell demons exterior and interior to fix it, which works equally well as a humanist portrait, as social commentary and even as political allegory.The realism that the Dardennes are so known for may take a knock as a result, but when the film does so much else so well, it feels churlish to compare it to some of their other work, which may have stuck more strictly to the rhythms of real life, but that didn't have quite this ambitious and broad a remit. It feels like fiction, it's true, but it's great fiction, resonant and intelligent and actually quite thrilling, with an ending so perfectly satisfying that our niggles about narrative wobbles in the preceding minutes were instantly forgotten.