By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com April 19, 2012 at 11:03AM
Early this morning brought one of the most anticipated moments in the cinephile's calendar: the announcement of the line-up of this year's installment of the Cannes Film Festival. And while it reads in places like a parody of a Cannes line-up (Alain Resnais! Abbas Kiarostami! Michael Haneke! Ken Loach!) there's no doubt that we're excited about all of those films, as well as new ones from David Cronenberg, Jacques Audiard, Walter Salles and many, many others.
Much of the line-up had been widely predicted by Cannes-watchers (even that April Fool's Day prank ended up getting 18 films right), but nevertheless, there were a few surprises, as well as a few major absences, either expected ones or more eyebrow-raising ones. Some Cannes favorites we've known weren't coming for a while: Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" opens tomorrow in Italy and wasn't thought to be at Cannes, while neither Wong Kar-Wai's "The Grand Master" or Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" would be done in time (both are still filming). But others that were less anticipated either made the cut, or failed to. We've run them down for you below. The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 16 to 27, and we'll be there once again bringing you our verdicts on all the big-name movies.
The new films from two Australian filmmakers, John Hillcoat and Andrew Dominik (both Cannes first-timers), had both been tipped by advance buzz, but we figured it would be a one-or-the-other situation. Both are crime movies, produced by Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures, and will be distributed by The Weinstein Company. Plus "Lawless" had been heavily tipped to open Venice by Harvey himself, which would have tied in nicely to its August 31 release date. But in fact, both are in competition, so clearly Megan & Harvey think that they won't cannibalize each other. Either way, they're among our most anticipated of the year, so it's good news.
One of the few films tipped by no one that ended up in the festival this year was Thomas Vinterberg's "The Hunt," a drama starring Mads Mikkelsen ("Casino Royale," "Pusher") as a divorcé accused of child abuse. Vinterberg was one of the hottest things in world cinema after his outstanding Cannes jury-prize-winning "Festen," but his follow-ups were poorly received, with neither sprawling, oddball sci-fi "It's All About Love" with Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes, or "Dear Wendy," co-written with Lars Von Trier, picking up good reviews. And his last picture, "Submarino," was panned at Berlin in 2010. But fingers crossed, it looks like a return to form might be in the cards.
Again, buzz in the last few weeks or so had connected Lee Daniels' follow-up to the Oscar-nominated "Precious" to the festival, but even in an American-heavy year, it still feels odd. Based on a novel by thriller writer Peter Dexter, it's another crime picture, with a cast including Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron, of all people, and it's produced by the notoriously cheap international producers Millennium Films and Nu Image, the companies behind films like "The Expendables," "Conan The Barbarian," "Trespass" and "Drive Angry." But it's sitting proud in competition. Could this be a real surprise? Or could it be this year's critical disappointment, like "This Must Be The Place," "Fair Game," "Taking Woodstock" and "Changeling?" at recent festivals?
We knew that one of French cinema's most acclaimed, yet long-absent filmmakers had a film in the works, his first feature-length effort since 1999's "Pola X." But filming on the project, which stars regular lead Denis Lavant as a man traveling between parallel lives, alongside Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue, only got underway last October, so we'd suspected that, despite the director being a festival favorite, he might struggle to get it finished in time. But clearly, that wasn't the case, as "Holy Motors" is premiering in competition. Will it be a glorious return for the man behind "The Lovers On The Bridge?" We can only hope so.
The premiere of Wes Anderson's latest as the opening night of the festival was announced some time ago, but most had assumed that it would be out of competition: Anderson's a Cannes-first timer, and it's been four years since an opening film was also competing (that would be Fernando Mereilles' "Blindness" in 2008). With a U.S. release coming the week after the premiere, it seemed to be a publicity push first and foremost, as with "Midnight In Paris" last year. But surprisingly, "Moonrise Kingdom" ended up as part of the official selection as well, suggesting, as we've long suspected, that the film could be a major return to form for Anderson. Could this be the start of a path that takes him to the Academy next year, as it did for Woody Allen last time around?
Matthew McConaughey: King of Cannes
If you'd told us five years ago that Matthew McConaughey would have two films in competition in Cannes, we'd have called you a liar, slapped you in the face, and possibly tried to have you committed. But the creative rebirth of the actor in the last year or so has been cemented: hot on the heels of "The Lincoln Lawyer," "Killer Joe" and "Bernie," and just ahead of Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike," McConaughey stars in both Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" and Jeff Nichols' "Mud," which will both unspool on the Croisette. Given that he was making pictures like "Fools' Gold" only a few years ago, it's an admirable turnaround, and we hope we see performances just as good as the one in "Killer Joe" from the actor.
There's no better sign of the respect that HBO productions now get on the world stage than their presence at a film festival. After "Mildred Pierce" screened at Venice last year, "Hemingway & Gellhorn," Philip Kaufman's depiction of the troubled relationship between the two hard-living writers, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman, will bow Out of Competition at the festival. As best we can tell, it's the first time that HBO have had a presence at the festival (excluding the time that "Entourage" shot there), and it's certainly made us keener to see the movie, which will have its first airing shortly after the festival, on May 28, 2012.
New Fatih Akin & Apichatpong Weerasethakul... but out of competition?
Turkish director Faith Akin and Thai helmer Apichatpong Weerasethakul are both Cannes favorites; Akin took Best Screenplay in 2007 for "The Edge of Heaven," and Weerasethakul won the Palme D'Or in 2010 for "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives." So it's not so surprising that they have new films at the festival (even though we weren't aware that either had completed new features), but it's more surprising that the films are premiering as Special Screenings. Weerasethakul's film, "Mekong Hotel" (which was thought to star Tilda Swinton at some point: there's no word yet if that actually happened), runs only 61 minutes, which might explain why it's not in the main section, but Akin's "Polluting Paradise" is a full 85 minutes. Could it be a documentary of some kind?
There was a veritable hurricane of rumors in recent days about probably the two most anticipated films of the year making it to the south of France. Reports started to appear suggesting that "The Master," Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, would premiere there, while many hoped that Terrence Malick would make it two years in a row after winning the Palme D'Or last year for "The Tree of Life." But neither ever quite rung true to us, and indeed, the line-up proved to have neither. It remains to be seen when each bow: "The Master" will open on October 12th, likely ruling out the Fantastic Fest premiere that "There Will Be Blood" had -- Venice, Telluride or TIFF are better bets (that's even if PTA wants to go that route, which he seemed uninterested in last time around). As for the Malick, it's anyone's guess: knowing him, we could be here a year from now talking about why the film isn't in the Cannes 2013 line-up.
Last year was something of a banner year for female directors: four had films in competition -- Naomi Kawase, Julia Leigh, Maiwenn and Lynne Ramsay. As if to correct a mistake they belatedly realized they made, this year sees no female directors in the main selection, and only two in Un Certain Regard. Given that some of the films tipped include Cate Shortland's "Lore" and Susanna Bier's "All You Need Is Love," it feels a little sour, given that it's 2012 and all. We're not for token representation, but that's a pretty dismal statistic. For that matter, there are no debut directors in competition this year either; less serious, but still a little odd.
"The Place Beyond The Pines"
The same trade reports that fingered "Lawless" and "Killing Them Softly" as potential entries also pointed towards "The Place Beyond The Pines," a "generational crime epic" following the feud between a motorbike stunt rider and a cop-turned-politician. And given that director Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine" was in Un Certain Regard in 2010, and Ryan Gosling was the toast of the festival last year with "Drive," it seemed like a fair bet. But at the same time, we'd been told by music supervisor Gabe Hilfer that it was still being edited, so as such, it unsurprisingly didn't make the cut. Toronto or Venice perhaps?
Olivier Assayas & Michel Gondry
It's not a vintage year for French filmmakers, with a relatively meagre three films in competition, which is low by the festival's standards -- "Holy Motors," "Rust & Bone" and Alain Resnais' "Vous N'Avez Encoure Rien Vu." So what happened to the new films from two of the country's most acclaimed filmmakers, Olivier Assayas and Michel Gondry? Assayas has been a Cannes favorite for years now ("Carlos" premiered there in 2010, and he served on the jury last year), but his latest, "Something In The Air," was nowhere to be seen in the line-up, despite being hotly tipped. Perhaps it simply wasn't ready in time? Similarly, after non-appearances at Sundance and SXSW, there were rumors that Michel Gondry's New York-set "The We & The I" would premiere out of competition, but it looks like the fall festival circuit will be a better bet.
It's a good year for American movies, with three directors from the country and seven in total set in the U.S. But there are no films from major studios (Focus Features' "Moonrise Kingdom" is the closest we get). And even the trend in recent years of at least two summer blockbusters is mostly absent: "Ocean's Thirteen," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," "Robin Hood" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" all premiered at the festival out of competition, but this year it's only "Madagascar 3." We never for a second agreed with the dim-bulbs that somehow thought that Christopher Nolan would premiere "The Dark Knight Rises" two months ahead of release, but there was a faint possibility that something like "Men In Black 3," "Snow White And The Huntsman" and "Prometheus" would have some kind of major premiere, but it never came to pass.