With the actual schedule released today (cue charts and diagrams as attendees try to work out how to be in eight places at one time), the final pieces are falling into place for this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it's shaping up to be a terrific couple of weeks. The initial lineup was already impressive, but the addition of a couple of titles we were surprised not to see in the original announcement has made the selection even more an embarrassment of riches. As such, we were hard pressed to pick a top ten, but finally settled on the following choices, that, along with the honorable mentions, we feel represent the strongest of what is a very solid lineup. It should be noted that there's a great showing by the U.S. in this selection, as there is for French-language movies, which is reflective of the festival overall. With Steven Spielberg the head of the Cannes Competition jury too, it feels like Franco-American relations are at an all-time high, cinematically speaking at least.
10 Most Anticipated
"Only Lovers Left Alive"
Synopsis: Adam and Eve, a reclusive vampire couple who've been together for centuries, have their peaceful lives interrupted by her younger sister, Ava.
What You Need To Know: Um, it's Jim Jarmusch doing a vampire movie. Allow us to rephrase: it's Jim Jarmusch doing a vampire movie with Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin and Tom Hiddleston. Goddamn. Its late addition to the festival, and the fact it's set to screen at the back end of the schedule, suggest Jarmusch will be coming down to the wire to finish it. That said, he rarely makes a wrong turn, and even when he does it leads somewhere interesting and distinctive. And now that the torrent of vampire movies has slowed to a more manageable trickle, we're hoping that Jarmusch's dalliance with bloodsuckers will be suffused with his ephemeral cool, and will deliver a more coffee-and-cigarette-stained bite. Cannes has been good to Jarmusch, and if this lives up to the promise it projects, it will be a welcome way to cap the fest.
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
Synopsis: Set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early '60s and loosely based on that world's father figure of sorts, Dave Van Ronk, this is the story of Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who, despite his talents, can't seem to make ends meet.
What You Need To Know: Already slated for a prime Oscar release date, with CBS Films gunning very early not only with Cannes premiere, but two trailers already, expectations are super sky high for the ever-reliable Coens to turn in something extraordinary. Oscar Isaac will be carrying this picture in one of his first major lead roles (and first time collaborating with the Coens), though he's backed up by an able roster, including Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and F. Murray Abraham. The film already has good buzz thanks to an early industry screening (unusually made quite public), but the question is whether it has the sauce to stay in the awards race right for almost another year. We'll find out in the long run, but first things first, and as regulars on the red carpet on the Croisette, you can be sure the Coens will be welcomed with open arms.
Synopsis: In search of a new start and dreaming the American dream, a Polish immigrant is manipulated into a life of prostitution by a charming but wicked man on the mean streets of Manhattan, until a dazzling magician tries to save her. Full synopsis here.
What You Need To Know: While we're a little less enamored of this title than either of the film's previous ones ("Lowlife" and "The Nightingale"), our anticipation for director James Gray's fifth feature remains unabated. And the reasons for optimism are manifold: a cast of heavy hitters, including Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner and Gray regular Joaquin Phoenix; an intriguing premise and period setting; and most pertinently, the director's own unabashed opinion that the film might be "the best thing I've done." In fact both of the last times we've spoken with Gray, during filming and then after the preliminary screenings of the rough cut, he seemed truly excited by what he was working on, and uncharacteristically confident of its reception amongst his fans. The accepted wisdom is that Gray's films are more popular in France than his native U.S., and so Cannes seems like a natural home for him, but the director himself has asserted that that imbalance is not really the case any more, and with a story so germane to the American experience, we're hopeful that "The Immigrant" may be the film that finally lays that myth to rest.
"The Past" ("Le passe")
Synopsis: An Iranian man who left his French wife and children to return to his country is petitioned for a divorce when his wife starts a serious relationship with someone new. But when he returns to France he discovers that the new relationship is exerting a strain on the family unit, as the children's allegiances are tested and secrets bubble to the surface. Trailer here.
What You Need To Know: Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" was a small miracle of a film -- a domestic drama with such empathy for its characters that it pulled off that difficult trick of being both incredibly specific to a certain culture and a certain set of values, and still being universal, and wholly relatable. With Ali Mossafa (husband of "A Separation" star Leila Hatami, trivia fans, and himself the director of "The Last Step" which we greatly enjoyed) playing the husband, and Tahar Rahim, who elevates material both good ("A Prophet") and not so good ("Day of the Falcon" aka "Black Gold") as the lover, our hopes would already be high that Farhadi can pull of the same trick again on this slightly more expansive canvas. But then the last key role went to Bérénice Bejo after original choice Marion Cotillard had to drop out (presumably due to scheduling conflicts) and we're looking forward to see what "The Artist" star can bring to a more dramatic role too.
Synopsis: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes prize.
What You Need To Know: With director Alexander Payne's follow up to the Oscar-winning "The Descendants" already landing a prime awards-friendly stateside release date, on foot of its somewhat surprising In Competition slot in Cannes, the low-key relationship dramedy/road movie clearly has a lot of confidence behind it. Shot in colour, but being theatrically distributed in black and white, the film also boasts the kind of smart casting that could make waves -- a welcome return to starring roles for veteran Bruce Dern, and an against-type dramatic role for 'SNL' comedian Will Forte. With Payne having had this script on the back burner since 2003 when he shelved it to take a break from the road movie genre, you can be sure it's got the same kind of polish and depth his previous films have had, especially as the Omaha-born director is on his home turf. In fact, so adept has Payne become at turning out these "little films that could" -style underdogs (with the director himself quick to downplay any notions of grandiosity, calling "Nebraska" "just an old-fashioned comedy"), perhaps we shouldn't consider them underdogs any more?