Friday, May 10, 2013

Looking Back at the Cannes Film Festival Lineups

The Cannes Film Festival is almost here. Every year, the festival – still the most prestigious in the world – gives us several films we are destined to talk about for a year or more (depending on when the films get released – I’m still waiting for Jeff Nichols Mud for example which played in competition last year). I’ve seen most of the Palme D’Or winners in history – and all of them back to and including 1999 – when the Dardenne brothers took home their first of two Palme D’Or prizes. So, I thought I’d look back at the previous 14 Cannes Film Festivals – what won, what should have won, and some other special films that were in the Official lineup that year. Enjoy.

What Won: Rosetta (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
What Should Have Won: The Straight Story (David Lynch)
Other Great Films In Competition: All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar), Felicia's Journey (Atom Egoyan), Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch), L'Humanité (Bruno Dumont).
Summary: The jury, led by David Cronenberg, attracted some boos when Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanite won a few prizes, and the Dardennes took home the top prize for Rosetta. Apparently, it was expected that Pedro Almodovar’s crowd pleaser All About My Mother would win – but no one told Cronenberg. Rosetta is a bleak film, about a teenage girl who just wants a job to help her out of bleak life – and ends, well, bleakly. It’s not one of their best films, but it’s damn good. Personally, I would have given the top prize to the simple, straight forward David Lynch film The Straight Story – with a great performance by Richard Farnsworth as an old man travelling across a few states on his riding lawn mower. Alas, that film went home empty handed. Alongside those two, the aforementioned All About My Mother (which at the time was my first exposure to Almodovar) and the bleak (I’m sensing a theme here) L’Humanite are also worth checking out, as are Atom Egoyan’s dark, serial killer drama Felicia’s Journey with its great turn by Bob Hoskins and Jim Jarmusch’s ever strange Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, with Forest Whitaker. This was generally considered a weak year for Cannes – and judging by how few films I have highlighted, I guess they were right.

What Won: Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier)
What Should Have Won: Yi Yi (Edward Yang)
Other Great Films In Competition: In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai), Code Unknown (Michael Haneke), Nurse Betty (Neil LaBute), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel & Ethan Coen), Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Andersson).
Summary: I’m not going to rag on the Luc Besson led jury who gave the top prize to Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark – that film is a masterpiece after all, and the jury also (deservedly) gave Bjork the Best Actress prize. Having said that however, the best film is the lineup was Edward Yang’s epic Taiwanese family drama Yi Yi, a deceptively simple film and the master’s last film before dying far too young (the jury did give Yang the best director prize, so that’s something). Many would argue that Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (routinely voted the best film of the 2000s) should have won – and I wouldn’t argue with that either (again, the film won the Best Actor prize for Tony Leung, and a technical grand prize as a consolation). But the lineup was strong that year – Michael Haneke’s first true masterwork in the provocative Code Unknown, Neil LaBute doing dark comedy with the best Rene Zellweger performance ever (not much competition I know) in Nurse Betty, the Coen’s inspired lunacy of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Roy Anderson’s ever strange Songs from the Second Floor, which I couldn’t explain if I tried. One of the best years at Cannes in recent memory.

What Won: The Son’s Room (Nanni Moretti)
What Should Have Won: Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch)
Other Great Films In Competition: The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel & Ethan Coen), Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann), No Man's Land (Danis Tanovic), The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke), The Pledge (Sean Penn).
Summary: Cannes, like the Oscars, sometimes gives its top prizes almost as a lifetime achievement award – and perhaps that was the case when Nanni Moretti won the top prize for The Son’s Room. Moretti is a very well regarded European director – and was perhaps considered “due”. Or perhaps the jury President, Liv Ullman, just really likes intimate character studies of family’s falling apart at the seams – he’s made enough of them. But, while I don’t consider The Son’s Room a masterpiece – it’s still a very good film. But it just so happens that the best film of the 2000s – in my humble opinion – was also in competition that year – and damn it, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. should as hell should have won (he did share the best director prize with Joel Coen).  Other films that are really worth a look – the Coen’s brothers comedic, black and white, film noir gem – The Man Who Wasn’t There, Baz Luhrman’s hyperactive musical Moulin Rouge, Danis Tanovic’s very dark, wartime comedy No Man’s Land (which would win him an Oscar this year), Michael Haneke’s ever disturbing The Piano Teacher and Sean Penn’s vastly underrated The Pledge – which should have nabbed Jack Nicholson the best actor prize.

What Won: The Pianist (Roman Polanski)
What Should Have Won: Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson).
Other Great Films In Competition: About Schmidt (Alexander Payne), All or Nothing (Mike Leigh), Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore), Irréversible  (Gaspar Noé), The Man Without a Past (Aki Kaurismäki), Russian Arc (Aleksandr Sokurov), The Son (Luc Dardenne; Jean-Pierre Dardenne), Spider (David Cronenberg), Sweet Sixteen (Ken Loach), 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom), Unknown Pleasures(Zhang Ke Jia).
Summary: Remember what I said about sometimes the Palme D’Or being a lifetime achievement award? That probably includes Roman Polanski for The Pianist, as the legendary director had never won before, and of course, he’s loved in France – even though the jury was headed by David Lynch. It isn’t that Polanski’s film isn’t great – it did win him the Best Director award after all – but this year’s competition was an embarrassment of riches. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (which co-won the Best Director) is my favorite by far, yet the competition also included Alexander Payne’s bittersweet comedic masterwork About Schmidt, the Dardennes best film The Son, Aleksandr Sokurov’s mesmerizing Russian Arc and Cronenberg’s complex masterwork Spider. Even films not as good as The Pianist – or their director’s best work like Mike Leigh’s underrated All or Nothing, Michael Moore’s hilarious documentary Bowling for Columbine, Gaspar Noe’s deliberately provocative Irresversible, Aki Kaurismaki’s bittersweet The Man Without a Past, Ken Loach’s urban underbelly Sweet Sixteen, Michael Winterbottom’s hugely entertaining 24 Hour Party People and Jia Zhang-ke’s wonderful Unknown Pleasures all deserved attention. This would have been one of the best years ever to be at Cannes.

What Won: Elephant (Gus Van Sant)
What Should Have Won: Dogville (Lars Von Trier)
Other Great Films In Competition: The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand), Bright Future (Kiyoshi Kurosawa), Mystic River (Clint Eastwood), Swimming Pool (François Ozon).
Summary: From one of the best years for Cannes, to one of the worst. The jury, headed by Patrice Cheareau, had a hard time coming up with anything to feel that passionately about – and was booed when Gus Van Sant’s controversial Elephant took home the top prize. Personally, I think Van Sant’s film is a masterpiece, and wholly deserving of the prize – but I also think Dogville is Lars von Trier’s best film, and should have won – but that also would have drawn boos. Other than that? Not much (although I really need to see Nuri Blige Ceylon’s Distant). I love fellow Canadian Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions, and Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River is one of his best films. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future is also underrated, and at least Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool is a guilty pleasure. Other than that? Not much.

What Won: Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore)
What Should Have Won: Oldboy (Chan Wook Park)
Other Great Films In Competition: The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel), Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Koreeda), Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul), 2046 (Kar Wai Wong).
Summary: The Quentin Tarantino led jury made headlines when they gave the top prize to Michael Moore’s incendiary documentary screed against George W. Bush Fahrenheit 9/11 the top prize – and then claimed it wasn’t about politics (which is ridiculous, since Moore’s film is all about politics). Still, it’s one of the most talked about winners in recent years, and a fine film as well. But the Grand Prize winning Oldboy – which one would assume would be Tarantino’s favorite – was the most deserving film in competition this year – but then these types of films rarely win, so we should be glad it won something. Other than that? Slim pickings. Both Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady are brilliant though, and Lucrecia Martel’s The Holy Girl and Koreeda’s Nobody Knows deserve your attention. Not much else though.

What Won: L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre Dardenne; Luc Dardenne)
What Should Have Won: A History of Violence (David Cronenberg)
Other Great Films In Competition: Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch), Cache (Michael Haneke), Last Days (Gus Van Sant), Manderlay (Lars von Trier), Sin City (Frank Miller; Robert Rodriguez), Three Times (Hsiao-hsien Hou), Where the Truth Lies (Atom Egoyan).
Summary: It seems like if Cannes has an off year, they come back strong the following one – which it what happened in 2005. The Emir Kustrica led jury gave the Dardennes their second Palme for L’Enfant, a wonderful film about a horrible father, who they see sympathetically. It is a great film to be sure – but with David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence and Michael Haneke’s Cache – two of the very best films of the decade – in competition, it should not have won. Personally, I think Last Days may well be Gus Van Sant’s best film, so that would have been fine with as well. As for the rest – lots of interesting stuff – Jim Jarmusch’s understated and hilarious Broken Flowers, Lars von Trier’s take on race in Manderlay, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s over the top Sin City, the triptych from Hsiao-hsein Hou in Three Times, and Atom Egoyan’s last really good film – the tremendously underrated Where the Truth Lies. A very strong year.

What Won: The Wind That Shakes the Barley - Ken Loach
What Should Have Won: Pan’s Labyrinth  - Guillermo del Toro
Other Great Films In Competition: Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu), Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa), Days of Glory (Rachid Bouchareb), Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola), Red Road (Andrea Arnold), Southland Tales (Richard Kelly), Volver (Pedro Almodóvar).
Summary: Once again, I cannot help but think the Wong Kar Wai led jury gave the top prize to Ken Loach for The Wind That Shakes the Barley as a kind of lifetime achievement award. The film is very good – Loach’s best in recent years – but still, for the top prize? I don’t think so. Perhaps the fantasy elements ruled it out, but Guillermo Del Toro’s magnificent Pan’s Labyrinth should have taken the top prize this year easily. His fellow Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu also had a strong film in competition with Babel. Pedro Costa has never made an impression on most outside of festivals, but Colossal Youth should have gotten something. Days of Glory – which won the Best Actor prize for its entire cast – is a very good WWII movie, told from the point of view of Algerian soldiers. Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette is something to behold – no matter what you think of it. Red Road marked Andrea Arnold as someone to watch. Pedro Almodovar may have been cruising with Volver – but it’s a fine film. Finally the most maligned film of the festival – Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales – is one of the most ambitious films in recent memory. Flawed? Certainly. But it deserves more respect.

What Won: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristain Mungiu)
What Should Have Won: No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen)
Other Great Films In Competition: Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel), The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin), Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant), Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi; Vincent Paronnaud), Secret Sunshine (Chang-dong Lee), Zodiac (David Fincher).
Summary: In what was arguably the strongest year for the competition on this list, the Stephen Frears led jury gave the top prize to Cristain Mungiu’s brilliant 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days – outwardly about two women, one in need of an abortion in Romania circa 1987 when it was illegal – but about so much more than that. It is a great choice – one of the best winners in recent years. And yet, I still can’t help but say I would have voted for the Coen’s brilliant No Country for Old Men – arguably their best film – and if not that than David Fincher’s Zodiac (which IS his best film) or Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine – a film I have loved ever since TIFF that year. Those four alone would make the competition strong – but then you have Tarantino’s Death Proof (better by itself than as part of Grindhouse), Julian Schanbel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – which may be slightly over rated, but is still excellent, Faith Akin’s heartbreaking The Edge of Heaven, another wonderful Gus Van Sant rumination on young death – Paranoid Park – and a wondrous animated film – Persepolis. This year was an embarrassment of riches.


What Won: The Class (Laurent Cantet).
What Should Have Won: Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman).
Other Great Films In Competition: Che (Steven Soderbergh), A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin), Il Divo (Paolo Sorrentino), Gomorra (Matteo Garrone), The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel), Lorna’s Silence (Jean-Pierre Dardenne; Luc Dardenne), Two Lovers (James Gray), Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman).
Summary: After an amazingly strong year in 2007, 2008 was bound to disappoint – but while it certainly isn’t as strong as the previous year, it’s not a bad year by any means. The Sean Penn led jury gave the top prize to Laurent Cantet’s The Class – one of the most realistic portraits of a teacher in cinema history. Personally, I would have gone with Charlie Kaufman’s mind-bending Synecdoche, New York, but that could just be me. The rest of the lineup? Steven Soderbergh’s Che is one of his best, Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale is brilliant, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo fascinating. The crime epic Gomorra, the complex moral world of The Headless Woman, minor Dardenne effort Lorna’s Silence, James Gray’s fascinating Two Lovers – and one of the best animated docs ever Waltz with Bashir were also worth a look. Not quite a great year, but a good one.

What Won: The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)
What Should Have Won: Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
Other Great Films In Competition: Antichrist (Lars von Trier), Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold), Les Herbes Folles (Alain Resnais), A Prophet (Jacques Audiard), Thrist (Chan-wook Park), Vincere (Marco Bellocchio).
Summary: The number of great films in the competition lineup in 2009 was not that many – but the ones that were represented some of the strongest films at Cannes in recent year. Frequent Michael Haneke collaborator Isabelle Huppert led the jury – and gave the top prize to Michael Haneke for his film The White Ribbon. Complain about favoritism if you want, The White Ribbon is a masterwork, and fully deserving of the top prize. But if I had a vote, I’d have gone with Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds – his best film. Add in Jacques Audiard’s masterpiece A Prophet, and you have three films that could have easily won. Other films that are certainly worthy include Lars von Trier’s controversial Antichrist – with its brilliant Charlotte Gainsbourg performance – Andrea Arnold’s wonderful Fish Tank – a movie about a relationship between a teenage girl and an older man that actually feels real, Chan-wook Park’s criminally underrated vampire film Thrist, Alain Resnais’ best recent effort – the ever strange Les Herbes Folles, and Marco Bellocchio’s artistic resurrection Vincere. All in all, a solid year.

What Won: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Achitpong Weerasethakul)
What Should Have Won: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Achitpong Weerasethakul)
Other Great Films In Competition: Another Year (Mike Leigh), Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu), Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami), Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois), Poetry (Lee Chang-dong).
Summary: When the Tim Burton led jury gave the Palme D’Or to Achitpong Weersethakul’s wonderfully weird, film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives it provoked strong reactions from all sides. Those who wanted a more “traditional” winner certainly would have approved more of Xavier Beauvois’ Grand Prize winner Of Gods and Men – which fits in better with the line of films that normally win at Cannes. But there were others who were ecstatic – that someone like Weerasethakul finally broke through and won the prize – it was precisely because it was so strange – the type of film that gets championed in Film Comment and Cinemascope, loved by a few, and not heard of by many – that it was a reason to celebrate. And so, I’ll say Burton and his jury got it right – even if part of me thinks the best film was Mike Leigh’s Another Year, and another part thinks it was Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry (Leigh, of course, already has his Palme for Secrets and Lies – and I hope Lee Chang-dong gets one eventually). But it’s also hard to deny that perhaps Uncle Boonme would not have won had the slate been stronger – aside from it, Another Year and Poetry and Abbas Kiarostami’s wonderful Certified Copy this wasn’t a great year – although Biutiful and the aforementioned Of Gods and Men are strong as well. Sometimes, things work out the way they do for a reason, this seems like one of those years.

What Won: The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
What Should Have Won: The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
Other Great Films In Competition: The Artist (Michael Hazanaviscius), Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn), Footnote (Joseph Cedar), Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Takashi Miike), Le Harve (Aki Kaurismaki), The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne), Melancholia (Lars von Trier), Michael (Markus Schleinzer), Once Upon a Time in Anatlia (Nuri Bilge Ceylon), We Have a Pope (Nanni Morretti), We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay).
Summary: Whether you loved or hated Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, you cannot deny the passion it brought up in Cannes this year. It was all anyone talked about – either hailing it a masterpiece, or decrying it as a pretentious, muddled mess – there were even rumors that the head of the Festival told the Robert DeNiro led jury that if they DID NOT select The Tree of Life, history would judge them harshly. Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t matter – the jury made the right choice, and The Tree of Life is a masterpiece. But all the hubbub around it overshadowed what was a great year for the competition. Oscar winner The Artist made its debut here (and was loved, until everyone realized everyone loved it), Nicolas Winding Refn’s dark, noir tinged fairy tale Drive, Joseph Cedar’s hilarious Footnote (the best film about warring father-son Talmudic scholars ever made), Takahasi Miike’s continued quest to find respectability with Hara Kiri, the best Kaurismaki film in years with Le Havre, a fine Dardenne brother effort in The Kid with a Bike, at least half a great von Trier film in Melancholia (okay, the second half if pretty great too – but like Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, pales in comparison to the first half), the little seen, ever disturbing pedophile drama Michael, Nuri Blige Ceylon’s slow burn masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nanni Moretti’s hilarious We Have a Pope, and Lynne Ramsay’s disturbing, brilliantly constructed We Need to Talk About Kevin. All anyone talked about this year was The Tree of Life – but there were so many great films to dig your teeth into.

What Won: Amour (Michael Haneke)
What Should Have Won: Amour (Michael Haneke)
Other Great Films In Competition: Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu), Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg), Holy Motors (Leos Carax), Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami), Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson), Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard), The Hunt (Tomas Vinterberg)
Summary: The sad reality is that even though this festival happened a year ago – there are still too many films that haven’t been released over here for me to make definitive calls. I’m interested in seeing Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share, Matteo Garrone’s Reality, Jeff Nichols’ Mud, Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise Love, Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux and Alain Resnais’ You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet – but none have opened in my area yet. So, can I really say that the Nanni Moretti led jury did good by giving Michael Haneke his second Palme for Amour? Not really – although since Amour ranked 2nd on my 2012 top 10 list one of those would have to be an absolute masterwork to beat it. The only three films that I have seen that compare are Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (both also on my 2012 top 10 list) and Cristain Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (which may make 2013s). But a few other films deserve praise as well – when David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis opened last summer, I thought I was one of the film’s few defenders – but then it did excellent on my own top 10 list survey – as well as those done by Film Comment, Sight and Sound, Indiewire and the Village Voice. It is one of the few films that continues to grow in your mind after it’s over. Like Someone in Love may be minor Kiarostami – but that’s still better than most film. Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone may not be as good as A Prophet – but it’s excellent just the same. And finally, after more than a decade of flailing, Tomas Vinterberg made a worthy follow-up to The Celebration with The Hunt – which will be released this summer (and I saw at TIFF).

So that’s it for now. Cannes opens next week, and already I can guarantee there are going to be some highly discussed films in the lineup – from the Coen’s Inside Daisy Lleywn to Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives to Desplechin’s Jimmy P., to Asghar Farhadi’s The Past to Gray’s The Immigrant to Payne’s Nebraska among many others – the film year is about to get very interesting.

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