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Variety Critics Share Their Cannes Cinematic Wish Lists

Variety logo Variety 5/16/2017 Peter Debruge
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Variety‘s chief film critics Peter Debruge and Owen Gleiberman look ahead at the Cannes festival lineup and tell us what they really want to see when the festival kicks off May 17.

Peter Debruge’s Picks

The Beguiled

It’s not like the world was asking for a remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood classic, based on the Thomas Cullinan novel about a wounded Union soldier who bewitches an entire boarding school of lonely Confederate ladies — although now that it exists, consider me intrigued. Certainly, we can expect Sofia Coppola to repair the gender balance, which is the most backwards thing about director Don Siegel’s otherwise intoxicating testosterone-fueled fantasy.

The Florida Project

It’s about time Cannes took note of one of America’s most exciting indie voices, inviting “Tangerine” director Sean Baker into the fold. Apart from a general fascination with strange contemporary subcultures, and a capacity to translate that curiosity into a kind of nonjudgmental generosity, no two Sean Baker movies are alike. After a pair of So Cal-based projects (the other being “Starlet”), the director shifts coasts for his latest.

Happy End

Director Michael Haneke has won the Palme d’Or twice; Isabelle Huppert has earned Cannes’ best actress prize two times as well. Both are working at the top of their game, and now, five years after “Amour,” they have reunited for a project that comments on Europe’s refugee crisis — by focusing on a well-to-do French family that’s oblivious to the problem. This is my most anticipated movie of not just Cannes, but the entire calendar year.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

What a delightful marriage of sensibilities: On one hand, you have director John Cameron Mitchell, whose take on modern romance cuts past the greeting-card artifice of so many Hollywood movies (see “Shortbus”), while on the other, fantasy writer Neil Gaiman is there to provide a dash of the supernatural. Based on the “Stardust” scribe’s short story, the film follows a group of awkward teenagers who fall for some out-of-this-world young ladies.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Over the course of two features, “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster,” Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has carved out a weird place for himself somewhere at the intersection of satire and surrealism. His latest looks to be another English-language oddity, starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, though the scant plot descriptions available online make little sense — not that actually seeing the movie is any guarantee of understanding.

Loveless

One of two Russian films in the main competition (the other being Sergei Loznitsa’s “A Gentle Creature”), the new drama from “Leviathan” maestro Andrey Zvyagintsev sounds entirely apolitical. Instead, it focuses on a family crisis in which a couple wrestling with a rough divorce must team up to find their missing child. Zvyagintsev is one of the world’s most gifted directors, often revealing a side of the country the world might otherwise never see.

The Meyerowitz Stories

Last November, the Criterion Collection released a swanky new edition of “Punch-Drunk Love” that left me wondering whether Adam Sandler would ever make another movie for grown-ups, and less than six months later, he delivers. But can Noah Baumbach — the comedian-poet of contemporary discomfort — get another good performance out of the last actor I ever expected to see on the Croisette?

Okja

Though there are all sorts of eccentric-sounding films in this year’s lineup, my bet for the weirdest movie at Cannes goes to this sci-fi oddity from “Oldboy” director Bong Joon-ho. The logline — about a girl who helps spring a huge creature from the clutches of a greedy mega-corporation — sounds suspiciously like “Monster Trucks,” although images leaked during the New York shoot reveal Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton looking downright bonkers.

The Square

A last-minute addition to the Cannes lineup, Ruben Ostlund’s latest satire is reportedly not done. Some rumors suggest that it runs nearly three hours, while others describe it as his most overtly comedic work. I have no idea what to expect, but can’t wait to see for myself, considering the Swedish director is equally capable of upsetting (his “Play” is the film I hated most at Cannes) and intriguing (“Force Majeure” ranks among my most admired).

Zombillenium

This year, Cannes has a disproportionately high number of kiddie movies, from “Wonderstruck” to “The Florida Project,” although the only one the festival has specifically designated as such is this animated movie from the mind of Arthur de Pins. Already beloved in Europe as a graphic novelist, de Pins adapts his own comics series, in which monsters really do live among us — and work at a ghoulish theme park.

Owen Gleiberman’ Picks

Wonderstruck

If you’re on the wavelength of director Todd Haynes, you’ll follow him anywhere. His last film, “Carol,” was a humanist noir of forbidden love that should have been more of a sensation, so I truly can’t wait for his new one. Based on a juvenile-fiction novel by Brian Selznick (“The Invention Hugo Cabaret”), it traces the fortunes of two children, both of whom struggle with deafness, from the 1920s to the 1970s. It’s unlike anything Haynes has done — but then, that’s really true of every Haynes movie.

The Beguiled

In an era when redoing blockbusters (“Ghostbusters,” “Ocean’s Eleven”) by flipping the gender has become a pet concept, director Sofia Coppola goes for the heady art version of same. In her first movie since “The Bling Ring” (2013), she takes Don Siegel’s 1971 Civil War psychodrama, which starred Clint Eastwood as a wounded Union soldier taken in by an all-girl boarding school in rural Mississippi, and tells the story from the female point of view. The original was an explosive tale of sexual repression (think Tennessee Williams meets Peckinpah). It will be fascinating to see how Coppola bends it ahead of the feminist curve.

Happy End

The Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke is 75 years old, but it was only 20 years ago that he came into his own as a major auteur. “Happy End” is his first feature since “Amour,” five years ago, and it’s the enticingly cast drama of a European family — Jean-Louis Trintignant as the elderly father, Isabelle Huppert as the daughter, Toby Jones as her husband — that unfolds against the backdrop of the current refugee crisis. A new Haneke movie is an event, and this one, in the mode of “Caché,” promises to seduce and provoke.

Redoubtable

It’s an idea so playful, perverse, and — to me — fascinating that it’s irresistible: What if you took Jean-Luc Godard, the incorrigible avant egghead poet of the French New Wave, and made him the subject of…a biopic? Louis Garrel plays Godard, and Stacy Martin is Anne Wiazemsky, the 17-year-old French-Russian actress he falls tempestuously in love with during the shooting of one of his early-’60s landmarks. Based on episodes from Wiazemsky’s memoir, the whole idea might seem preposterous if it weren’t in the hands of a filmmaker as shell-game clever as Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist,” the “OSS 177” spy spoofs), who, I hope, gets the supreme irony of capturing Godard in the throes of the conventional passion he would never stoop to putting in his movies.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

John Cameron Mitchell directed two movies that won a lot of attention, and deservedly so — the adaptation of his trans-rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001), followed by the sexually hardcore roundelay “Shortbus” (2006). But that was quite a while ago. Now he’s back with a major change of pace: a sci-fi romantic comedy based on a short story by Neil Gaiman. It stars Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman, and I, for one, can’t wait to see if Mitchell brings the material the same human touch that made him seem a natural filmmaker.

24 Frames

The world lost a filmmaking giant last year when Abbas Kiarostami passed away at 76, but audiences at Cannes will now get to see his final work. It consists of 24 four-and-a-half-minute shorts shot by Kiarostami over a period of three years. The style has been described as fixed tableau with the use of blue screen, which makes it sound like something new for the director. My desire is simple: to bask, for two more hours, in Kiarostami’s inimitable gaze.

Promised Land

Eugene Jarecki is one our most incisive documentary artists, and his new film takes an audacious leap, filtering the sociopolitical history of how America arrived at the present moment through — wait for it — the biography of Elvis Presley. Does that mean that we’re now in our Fat Elvis phase? Or that Donald Trump is Elvis? I can’t wait to find out.

You Were Never Really Here

The Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (“Ratcatcher”) pushed buttons at Cannes with her last feature, the school-shooter drama “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” and though I didn’t find it overly convincing, Ramsay’s fixation on sensational subjects hasn’t lost its tug. Her new movie stars Joaquin Phoenix as a combat veteran out to save the life of a woman enslaved by sex trafficking. It sounds like Ramsay’s boldest statement yet.

Loveless

You go to Cannes looking not just for films but for voices, and three years ago, when the Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev presented “Leviathan,” it confirmed the power of his voice. Yes, he’d been making movies since “The Return” (2003), but his portrait of life in Putin’s Russia was shocking for its downbeat honesty. His new movie, about a couple who are eager to divorce, only to find that they must team up to locate their missing son, sounds like another searing Zvyagintsev passion play.

Based on a True Story

He’s back, and some will wish that he’d just go away. But my wish is that Roman Polanski still has it in him to make a movie as powerful as his last vintage Polanski film, “The Ghost Writer” (2010). This new one, too, is about a writer (played by Eva Green), who becomes involved with an obsessive admirer (played by Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner). It sounds like “Misery” meets…Roman Polanski. I’m there.

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