10 must-see films of Cannes 2014

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Even as a huge Nicole Kidman fan, if I were able to take my pick of any ten films from the Cannes 2014 roster right now, the prime slice of Oscar bait that is Grace of Monaco would not be on that list. Nor would Winter Sleep from Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose previous Cannes Grand Prix winner, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia had me suspended between being utterly absorbed and bashing my head in boredom. At 196 minutes, his latest threatens to do exactly what it says on the tin.

Bearing in mind the Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight lineups are yet to be revealed, and that’s often where the festival’s most exciting films are screened (it’d be great to see Love or Die by veteran, cult director Monte Hellman finally get an airing), these ten picks pertain only to the films playing in competition or Un Certain Regard, but as it is, here’s ten films I’d consider trading vital organs for tickets.

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Two Days One Night (Belgium) dir. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

What’s it about? Marion Cotillard plays a woman who over the course of one weekend, must convince her work colleagues to sacrifice their bonuses so she can keep her job.

Who’s in it? Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione and Olivier Gourmet

Why I want to see it Marion Cotillard is one of the few actors who routinely stars in films actually worthy of awards, in fact she’s always at her best in prestige picture mode (see La Vie en RoseRust and Bone and The Immigrant). Pair her with the Dardennes brothers, darlings of the Croisette (they’ve won the Palme d’Or twice) and it’s a no brainer really.

Maps to the Stars

Maps To The Stars (Canada/US) dir. David Cronenberg

What’s it about? Led by the loathsome yet funny and touching child-star Benjie, we witness the convoluted world of shallow, selfish celebrities and their minions, all of whom are about to be manipulated and destroyed by the young woman who literally represents the fruit of their twisted machinations, Agatha, Benjie’s tormented, apparently psychotic sister.

Who’s in it? Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, Evan Bird

Why I want to see it From Crash in 1995 to the present, David Cronenberg has probably had the longest run of great films of any director presently working, and Maps To The Stars arguably boasts the best cast of 2014. Of course, the last time he worked with an ensemble this impressive Cosmpolis happened, and after using that film to shake off the shackles of the Twilight ‘saga’ I can’t wait to see Pattinson and Cronenberg make lightning strike twice. Even more excitingly, the film stars Mia Wasikowska, who continues to show us all what impeccable taste she has in projects after Stoker (my #1 film of last year) The DoubleOnly Lovers Left Alive and Tracks (presently my #1, #2 and #6 of 2014 respectively).

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The Homesman (US/France) dir. Tommy Lee Jones

What’s it about? A claim jumper and a pioneer woman team up to escort three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa.

Who’s in it? Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, Hilary Swank, Hailee Steinfeld, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Tim Blake Nelson, William Fichtner

Why I want to see it Tommy Lee Jones has proven form with the Western. At least of the revisionist kind. Heaped in critical praise at the time of release, many remember his 2005 big screen directorial debut The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, but hardly anyone has seen The Sunset Limited, in which he and Samuel L. Jackson essentially perform a Cormac McCarthy play. If Secret Honor with Philip Baker Hall stands as the best one man show ever made into a movie, then The Sunset Limited is the best ever filmed two-hander of a theatrical production. The tremendous team-up of Jones and Jackson is an acting cage match for the ages and also gave the self-proclaimed ‘Bad Mother Fucker’ his best role since Jackie Brown. Literary adaptations are always my preferred choice of movie to watch, and this is based on the wonderfully reviewed, same-name-novel by Glendon Swarthout. It also has a cast the equal of Maps To The Stars, featuring the mother-daughter pair-up of ‘La Streep’ and Grace Gummer. I knew nothing of The Homesman’s plot until this morning, but loving the genre and the director, that’s all I needed to know.

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Incompresa (Italy) dir. Asia Argento

What’s it about? A story about a nine-year-old girl set in 1984.

Who’s in it? Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gabriel Garko, Gianmarco Tognazzi

Why I want to see it Following mad, bad Asia Argento on Twitter, my feed has been inundated with bizarre little behind the scenes, post production vine videos these past few months, and if they are any indication of the film itself, it’s likely Asia will prove for a third time, how much better a director she is than her Dad. In front of the camera, you’ve got Charlotte Gainsbourg, whose performance in Nymphomaniac is the one for any actress to beat this year. As with Scarlet Diva and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, I’m expecting a punk rock sensibility that strives to make the ugly beautiful. Too far outside the system to bother about smashing it, Argento’s films are scrappy and rough round the edges, but few have as much blood and sweat in them. She’s not a filmmaker to everyone’s taste but one worth rooting for and clearly, she’s excited to go to Cannes.

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Lost River (US) dir. Ryan Gosling

What’s it about? A single mother enters a dark lifestyle, while her son uncovers a road leading to an underwater utopia.

Who’s in it? Christina Hendricks, Matt Smith, Saoirse Ronan and Eva Mendes

Why I want to see it Another actor-turned-director at Cannes is the man women want to be with and men want to be, Ryan Gosling. After working with the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn and Derek Cianfrance twice, no doubt the Gos has picked up a few directorial tips on set. He’s got great taste in material as an actor and that’s always a good sign when a thesp chooses to go behind the camera. With a fantastically random cast of actors, if his directorial debut can be as live wire as his early performances in The Believer and Half Nelson, we’re in for something special.

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Leviathan (Russia) dir. Andrei Zvyagintsev

What’s it about? A present day social drama about the human insecurity in a “new country” which gradually builds to a mythological scale and questions the human condition on earth entirely.

Who’s in it? Elena Lyadova, Alexei Serebryakov, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov

Why I want to see it Not to be confused with last year’s experimental sea trawler set documentary, can Zvyagintsev go four for four? While Elena’s raves were a little overstated, it was a fine addition to his solemnly spare, psychologically mysterious, exquisitely shot body of work, which includes The Return and The Banishment (the first film of his to play in competition at Cannes in 2007). Zvyagintsev’s films always feel like going through a Chekhovian time warp of old world Russia at its most brutal and barren, so how sci-fi fits into this is anyone’s guess.

Mommy (France/Canada) dir. Xavier Dolan

What’s it about? A mother takes custody of a child with a dark past.

Who’s in it? Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement and Antoine-Olivier Pilon

Why I want to see it? Despite being only 25, Quebecois helmer Dolan has already played Critics’ Week (I Killed My Mother) and Un Certain Regard (Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways). Steadily working his way up the ranks of the festival, he hits the big time with Mommy, which plays in competition. Whether or not the film will continue his departure from hipster chic as with Tom at the Farm remains to be seen, but either way, it’s a historical moment for those who’ve closely followed his career and one worth talking about simply on the basis of seeing how he’ll fare amongst this year’s more traditional line-up of old guard heavy hitters.

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The Captive (Canada) dir. Atom Egoyan

What’s it about? Eight years after his daughter’s abduction, a series of disturbing clues surface, convincing Matthew that his daughter Cass, now 17, is still alive. In a terrifying race against time, Matthew, the detectives, and even Cass herself must play their parts in unravelling the mystery of her disappearance and freeing her from captivity.

Who’s in it? Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos,

Why I want to see it A box set of Egoyan’s early works was recently re-released on UK Blu-ray through Artificial Eye, confirming the cultural opinion that it all went downhill afterThe Sweet Hereafter. Yet one of my 100 favorite films is the 2005 erotic Hitchcockian period thriller Where the Truth Lies, featuring the unlikely ménage a trois of Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth and Alison Lohaman (frequently in a Lynchian state of undress). Most of us are still waiting on Devil’s Knot, so Egoyan fans have loads to look forward too, but sight unseen it’s not the plot or cast of either that intrigues me, I’m simply hoping he’ll make a film as good as WTTL this decade. The fact it stars Ryan Reynolds hardly instills confidence, but along with this and bonkers indie The Voices set to screen at Sundance UK next weekend, is Reynolds challenging himself as an actor and out to prove people wrong? He’s tried this before with the likes of The Nines and Buried and I remain unconvinced.

Clouds Of Sils Maria (France/Germany) dir. Olivier Assayas

What’s it about? Maria Enders is middle-aged actress asked to participate in a revival of the play that made her a star twenty years ago. Rehearsing in the Swiss town of Sils Maria with her assistant, Maria has to come to terms with the fact that the role she played all that time ago is now cast with a young, up-and-coming starlet.

Who’s in it? Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloë Grace Moretz

Why I want to see it Olivier Assayas is like festival furniture at this point, previously having been in competition with CleanDemonlover and Les Destinees sentimentales, but will he finally take home a prize with Clouds Of Sils Maria? Plot wise this is the standout of the bunch, and as sucker for films about the theatre, this female fronted cast will hopefully push the material into the bitchier behind-the-scenes register of All About Eve. Of all the reasons to see it though, a face off between Juliette Binoche and Chloë Grace Moretz is something most film fans thought we’d never see, and even without Assayas that’d be worth the ticket price alone.

Eleanor Rigby (Canada/US) dir. Ned Benson

What’s it about? Broken into two films called “Him” and “Her”, Eleanor Rigby tells the story of young married couple living in New York from both sides of the relationship.

Who’s in it? James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Ryan Eggold, Ciarán Hinds, Viola Davis, William Hurt, Jess Weixler, Isabelle Huppert, Nina Arianda

Why I want to see it The form is as interesting as its impressively stacked cast, and when you consider the talent involved, it’s as good an indicator as any that first time director Ned Benson is someone we ought to be getting excited about. Reception at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival was ho-hum and news broke today that the film has been slashed from three hours down to two, yet the fact that the film has being so fundamentally altered at the last minute makes it all the more fascinating. I haven’t even seen it yet and am already hoping for a full director’s cut on Blu-ray. Trivia note: real life besties and former college roommates Jessica Chastain and Jess Weixler are finally in a film together and for once, Weixler isn’t playing Chastain’s date to an award show.

First published by Vérité Film Magazine on April 17, 2014

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