Monday, May 23, 2011

Cannes Winners & Losers

The Cannes Film Festival has always seemed like the exotic place in the world to me.  With the best and biggest and brightest in the world of cinema joining for two weeks in a paradise local.  Yes, there's always ugliness and politics involved (this year proved no exception with the Lars von Trier situation), yes, there's usually a debate over the overall quality of the festival, that must fight the same fight that Hollywood does, in trying to maintain a balance of industry and artistry, and yes, there's always that thudding feeling that the very best of the festival may never make it to a movie theater near you.  And so you can take their silly necessity to showcase drivel like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, there only to get flashbulbs and press at the possibility that Johnny Depp will show (he did), or you can leave it.  It's also the home, and beating grounds for Pedro Almodovar, the Dardenne Brothers, von Trier (he comes with baggage, but his films always surprise), and Woody Allen.  It's a place where Tilda Swinton is a superstar, and still the ultimate coup for every dreamy eyed filmmaker and every awe-struck fan.

PALME D'OR: The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)- the most talked about film going into the festival, and the most expected won the top prize, furthering the endless post-film chatter of the it's a masterpiece\it's a failure.  It marks the first time an American film has won the Palme d'Or since 2004's Fahrenheit 9\11 and the first time Malick has received the top prize.  Before everyone starts thinking that the Oscar will be calling, a bit of historical perspective: Cannes is a different climate than the Academy, and only twice in the history of both institutions have they agreed on their top pick: The Lost Weekend (1946) and Marty (1955), however The Tree of Life is clearly the biggest winner of the festival, and as the rest of us mere mortals venture into art houses next week, unfortunately, the expectations have risen...

GRAND PRIX (tie): Le Gaumin au Velo (The Kid With the Bike)- Dardenne Brothers (France) and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia- Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey)-- the second place slot was really a second\third place as the fickle Cannes jury awarded the Dardenne Brothers their fifth Cannes prize (including winning the Palme d'Or twice for The Child in 2005 and Rosetta in 1999); their latest humanistic drama stars Cecile de France (Hereafter) and received a good, if a bit of a been there\done that reaction; however one can never bet they won't receive a prize when their films are showcased's never happened.  Same goes for Ceylan also receiving his fifth Cannes prize; including been honored with the Grand Prix in 2004 for Distant, and Best Director in 2008 for Three Monkeys.

BEST DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive- the director of Bronson (Tom Hardy's real revelation, before Inception) the directors prize for his Hollywood stuntmen epic that stars Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.  For a film that sounds very B-tacular, the reviews have been phenomenal.

BEST ACTOR: Jean Dujardin, The Artist (France\USA)- an early festival favorite revolving around an early-Hollywood tale of a silent screen star worried of fading as the invention of sound comes into play.  We well all become aware of this movie eventually, as The Weinstein Company snagged the film that also stars John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell and Malcolm McDowell.

BEST ACTRESS: Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia- Either as pity vote for an exemplary well received performance that soured as her director was making a fool of himself, or an act of good will for an under-appreciated actress trying to become a great one, this might be the most contentious victory; sight unseen of course.  Either way stock in Dunst (who was also tremendously good in last year's not so good All Good Things) will surely rise, and for the film as well.  Dunst is also the first American actress to win at Cannes since Holly Hunter did for The Piano in 1993, but not the first Lars von Trier victim to 2009, Charlotte Gainsborg (who co-stars here) won for Antichrist and Bjork won in 2000 for Dancer in the Dark...suffering for your art always helps.

BEST SCREENPLAY: Footnote- Joseph Cedar-- Cedar, born in New York, but raised in Jerusalem is best known for Beaufort, which won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2007.

PRIX DU JURY: Polisse (France)- critically divided French film featuring the directorial debut of actress Maiwenn Le Besco (High Tension, 2003 and The Fifth Element, 1997) received a special jury prize.

CAMERA D'OR: Las Acacias (Argentina)- first time director Pablo Giorgelli won the best first film prize.

The two biggest surprises once the awards were handed out were the snubbing of two the most acclaimed in competition titles.  One was Le Havre, a German\Finnish\French affair from Cannes favorite and acclaimed director Aki Kaurismaki, and the other was the American film We Need to Talk About Kevin, from director Lynne Ramsey (making a far too long return to film after the extraordinary 2002 film Morvern Caller.)  Her latest received amazing early reviews and stars Tilda Swinton as a mother of a boy responsible for a school shooting.

The less fortunate in competition titled include The Skin I Live In, the latest from Pedro Almodovar that stars one-time muse Antonio Banderas, which received mixed reviews, and no awards.  Julia Leigh's fascinating looking and Jane Campion endorsed provocation Sleeping Beauty also received mixed reviews.  Another potential dud might be This Must Be the Place, starring Sean Penn as an aging rocker, directed by Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo), as did Cannes favorite and past Palme D'Or winner Nanni Moretti (he won for 2001 for The Son's Room) whose latest, We Have a Pope flopped.

The jury was headed by Robert De Niro, and included director Olivier Assayas (Carlos), Argentinian producer and actress Martina Gusman, director and Chad-native Mahamat-Salet Haroun, actor Jude Law, Chinese producer Nansun Shi, actress Uma Thurman, director Johnnie To (Vengeance), and Norwegian author Linn Ullmann.

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