I can’t help staring at the poster for this year’s international Cannes Film Festival. There’s young Marcello Mastroianni, from Federico Fellini's “8½,” staring out at us from over his sunglasses, still an unquestionable icon of cinema.
And so is the festival itself, which over the years has become the most high profile and most prestigious of the international film festivals, and its prize, the Palme d’Or, one of the most respected. Past winners have included “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Tree of Life,” chosen by juries of respected filmmakers and artists. The list of Palme d’Or recipients looks like a survey of the most influential directors of the past six decades. Stephen Spielberg presided over last year’s jury, which gave the top prize to “Blue is the Warmest Color.” And though there are the usual controversies and politicking, the festival retains a sterling reputation and remains an important yearly showcase for international cinema.
And that’s why any pretentious film lover worth their salt, including yours truly, gets so excited about the lineup of premieres every year. Last year’s lineup of films in competition included “Nebraska,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Behind the Candelabra,” and Foreign Language Oscar winner “The Great Beauty.” It usually takes months and months for these films to make their way Stateside, and there are a couple on last year’s list like James Gray’s “The Immigrant” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive,” that are only reaching theaters this spring. Some titles, of course, all but vanish into obscurity as soon as they’re done screening. Still, the early reviews and reactions are a great preview of what’s in store for audiences, especially since most of the competing films are from well known, high profile directors.
Every year you hear the speculation over which films will be having premieres at Cannes. This year there the possibility of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” being in the mix got a lot of people worked up. It didn’t show, most likely still in post-production, but there are a lot of other titles to get excited about. We’ll be getting new movies from the Dardennes brothers, who have already won the Palme d’Or twice, Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Olivier Assayas, Michel Hazanavicius, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Andrey Zvyagintsev, and Jean-Luc Godard, who is bringing his first 3D feature. Of particular note to American film fans is Bennett Miller’s delayed “Foxcatcher,” and the Tommy Lee Jones western, “The Homesman.” Few remember Jones is a director, but this is his third theatrical feature.
Films that aren’t part of the main competition still benefit from participating at Cannes. The Un Certain Regard competition was created in 1998, a parallel to the main awards for “original and different” films. It’s already generated its share of major international classics, including past winners “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and “Dogtooth.” Last year’s contenders included two of the other Best Foreign Language Oscar nominees, “Omar” and “The Missing Piece,” and the indie darling “Fruitvale Station.” This year, Un Certain Regard will include a version of Ned Benson’s “Eleanor Rigby” double-film, and the directing debut of Ryan Gosling. And screening out of competition entirely are the new Zhang Yimou film “Coming Home” and the world premiere of “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” The latter film may seem out of place, but it’s become the norm for a few Hollywood blockbusters to premiere at Cannes every year.
There’s no question that many of these films are the ones we’ll be talking about when awards season rolls around again. Though Cannes and the Oscars very rarely see eye to eye, the festival’s influence is inescapable. Films that make a major splash at Cannes or one of the other major festivals are guaranteed a certain amount of attention by the art house crowd, so they inevitably become part of the awards conversations. Because Cannes is invitation only, and extremely selective, it’s much harder to influence their decisions through marketing or other tactics, which gives the results a much greater sense of legitimacy. Though I’ve never seen a film at Cannes, there are several films I know I’ve seen largely because of Cannes.
This year I’m looking forward to several titles. Ken Loach’s last film, “Jimmy’s Hall,” will be part of the competition. Wim Wenders’ latest documentary will be in Un Certain Regard. And I love finding out about films I had no idea existed - for instance, one of the out of competition screenings will be for the Danish film “The Salvation,” a western from a couple of Dogme 95 alumni that stars Eva Green, Mads Mikkelson, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. It’ll probably be a year before I get to see it, but I know to watch out for it now. And sometimes, that’s the most important part of being a movie fan.