Cannes 2016: The 13 best films of the festival
Best of the fest
From joyous Roald Dahl adaptations to three-hour German comedies it’s been a typically eclectic Cannes Film Festival, and one of the iconic French film fest’s best line-ups in many-a-year.
There were some stinkers, of course. Most notably Sean Penn’s badly judged love story The Last Face. And some big hitters, including Xavier Dolan, disappointed. But few years can boast such a consistently high quality selection.
With the Jury (headed up by Mad Max: Fury Road genius George Miller) making their final deliberations ahead of announcing this year’s award winners here’s our countdown of the 13 must-watch movies of the fest.
13. The Neon Demon
The movie: Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 10th feature about cannibal supermodels and a small-town girl attracted by the bright lights of LA.
Our reaction: Image after image wows. It’s the high-end style of Drive and Only God Forgives taken to the nth degree, and there is an argument that in The Neon Demon, form is content – vivid exteriors, vapid interiors. It’s a persuasive theory but it also rather lets Refn off the hook.
12. Hell Or High Water
The movie: Neo-western starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges about bank robbing-brothers and the Texas sheriff out to take them down.
Our reaction: There’s a richly comic vein of juvenile banter running through this muscular crime thriller, which boasts a livewire Ben Foster performance and a social conscience rare for the genre.
11. The Handmaiden
The movie: Park Chan-wook-directed erotic thriller about a Japanese heiress who’s being conned by her suitor and her new handmaiden.
Our reaction: Recalling Chan-wook’s last film, Stoker, in its visual elegance, The Handmaiden fetishizes not only props, costumes and production design, but also storytelling, with pieces of the serpentine plot moved lovingly this way and that to replay events from different angles. It makes for a treat for the eyes and the brain.
The movie: Historical biopic about an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, whose marriage is forbidden by Virginia law.
Our reaction: Hot on the heels of Midnight Special’s sci-fi strangeness, Loving is Jeff Nichols’ most heartfelt movie to date. There’s a much more traditional courtroom drama to be made out of the Loving's story, but Nichols takes his tale down a different path, rarely submitting to cliché or expectation.
The movie: 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days director Cristian Mungiu returns with a drama set in and around the Romanian education system.
Our reaction: There are chains of corruption in Mungiu’s rough-hewn morality play which snakes its way through Romania’s bureaucratic institutions while never losing sight of the moral dilemma at its core.
8. Café Society
The movie: Woody Allen’s 46th feature set in ’30s Hollywood about a native New Yorker who falls for Kristen Stewart’s luminous secretary.
Our reaction: Comprised as it is of vivid hues and vivacious spirit, it makes for Allen’s most peppy, purely enjoyable effort since… well, the last time he opened the Cannes Film Festival, with 2011’s Midnight In Paris.
The movie: Paul Verhoeven’s twisted rape/revenge thriller starring Isabelle Huppert as a videogame developer violated in her home.
Our reaction: Almost certainly too controversial to be lauded with any major prizes at Cannes, Elle is a scintillatingly challenging watch from the 77-year-old Verhoeven, and his best film since Starship Troopers.
6. The Red Turtle
The movie: Wordless, Studio Ghibli-produced animation about a man who’s washed up on a tropical island.
Our reaction: Directed by Dutch-British animator Michael Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is a film that shares several of Ghibli’s most important sensibilities: gorgeous animation, a meditative mood and powerfully poignant storytelling.
The movie: Adam Driver drives a bus, writes poetry and walks his dog in Jim Jarmusch’s lyrical tone poem.
Our reaction: Fully functional, loving marriages on screen are a rare thing, and so are portraits of an artist who is questioning, as all artists must be, but content, and who finds comfort, not neuroses, in solitude. It makes for a gentle, genial film that is a pleasure to get lost in.
4. The BFG
The movie: Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, starring Mark Rylance as the Big Friendly Giant.
Our reaction: Dahl’s worlds of imagination and wonderment are often done an injustice onscreen, but The BFG is a triumph. Adapted with care, warmth and a respectful hand.
3. I, Daniel Blake
The movie: Newcastle-set comedy drama about a man trapped in benefits hell, directed by Ken Loach.
Our reaction: A controlled howl of protest against a system that values number-crunching, form-filling bureaucracy over common sense or human decency… a welcome return to form.
2. Toni Erdmann
The movie: German comedy about the humorous reconciliation between a father his daughter.
Our reaction: To boil Toni Erdmann’s near three-hour running time down to a postage-stamp pitch is to ignore its detailed observations of people at work and play, its psychological complexities, and its many fruitful flavours as it shifts from melancholy, anger and bitterness to broad laughs and heart-swelling joy.
1. American Honey
The movie: Andrea Arnold’s road movie about teens and twentysomethings who travel from town to town, selling magazines by day and partying by night.
Our reaction: An astonishingly singular and uncompromising vision, American Honey richly deserves recognition, and will surely scoop at least one major award at this year's festival.