Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 Cannes Film Festival Aftermath

This year's Cannes Film Festival was a giant fart. A few films in the Main Competition were standouts but were outweighed by the many movies that were overhyped and/or quickly mocked. The jury for this edition had more female artists than males: directors Jane Campion (who was also the President) and Sofia Coppola, and actresses Jeon Do-yeon, Leila Hatami, and Carole Bouquet. Willem Dafoe, Gael García Bernal, Jia Zhangke, and Nicolas Wending Refn filled in the rest of the seats. Despite this progressive achievement, the awards were handed out to several dubious picks.

Winter Sleep was championed pre-festival as one of the top favorites and surprise, surprise, it won the Palme d'Or despite a sea of eye-rolls. The movie is the latest from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who was heavily praised by film critics for his 2011 film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Unfortunately, this is not another surreal crime story. With a running time of 3+ hours (!), the movie is about a wealthy asshole who operates a hotel and spends the majority of the feature arguing with family members. Actor Haluk Bilginer and the often beautiful cinematic frames were noted as its best elements but many decried it as a true ass-number, a petty tale that doesn't warrant a huge final cut. Given how I felt once I finally watched last year's winner Blue Is the Warmest Color, this foreign epic looks to be another pretentious mess.

The Grand Prix, a.k.a. the 2nd place ribbon, was oddly given to The Wonders, a fluffy Italian feature involving a large clan of girls helping out their dad in the honey-making business, while at the same time trying to enter a television contest. The movie was a firm middleweight feature in the eyes of critics, having a equal share of small raves and boos, so it winning such a high accomplishment is very questionable. Most see it as a politic move, since it was one of two films in the competition to be directed by a woman. Sorry, no applicable image here because there is no media of this movie out yet.

As for the bronze medal, the Jury Prize went to a tie, a bad one at that: Mommy and Goodbye to Language. The former film is sloppy seconds for director Xavier Dolan, basically a reimagining of his debut feature I Killed My Mother. All of the histrionic acting couldn't overcome the critical bile spewed for its 1:1 aspect ratio (picture the above image on a big screen but with black bars on the side). Not to contend with this stupid filming decision, Jean-Luc Godard (ugh!) shot Goodbye in 3D; most viewers have said he does interesting things with the planes but also proclaimed that it's another one of his inaccessible garbage art pieces.

Best Director went to Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, the based-on-a-true-story amateur wrestling drama that was delayed last fall. Hailed as the true winner of the festival, the film has already generated Oscar buzz for its cast, particularly Steve Carell in a chilling role as would-be Olympic backer John du Pont.

Best Screenplay of course had to go to a downer, that being the Russian drama Leviathan. Not to be confused with last year's fishing boat documentary or the 1989 Alien rip-off it shares the same name with, this film has a poor mechanic trying to blackmail his corrupt mayor. Said to look gorgeous but is a bitter pill to swallow.

Timothy Spall, a long-time British character actor, finally got to stand in the spotlight, accepting the Best Actor award for his performance in Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, a biopic of the Romantic artist J.M.W. Turner. Jolly good for him. I've always been a big fan of his work and I am glad he has an opportunity to sit at the big kids table for at least one year.

The Best Actress race was highly competitive this year, with many possibly believing that in a rare feat for Cannes, Bérénice Bejo would repeat as the victor. That is, if Marion Cotillard didn't make a strong case for herself, or Kristen Stewart as a shocking contender. Unfortunately, common sense is not present this year so Julianne Moore somehow won for her work in the Hollywood "satire" Map to the Stars. The movie received a ton of cat-calls, labelled by many to be the worst film David Cronenberg ever made, largely because it doesn't feel at all like his doing but that of screenwriter Bruce Wagner. I've heard no buzz about Moore and I don't think there will be any later, unless the Spirit Awards are desperate for more seat-fillers.

Now, let's look at the rest of the output, starring off with the few shining lights of the festival that received no love from the jury. Two Days, One Night looked to be another easy win for the Dardenne Brothers, the Belgian duo who are Cannes royalty, thanks to films like Rosetta, L'Enfant, and The Kid with a Bike. Alas, the Palme was out of their grasp this time, even though their new movie was a thrilling drama: The previously-mentioned Cotillard stars as a woman who makes personal stops at all of her co-workers' houses in order to keep her job; her boss has ruthlessly put her position up for a private vote in order to recoup money. It's to be a hard sell because if they do vote to keep her working, the rest of the office will all lose their annual bonuses. Olivier Assayas was able to accomplish everything Cronenberg/Wagner couldn't do with his newest film Clouds of Sils Maria, a three woman play of an aging actress (Juliette Binoche), her devoted assistant (Kristen Stewart), and Hollywood's new "it" girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). Finally, Wild Tales was cheered as an uneven but funny collection of black comedy tales set all around Argentina.

As for the other crappy films in the competition: Michel Hazanavicius followed up The Artist with a loose remake of The Search, whose acting talents were overshadowed by its syrupy Oscar bait story and design; Ken Loach's latest Jimmy's Hall, an artistic spin on the life of Irish political activist Jimmy Gralton, had many lambasting it as a retread of Footloose; The sole African film Timbuktu showcased Islamic extremism through the basic tropes of bloodshed and didactic preaching; Saint Laurent was a paint-by-numbers bio on the legendary fashion designer; Atom Egoyan further embarrassed Canada and himself with The Captive, a torture porn thriller that goes off the rails quick; Naomi Kawase saw her press boasting bite on her right on the ass, as Still in Water was nowhere in sight of winning the Palme; and Tommy Lee Jones starred and directed The Homesman, which looks okay but could be buried away like the rest of his directorial efforts.

Other highlights and those in Un Certain Regard: The opening film of the festival was Grace of Monaco, which was a possible Oscar contender last year, only to premiere and be jeered as the next Diana. It seems that Harvey Weinstein was right for a change, as the claustrophobic camerawork, the insulting script, and stilted performances were all lambasted; Ryan Gosling didn't travel along with his directorial debut Lost River, a.k.a. How to Catch a Monster, but he is certainly not coming back as a director again, as the film was booed off the screen and seen as him cheating off the works of his friend Refn; That Lovely Girl had people running out the doors, as the Israeli film is wall-to-wall father-daughter incest and violence; It Follows was an odd duckling that stood firmly out, courtesy of the guy who gave us The Myth of the American Sleepover, thanks to its horror premise of what would happen if the video-tape in The Ring was a STD; The Salvation was a midnight favorite, a throwback western starring the man everybody is mad for, Mads Mikkelsen; White God won Un Certain Regard thanks to its large cast consisting of dogs; Bird People wowed some critics with its hotel drama setting and an apparent odd plot turn; and Zhang Yimou brought over Coming Home, his Chinese spin of Random Harvest.

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