It feels like spring is the best time to be a cinema lover: the Oscars and all the attendant politicking and campaigning are in the rear-view mirror and the noisy blockbuster summer has not yet kicked into gear. In this mood of thankfulness, our thoughts tend to turn to Cannes aka Cinephile Christmas in May, as we start to wonder which of our Most Anticipated 2017 titles might show up on the Croisette. So while it’s still a way off, seeing as anticipation is almost as enjoyable as the festival itself, we’re bringing you this early list of the films we hope most will make it into the selection this year. If even half of these titles show up, it could be a Cannes for the ages — which is a crazy thought considering just how excellent last year’s lineup was.
The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 11-22.
“Dunkirk” (Christopher Nolan)
Synopsis: The epic story of the famous WWII evacuation, told via three perspectives — land, sea and sky — but just the One Direction.
What You Need To Know: The casting of popstar Harry Styles may be the most click-baity of “Dunkirk”‘s attributes, but it shouldn’t distract from what sounds like a sprawling, ambitious and serious-minded wartime epic, from Nolan, a director who knows a thing or two about balancing blockbuster scale with art house intelligence. Starring Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance, and apparently featuring more than 100 minutes of IMAX footage, the film is certainly freighted with enough anticipation that it might be an attractive proposition for the festival. But whether Nolan, who has never brought a movie to the Croisette, is up for it, and whether studio Warners will want to pursue this strategy when the July 21st release date is still a ways away, is harder to say. Nolan hasn’t bowed at a major festival since “Memento“‘s Venice premiere in 2000, so it might be less a hard prediction than a fervent hope, but there are few 2017 Hollywood movies we’d rather see sneak in for a preview gala here.
“Okja” (Bong Joon-ho)
Synopsis: A young girl risks her life to save her best friend — a huge animal called Okja — from falling into the clutches of a sinister multinational science corporation.
What You Need To Know: The Oscars were a proving ground for the Netflix vs Amazon debate (we discussed it here) but as far as festivals go, the next bout in that contest will be Cannes. And the biggest title involved is Beloved Korean genre master Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi/adventure/creature feature. Bong brought his last-but-one picture, “Mother,” to the Un Certain Regard sidebar and his rising profile since then, plus the cast of Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and Lily Collins among others, not to mention the presence of Darius Khondji as DP, would seem to make this a good bet for a promotion. But the film is a Netflix production (it will go day-and-date on June 26th), and with Cannes director Thierry Fremaux subtly shading the streaming giant last year when he praised Amazon, who supplied no fewer than 5 Official Selection titles, on the foot of Netflix honcho Ted Sarandos getting heckled the year before, that’s the major question mark. If it does show, it could mark the opening of the floodgates, and either way, it’s one of our most anticipated films of the year.
“Happy End” (Michael Haneke)
Synopsis: An ensemble drama centering on a Calais family that becomes embroiled in the refugee crisis unfolding in the city.
What You Need To Know: Not only is the great, chilly Austrian maestro’s next film more or less a lock for a competition slot in Cannes, if and when it is announced it’s unlikely you’ll find many bookies willing to offer any kind of odds against it winning the Palme. It would be an unprecedented third Palme d’Or for Haneke, for an even more unprecedented third consecutive film, (prior winners “Amour” and “The White Ribbon” being his last two movies) but with this hot-topic subject matter, and with it reuniting the director and his “Amour” stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, it simply has to be the early favorite. Matthieu Kassovitz also stars, in a film that Haneke veteran Huppert described as closest in tone to “Code Unknown” in that it’s a broad ensemble piece, less psychological than “factual” in which “the aim is that everyone who sees it will be able to create their own film.” All of which sounds very intriguing and very promising, even if we can more or less guarantee that the title is meant ironically.
“Wonderstruck” (Todd Haynes)
Synopsis: In 1927, a young deaf girl plots an escape to meet her actress idol, while fifty years later, a young boy runs away to New York to find his father and encounters the deaf girl as an older woman.
What You Need To Know: Two years ago, Haynes lit up the Croisette with the glorious “Carol,” (having also brought “Velvet Goldmine” to the Competition and premiered “Safe” in Directors’ Fortnight). His new film is based on the book by Brian Selznick (who also wrote the novel on which “Hugo” was based). It looks to be ready and comes from the Cannes-friendly Amazon stable – and, it has just as wonderful a cast, including frequent collaborator, Julianne Moore (“Far From Heaven,” “Safe”) and Michelle Williams. So, we cannot imagine he won’t be back. Haynes has proven himself a master at lush, period-set dramas that homage classic forms like melodrama or romance while also living entirely in their own emotional terms. In “Wonderstruck”, he may be taking this facility to its most ambitious extreme yet: half the film will be delivered as a silent movie, the better to emulate the experience of its lead character, played by newcomer deaf actress Millicent Simmonds. Haynes is a genius, and we can’t wait.
“The Beguiled” (Sofia Coppola)
Synopsis: In Civil War-riven Virginia, a wounded Union soldier is taken in to recuperate in the all-female surroundings of a cloistered school for young ladies.
What You Need To Know: We didn’t think there was anything that could make us more excited for Sofia Coppola’s hotly anticipated return to the big screen than the news that her eerie Gothic story of repressed sexuality and female envy (which was previously filmed by Clint Eastwood) stars Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell. But there was: this trailer. Every second Coppola feature film has played in Cannes since “The Virgin Suicides” bowed in Directors’ Fortnight – “Marie Antoinette” in the main Competition and “The Bling Ring” in Un Certain Regard. By that logic, if we’re counting the disappointing “A Very Murray Christmas,” she’s due back again, and we cannot but believe that with this cast and this exceptional-looking production design and cinematography (from “The Grandmaster” DP Philippe Le Sourd) she’ll be in the main line-up again, prior to the film’s June 23rd release.
“Euphoria” (Lisa Langseth)
Synopsis: Two feuding sisters reunite while on a journey to a mystery destination.
What You Need To Know: Not everyone fell in love with Alicia Vikander in costume drama “A Royal Affair” — some of us were already smitten having caught up with her turn in Swedish director Langseth’s 2010 debut “Pure.” This reunion will actually be their third collaboration, with the brilliant, stupidly underseen “Hotel” coming in between. And although Vikander has since won an Oscar and become a huge Hollywood star, it’s arguable whether her talents align with any director’s sensibilities as well as they do with Langseth’s. The skimpy outline provided here suggests Langseth will be working in the same finely observed, psychologically rich and deeply characterful vein she has mined to date. The director, who also works in theater, has not previously been to Cannes, in fact her only major festival appearance was in Toronto with “Hotel,” so it’s possible that “Euphoria” could be held for a fall bow instead. With Vikander such a draw, not to mention the never-not-fascinating Eva Green on board, and greats Charlotte Rampling and Charles Dance in support, we’re hoping Cannes will do itself and us the favor of inviting her this year.
“The Square” (Ruben Östlund)
Synopsis: An art experiment that invites public participation and is set up in the town square of a major European city, gets out of hand.
What You Need To Know: Master of scathingly satirical yet intimate morality plays, Ruben Östlund came to major attention when he won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize for the terrific, bitingly funny “Force Majeure,” but that was actually his third film to have debuted in the sidebar, after 2008’s “Involuntary” and 2011’s “Play.” He has certainly done his time there and would surely be hotly tipped for a promotion to the main competition even if his new film, his first in English, didn’t have such a choice cast. Elisabeth Moss, who will soon be quietly blowing everyone’s mind in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” stars alongside Dominic West and Terry Notary — best known as a mo-cap artist and choreographer on pretty much every major film to use motion-capture technology, including “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Kong: Skull Island.” Östlund got as far as pitching stage for the recent “Passengers,” but though no doubt his version would have been much better than the damp squib we got, we’re happy his return to our screens will be more directly attuned to his uniquely skewed vision as a writer/director.
“Logan Lucky” (Steven Soderbergh)
Synopsis: Two brothers plan a heist at a NASCAR rally.
What You Need To Know: Soderbergh is so much a part of the American independent cinema scene that it can be easy to forget that he’s Cannes royalty too — having picked up the Palme d’Or for his debut feature, “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” Soderbergh went on to premiere a further five films there, culminating in 2013’s wonderful “Behind the Candelabra.” While “Logan Lucky,” with its August 18th release and massive cast, feels more in line with the director’s more commercial movies, it pays to remember that even “Ocean’s Thirteen” did actually play in an out of competition slot here, so an appearance for this new heist movie, which sounds a little grittier and more hard-boiled than that glossy caper, is very much in the cards. Especially with that aforementioned massive cast — featuring (in order of increasing WTF) Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Katherine Waterston, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank, Macon Blair, Sebastian Stan, Katie Holmes, Katherine Heigl, Seth MacFarlane and Jim O’Heir (Gerry from “Parks & Rec”) it’s a starry, eclectic ensemble that could not only dazzle the red carpet, it pretty much provides its own crowd.
“How To Talk To Girls At Parties” (John Cameron Mitchell)
Synopsis: An alien touring the galaxy breaks away from her group and meets two young inhabitants of the most dangerous place in the universe: the London suburb of Croydon.
What You Need To Know: The other Nicole Kidman/Elle Fanning movie aside from Sofia Coppola‘s “The Beguiled” (see above) looks to be very different in setting and story, though possibly not in darkish sensibility, being as this is based on a Neil Gaiman short story. Even more excitingly, it marks the return to direction for John Cameron Mitchell who has been away too long since his last film, which also starred Kidman, “Rabbit Hole.” That wrenching but somewhat dour drama itself marked an abrupt about-face from the sexually adventurous and progressive films that really made his name — the gloriously queer “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and the just-plain-glorious “Shortbus.” The latter of those premiered in an Out of Competition slot in Cannes in 2006, so that’s what we’re basing our hopes on here, as well as the fact that Kidman and Fanning are very likely to be making the trip anyway. Otherwise the punky, spiky, sci-fi-inflected premise could sound more like a fall festival premiere, but we’re hoping prior form will prevail here and we’ll get to see the undervalued Mitchell take a step up in profile.
“Untitled Detroit Riots Project” (Kathryn Bigelow)
Synopsis: Drama set during the 1967 12th Street Riots in Detroit, which were sparked when a police raid on a bar led to the arrest of 82 black men, and lasted for five days of unrest.
What You Need To Know: Cannes does not have, and has not earned, a good reputation in the area of female representation. And with increasing scrutiny given to the number of female directors included in its line-up each year, getting the premiere of the long-awaited new film from the only woman to have won a Best Director Oscar would be a coup on several levels. Her Detroit Riots picture promises topicality, her trademark restrained, muscular intelligence (it’s penned by her “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” screenwriter Mark Boal) as well as a canny cast. It features rising stars like Jason Mitchell, Kaitlyn Dever and Jacob Latimore, alongside more seasoned young actors such as Will Poulter, Jack Reynor and Anthony Mackie and most crucially, features the first post-‘Star Wars‘ role for John Boyega. Bigelow has never been to Cannes before (“The Hurt Locker” bowed in Venice) but with an August 4th release date slated by Annapurna, we have to believe a berth is hers for the taking.