Best Of Cannes 2021: 15 Must-See Movies From The Festival

Well, that’s a wrap on the 2021 Cannes Film Festival; 56 reviews and counting (there might be one or two more stragglers to come, but we are basically done). It was a pretty great festival and strong year despite the COVID-19 protocol confusion, those changing rules, and Spike Lee spoiling the Palme d’Or prize early (Spike!!).

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2021 was a strong year, and perhaps that’s not a surprise since films like Wes Anderson‘s “The French Dispatch,” Paul Verhoven‘s “Benedetta,” and other movies basically waited an entire year waiting for the global pandemic to subside so they could premiere under optimal conditions. Essentially, it was a year of holdovers and leftovers (though not warmed over), ready to go, waiting in the wings for things to be ok and there was a vast amount of films.

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While quality ranged for certain auteurs (Desplechin, Bruno Dumont), where some filmmakers waivered, others were stronger than ever and sometimes unexpectedly son. Wes Anderson was back in great form, so was Joanna Hogg (who should have been in competition frankly, but arcane rules are arcane rules), Ari Folman, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Sean Baker, and newer filmmakers like Kirill Serebrennikov and Tatiana Huezo showed the world they were ones to watch. Of course, for the second time ever, a woman won the Palme d’Or prize, Julia Ducournau, for her batshit transgressive, “Titane,” and while it’s about time and we’re lagging behind, that’s something worth celebrating. We saw over 50 films! Here’s the best of the best (more or less), primarily (but not solely) based on the grades given by our reviewers and their enthusiasm for the films. Bonne chance when you catch up with these films later in the year, and you totally should! – Rodrigo Perez

READ MORE: Did The 2022 Oscar Season Kickoff In Cannes With ‘Titane’? Well…

after yang, Cannes

After Yang
As huge fans of Kogonada’s debut feature “Columbus,” “After Yang” was high on our anticipation radar, and we are happy to report that the tremendously talented video essayist’s second film does not disappoint. A soft sci-fi tale about a world affected by the advent of ‘technosapiens,’ “After Yang” follows a father (Colin Farrell) struggling to repair his family’s robot babysitter, Yang (Justin H. Min), who has become a friend/caretaker to Farrell’s adopted Asian daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). Adapted from Alexander Weinstein’s short story “Saying Goodbye To Yang” (from the outstanding 2016 collection, Children of the New World) “After Yang,” is like a cross between Philip K. Dick and Yasujiro Ozu, “a soulful and heartbreaking meditation on impermanence full of poignant wonder and riches of human grace.” – Review by Rodrigo Perez [A]

Filmed entirely at the eye level of a “Cow” (complete with tilts and pans to see what the animal sees), director Andrea Arnold’s documentary refrains from using any fancy editing tricks, content instead to let the mother cow and daughter calf’s simple everyday existences’ speak for themselves. Back at Cannes 5 years after premiering the road epic “American Honey” and returning to the world of television for a time with “Big Little Lies,” her latest is a quiet change of pace from her recent social-driven dramas, instead addressing “interesting and difficult questions regarding the limits between anthropomorphism on-screen and animal rights — or the lack thereof.” – Review by Elena Lazic [B+]

Drive My Car
Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow-up to the agonizing romance “Asako I & II” takes a page out of Korean auteur Lee Chang-dong’s recent Cannes success with “Burning,” taking a Haruki Murakami short story—in this case, “Drive My Car” from the 2014 collection Men Without Women—and morphing it into an enterprising screen odyssey. Winner of the fest’s Best Screenplay award, “Hamaguchi has crafted a rich, skilfully layered masterwork with flawless performances and a script that is a screenwriter’s holy grail. It sticks in your brain for days and nudges you to take it in again. How many three-hour films can you say that of? Not enough, frankly.” Review by Gregory Ellwood [A-]

The French Dispatch
Unless you’re not a Wes Anderson fan, you probably don’t need us to sell you on “The French Dispatch,” the Houston-born filmmaker’s magazine-inspired anthology project. Featuring a cast so loaded it would exhaust our entire word count, plus Anderson’s usual symmetry-obsessed meticulousness, the witty American auteur could be accused of being caught in artistic show-off mode, were he not so damned good at what he does. Those turned off by his particular creative methodologies (finely honed via ‘Grand Budapest Hotel and “Isle of Dogs”) won’t find him in a new mode here, rather, unapologetically committing to what he does best. As our fearless correspondent reported from her trusty typewriter, with “The French Dispatch,” “Mr. Anderson has found a close-to-ideal structure that flatters his mercurial, omnivorous tastes but also gets him out of any one storyline before its convolutions can convolute too much.” Review by Jessica Kiang [A-]

Hit the Road
While Cannes royalty Asghar Farhadi walked away with a Grand Prix prize for “A Hero” to add to his trophy case full of deserved accolades, we were even more taken by Iranian filmmaker Panah Panahi (son of acclaimed director Jafar Panahi) debut feature “Hit the Road” – the opening long take from the movie alone so stirring that it would still rank as one of our favorites of the fest, were it to cut to black when the sequence ends. Taking place over a tedious road trip, Panahi’s film is mainly made up of back seat bickering, “energized and raised to the level of genuine comedy by the youngest son (Rayan Sarlak)… constantly bouncing within the confines of the car.” The movie contrasts the boy’s innocent questioning with protective fervor of his father’s (Hassan Madjooni) real-world frustrations, crafting an emotionally heartfelt odyssey about overcoming pain to shield your family from it. Review by Elena Lazic [A]