Cannes 2014: My Top Films of the Festival - 'Mommy' & 'Foxcatcher'
by Alex Billington
May 26, 2014
What are the best films of the festival? Which ones should you be taking an interest in? What should you see? After 12 days at the 67th Cannes Film Festival, after 25 films, it's time to present my 2014 list of my Top 5 Favorite Films. Every year I go back to Cannes, it's genuinely exciting to find out what there is to discover, to wake up every day knowing you may see something breathtaking, or terrible, or hilarious, or moving, or something that will change us forever. This year I was introduced to a few new filmmakers, saw the latest film from many old ones, and caught a glimpse of the future of cinema. Now it's time to introduce everyone else to Xavier Dolan, Ruben Ostlund and the Dardenne Brothers. Let's get right into this list now.
I won't delay any further with my Top 5 films of Cannes 2014, as these are the films that I loved the most, or left the greatest impact on me, and they all deserve to gain recognition outside of France. My favorites are:
#1. Mommy - Directed by Xavier Dolan
After I was first introduced to Xavier Dolan at Cannes 2010 with his second feature (Heartbeats), the Quebecois filmmaker has returned to Cannes this year with his fifth feature - titled Mommy. As goofy as that title may sound, this film is incredible. I already raved about it in my 10/10 review, but it takes the #1 spot because it was the most exhilarating experience I had in Cannes. The film is about a mother (Anne Dorval) trying to raise a wild ADHD teen (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) in a fictional Canada (explained in the film), and it's presented in a 1:1 format, like Instagram. But there is a scene where it briefly opens up to widescreen and in that moment I truly felt completely and totally in awe, realizing then and there that I was part of the way through watching a masterpiece. Everything about it: it's visually striking, emotionally enriching, and thoroughly engaging, in every last beat that we follow in the life of this family. Dolan is only 25 years old, but he clearly represents the next generation of filmmakers pushing cinema forward. Bravo.
#2. Foxcatcher - Directed by Bennett Miller
As much as I've enjoyed director Bennett Miller's last two films (Capote and Moneyball), for whatever reason I wasn't expecting this one to impress me as much as it did. Miller, who also won Best Director at Cannes, tells a very fascinating story about two gold-medal-winning wrestling brothers, David and Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. The three lead performances, including Steve Carell as their coach and eventual murderer John du Pont, are exceptional and will certainly receive acclaim outside of the festival. But it's the story itself, and the decisions Miller makes in how to tell this story, that make this film so damn good. While set in the late 1980s, Foxcatcher subtly and smartly touches upon the contemporary concerns of the financial gap in our society, as well as talent vs. money. It's one of the few films that I would've happily watched a second time in the very same day, if I had the opportunity.
#3. Force Majeure (aka Turist) - Directed by Ruben Ostlund
This movie is awesome. The best discovery of Cannes 2014. I walked into this film knowing nothing about it or the filmmaker, and that's the best way to see it. While it's not as zany, if you love crazy fun ski movies like Hot Dog or Ski Patrol, Force Majeure is a brilliant modern take on that kind of ski movie comedy, but with added depth to the characters. It's actually much more of a dark comedy, following a family on a ski vacation in the French Alps that experiences a "close-call" with an avalanche. This changes the dynamics for the rest of their trip, and we watch as the husband and wife argue, the kids cry, and the snow fall amidst social chaos. It's so much fun, and there's nothing like watching a beautifully shot, Swedish dark comedy set in the Alps with a satisfying conclusion. We just posted the trailer for this, as I hope to bring attention to it.
#4. Two Days, One Night - Directed by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
The latest film from already-acclaimed Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Two Days, One Night stars the not-so-working-class-but-still-beautiful Marion Cotillard as a working-class woman about to lose her job, desperate to convince her co-workers to keep her on board. The Dardennes say more about our society and struggles with making money in only 90 minutes than most filmmakers can achieve in 3 hours. It's brisk, it gets right to the point, and it delivers, even if you figure out exactly where it's going to end early on. That's what is so great about it - the experience of watching Cotillard do what she has to do, and secretly cheering at every victory, makes this an inspiring and entertaining watch. Even though, admittedly, it was my very first Dardenne Brothers film, I totally fell head over heels for it. I can't wait to explore more of their work after this and if anyone else needs an introduction these filmmakers, this isn't a bad film to begin with.
#5. The Rover - Directed by David Michod
The more I think back to this film, the more it grows on me. It is very simple: a man in a crime-ridden, post-apocalyptic Australian outback just wants to get his stolen car back. Guy Pearce plays that man, and it's set in a dirty post-apoc Mad Max-esque wasteland, where the violence is visceral, the people are slimy, and everything is covered with a gritty dust. Similar to Drive, one of my favorite films of Cannes 2012, the power of The Rover is in its silence, and it uses that silence (and minimal dialogue) very effectively to convey so much, to speak loudly without being loud. The more I think about the story, as simple as it may be, the more I think about what wasn't said, and what director David Michod doesn't show us, the more I realize there's an immense depth to this that goes way beyond all the grit and grime on every person in it.
Two other films I have to mention as runner-ups: Zhang Yimou's Coming Home made me cry more than any other film at the festival, and the last shot is heartbreaking, but oh so beautiful. Not everyone will love it as much as I did, but it's made with love and will hopefully connect with others, too. On the flipside, Pascale Ferran's Bird People is not a good film, with two disjointed segments that lack substance, except for one scene in the second half. It might be my favorite scene of the fest, where a bird interacts with a Japanese man at a hotel. He paints images of the bird while she flaps around in his room, and the connection between the two is wonderful. Despite not liking the film much, I loved this scene and want to specifically mention it.
As always, these are just my own favorites, the ones that meant the most to me, and there are many more films from Cannes that other critics loved (and hated). To recap all 25 films I saw at Cannes 2014, below I present my complete list of all the films I screened and my feeling on each one. Yes, I saw the Ryan Gosling film (the most common question I was asked) and no, it was not that good. No, I didn't see The Tribe. But I did see the Palme d'Or winner Winter Sleep, and it was riveting and thought-provoking. I also saw two docs that I loved: Red Army and The Salt of the Earth. On the other hand, I saw and hated Jean Luc-Godard's Goodbye to Language and David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars. Old farts who have lost their way. My list:
Alex's Cannes 2014 Films:
1. Grace of Monaco (dir. Olivier Dahan) - Hated It
2. Girlhood (dir. Céline Sciamma) - Liked It
3. The Captive (dir. Atom Egoyan) - Liked It
4. Winter Sleep (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan) - Loved It
5. Red Army (dir. Gabe Polsky) - Loved It
6. The Rover (dir. David Michod) - Loved It
7. It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell) - Liked It
8. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (dir. Ned Benson) - Liked It
9. The Salvation (dir. Kristian Levring) - Liked It
10. Force Majeure (dir. Ruben Ostlund) - Loved It
11. Maps to the Stars (dir. David Cronenberg) - Hated It
12. Foxcatcher (dir. Bennett Miller) - Loved It
13. Bird People (dir. Pascale Ferran) - Just Okay
14. Two Days, One Night (dirs. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne) - Loved It
15. Coming Home (dir. Zhang Yimou) - Loved It
16. Lost River (dir. Ryan Gosling) - Just Okay
17. The Search (dir. Michel Hazanavicius) - Liked It
18. Mommy (dir. Xavier Dolan) - Loved It
19. The Salt of the Earth (dir. Wim Wenders) - Loved It
20. Alleluia (dir. Fabrice Du Welz) - Hated It
21. The Clouds of Sils Maria (dir. Olivier Assayas) - Liked It
22. White God (dir. Kornél Mundruczó) - Hated It
23. The Target (dir. Chang) - Just Okay
24. Mr. Turner (dir. Mike Leigh) - Hated It
25. Goodbye to Language (dir. Jean-Luc Godard) - Hated It
And that's it for Cannes 2014, wrapping up my coverage of this year's fest. Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep won the Palme d'Or - find the full list of awards winners here. My coverage will finalize with this list and a few more reviews/interviews on the way. I'm already looking forward to returning to Cannes next year, but that's a very long ways away and right now I just want to get some much-needed rest back at home.