Cannes 2016: A Fantastic Year of Films to Remember - My 7 Favorites
by Alex Billington
May 25, 2016
What are the best films out of this year's Cannes Film Festival? Which ones should you be taking an interest in? What are the priorities? After 12 days at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, after 28 screenings, it's time to present my 2016 list of my Top 7 Favorite Films. I love Cannes and this year it was a particularly fantastic year of films, with so many that will stick with me well beyond the festival. Many of these will be well received outside of the festival, too. Jim Jarmusch's Paterson is already one of my all-time favorites, seriously, it's a perfect film and I went to see it twice because I'm so in love with it. There are many others worth checking out, and this is my final recap of the festival (with a full list of all the films I saw at the end).
I won't delay any further with my Top 7 films of Cannes 2016, 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. Paterson - Directed by Jim Jarmusch
This poetic film is so beautiful and so inspiring. It's perfect and I mean that, I wouldn't change a thing about it. I wrote in my glowing review: "A perfect film is the kind where, as I'm watching it, every next scene must be as amazing as the one before it. There can't be any slip ups, or moments that feel out of character, or any big twists that take anyway from what came before. Paterson is one of those films." Adam Driver plays a bus driver in the town of Paterson, New Jersey and just so happens to be a brilliant poet, but keeps these poems to himself. The adorable dog in the photo above is one of the key parts of the story. I was so inspired by the film seeing it a second time that I wrote a poem about it on Twitter (reposted below). It's easily one of my favorite films of the year. "Like a great poem, Jim Jarmusch's Paterson makes the simple feel cosmic."
We watch, we observe.
Chess. A bulldog. Golshifteh. Love, undisputed.
Tears for perfection. Aha.
This now belongs to the world.
#2. American Honey - Directed by Andrea Arnold
This film captures a side of Americana we rarely see shown in this way. Meaning, it's about a group of wild, party-every-night youngsters who live motel to motel selling crappy magazines to whoever they can sucker into buying them. But instead of showing how horrible or how shady or how wrong this is, Andrea Arnold captures this really lovely sense of joy and freedom and an unabashed love for life. The film almost has this musical-esque quality to it, with a gritty soundtrack that adds so much as the group will host energetic dance parties no matter where they are. Sasha Lane is the breakout star, playing a woman named "Star", and she's matched by Shia LaBeouf, who actually gives an impressive performance as a guy she falls for. I was a big fan of Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank at Cannes 2009, but this is her going even further to show how talented she is at capturing the fascinating lives of people most of us completely ignore (or even despise).
#3. The Red Turtle - Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit
This animated film is very simple but is full of so much life and is very moving. It's one of a couple films at Cannes that made me cry, thanks in part to the wonderful score by Laurent Perez Del Mar. It's an example of how much emotion a score can add. Co-produced by Studio Ghibli, with artistic development work by Isao Takahata, the animated film is entirely dialogue free and tells the story of a man who washes up on a desert island. Every time he tries to escape his raft is destroyed by a red turtle, which he one day discovers washed up on the beach. I wrote in my review: "The Red Turtle is actually an allegory for living a meaningful life and allowing our emotions to play a part in that life. It shows us how to connect, how to care for and how to love each other in simplest of ways. No need for unnecessary complexity or overly complicated situations to deal with, instead this film is capable of being poignant by telling a story of man on an island."
#4. Elle - Directed by Paul Verhoeven
This film is so twisted and devious and crazy and it's going to piss off a lot of people! But damn is it great. Paul Verhoeven returns with a drama about a powerful woman who runs a video game company, Michelle played by Isabelle Huppert. What makes this film so outstanding is the way it juggles different genres (thriller, suspense, drama) and extremely controversial issues like rape and empowerment and sexuality. Huppert totally, totally owns this role and if she wasn't as badass as she is, it wouldn't have worked as well as it does. She makes it outstanding. It's also a dark comedy, meaning it's just as amusing and entertaining to watch as it is discomforting, and that's challenging to pull off, but Verhoeven pulls it off. Maybe it played so well at Cannes because it's a very French film, thanks to Huppert but also because it has liberal French sensibilities. It's also just a helluva film that will divide audiences and is worth seeing for that reason alone.
#5. The Cinema Travelers - Directed by Shirley Abraham & Amit Madheshiya
I love this documentary! It's the best thing since Cinema Paradiso when it comes to capturing the power of cinema and the way film can be a transformative experience. The Cinema Travelers is a documentary from India profiling a traveling 35mm movie theater, which shows classic Indian films to people that don't even have electricity in their homes. The cinematography is stunning, the footage they capture is awe-inspiring, and it's a mesmerizing and magical film to experience. They eventually profile a projector repairman and get deep into the discussion on digital conversion, showing once again how projecting film is becoming a dying art. I mentioned this in my rave review: "One of my favorite parts of this documentary is when the film finally starts, instead of showing actual footage of people watching, they switch over to these amazing photographs. You get to see the joy captured on the faces of these people watching these films. And you get to spend just a second or two with them, wondering what it would be like if you were sitting next to them."
#6. Clash - Directed by Mohamed Diab
Clash is a film set entirely inside the back of a police paddywagon in Egypt during their recent revolution. The filmmaking is extremely impressive because it shows so much both inside and outside the truck, and addresses so many topics about politics and Egypt through this intimate story of various people arrested and thrown inside. I wrote in my review: "The amount of effort it must've taken to coordinate all of this activity outside while keeping the various actors inside choreographed and on-script is baffling and mesmerizing. It reminded me, in a way, of just how impressive Son of Saul is with its background activity. On top of all that, the visuals are fantastic. Not only do fires rage outside, and various lights flicker and flash, but bright green laser pointers cut through the smoke from every direction." I'm so glad I caught this film, it's damn good.
#7. One Week and a Day - Directed by Asaph Polonsky
There's nothing else like this out there - it's a real gem that you'll be happy to discover. One Week and a Day is an enjoyable Israeli stoner comedy - that should be enough of a pitch to grab the attention of a few people. It's about the parents of a twenty-something son who just passed away from cancer. The dad, played by Shai Avivi, discovers his son's bag of medicinal marijuana and that's when things get goofy. It's a film about grieving and death, but very heartfelt and humorous because it's about how comedy and getting into trouble can be a fun way of letting go and alleviating the pain. It takes a bit to get going, but once he fails in his attempts to roll a joint it's the kind of film you can't help feeling good about watching. By the end it resonates even more and connects deeply with anyone struggling to overcome a loss. Highly recommended.
Two other films I have to mention as runner-ups: David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water, which is much better than anyone expected. It's fast paced and never slows down, plus it's remarkably funny, making it very enjoyable to watch. There's an impressive balance between the good and bad sides of the story in a complex screenplay about modern bank robbers in Texas. Maybe it's not a big surprise as I loved David Mackenzie's Starred Up and I know he's a very talented director. I also want to mention Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, which I kind of loved (read my review) even though critics at the first screening were so angry they yelled at the screen when the credits started rolling. It's twisted but totally intoxicating.
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 28 films I saw at Cannes 2016, below I present my complete list of all the films I screened and my feeling on each one. The big one I missed that everyone is talking about is Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann, and I plan to see it as soon as I can. I also really want to see the Un Certain Regard winner The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (a black & white boxing film) from Juho Kuosmanen. I hate Sean Penn's The Last Face as much as everyone else, it's terrible. And I was disappointment by Xavier Dolan's latest, even though Mommy was my favorite of Cannes 2014. My list:
Alex's Cannes 2016 Films:
(Pre). The Nice Guys (dir. Shane Black) - Liked It
(Pre). The Cinema Travelers (dirs. Shirley Abraham & Amit Madheshiya) - Loved It
1. Cafe Society (dir. Woody Allen) - Just Okay
2. Money Monster (dir. Jodie Foster) - Liked It
3. I, Daniel Blake (dir. Ken Loach) - Liked It
4. Mean Dreams (dir. Nathan Morlando) - Loved It
5. Clash (dir. Mohamed Diab) - Loved It
6. Neruda (dir. Pablo Larraín) - Just Okay
7. Train to Busan (dir. Sang-ho Yeon) - Liked It
8. The Handmaiden (dir. Chan-wook Park) - Liked It
9. The BFG (dir. Steven Spielberg) - Just Okay
10. The Transfiguration (dir. Michael O'Shea) - Just Okay
11. American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold) - Loved It
12. One Week and a Day (dir. Asaph Polonsky) - Loved It
13. Paterson (dir. Jim Jarmusch) - LOVED It
14. Loving (dir. Jeff Nichols) - Loved It
15. Apprentice (dir. Junfeng Boo) - Just Okay
16. Hell or High Water (dir. David Mackenzie) - Loved It
17. Personal Shopper (dir. Olivier Assayas) - Hated It
18. Captain Fantastic (dir. Matt Ross) - Loved It
19. The Unknown Girl (dirs. Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne) - Liked It
20. The Red Turtle (dir. Michael Dudok de Wit) - Loved It
21. It's Only the End of the World (dir. Xavier Dolan) - Just Okay
22. Graduation (dir. Cristian Mungiu) - Just Okay
23. The Neon Demon (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn) - Loved It
24. The Last Face (dir. Sean Penn) - Hated It
25. Risk (dir. Laura Poitras) - Just Okay
26. The Salesman (dir. Asghar Farhadi) - Loved It
27. Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven) - Loved It
28. Paterson (dir. Jim Jarmusch) - LOVED It
And that's it for Cannes 2016, wrapping up our coverage of the festival. Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake won the Palme d'Or - find the full list of 2016 awards winners here. My coverage is finishing up with this list and a few more reviews/interviews on the way. I'm very much looking forward to returning to Cannes next year, it's one of my favorite festivals and I enjoy going back to dive deep into the latest that cinema has to offer.