From the World - My 8 Favorite Films at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival
by Alex Billington
May 28, 2018
What are the best films out of this year's Cannes Film Festival? Which ones should you be taking an interest in? What films should be a priority for you to see? After 12 days at the 71st Cannes Film Festival, after 33 screenings, it's time to present my 2018 list of my Top 8 Favorite Films. This was my 9th time back to this festival, and I love being there in the middle of all, committing fully to seeing as many films as I can. These eight listed below are the ones that I adore, that connected with me emotionally or intellectually, and I hope everyone plans to check them out when they arrive in their neighborhood. They are worth the wait. There were many outstanding films this year, and this is my final recap of the 2018 festival - see all of these.
I was lucky to catch a total of 33 films at Cannes this year (my full list here) Along with the films highlighted below, another one of my favorites is Arctic, a snowy one-man survival thriller from director Joe Penna starring Mads Mikkelsen. I wrote a glowing review about this one already, and while I seriously enjoyed it, it's not on this list. These favorites below are some of the finest works of cinema from around the world. I saw the Palme d'Or winner Shoplifters, but didn't love it as much as other critics. It's good, but I don't think it's Kore-eda's best, though I'm glad he won anyway - he deserves it for all of his films. My least favorite of 2018: Under the Silver Lake, Sorry Angel, Angel Face, and The House That Jack Built. They're not even worth discussing, even though I do have plenty to complain about. I'd rather focus on the positive, and talk about the films I did love, that I can't forget about, all of the ones that have inspired me to speak my mind.
I won't delay any further with my Top 8 films of Cannes 2018, 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:
Climax - Directed by Gaspar Noé
Gaspar Noé's latest film is not as controversial or as abstract as his past work, it's really more of a dance films meets horror film. And that's about it. Along with Noé's usual flair for style and techno music, it makes for an exciting and mesmerizing art house cinema experience. I already explained in my full review why I love this film, and the more I think about it, this stands out as one of my favorites - even if there isn't much more to say about it than I love the dance choreography in the film, by Nina McNeely. Climax is the first film I saw at this year's festival that gave me that very visceral feeling of "THIS is why I love coming to the Cannes Film Festival!!" The glory of unique cinematic artistic expression. This film isn't going to impress everyone, and maybe I enjoyed it more than I should because I saw it in the context of Cannes, but there's something about it that has stayed in my mind. Maybe I wish I could dance as good as them. Maybe I enjoy watching a film that is purely artistic in concept and execution, and isn't all about the messages or politics.
Summer (Leto) - Directed by Kirill Serebrennikov
This black & white Russian movie set during the 1980s has much more to offer than it might seem. Leto, which translates to Summer, is a film about a couple of punk rock musicians from Russia who struggled with their desire for freedom at a time when Russia was still not so free. It's a lighter film about their lives as musicians in Leningrad, not so heavy on the politics though they're certainly lingering in the background. The film reminds me of Inside Llewyn Davis, one of my favorites from Cannes 2013, but it also has the energy and vibe of Edgar Wright's music-infused directing. There's a few awesome scenes where they break out into song and the frames feature hand-drawn animation worked right into the scenes, and I am still enamored by how exciting and entertaining these vignettes are in the film. These scenes are honestly why this film has remained one of my favorites from Cannes this year after catching the film very early on at the festival. It's an underrated indie gem and deserves to break out and find a big audience outside of Europe.
Girl - Directed by Lukas Dhont
This might be my #1 favorite film of Cannes 2018. It's perfect. Well, near perfect. And even more incredible when you learn it's Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont's first feature - he went on to win the Camera d'Or (awarded to the best first film) and an award for Best Performance in the Un Certain Regard section. Victor Polster plays a young trans woman named Lara, who aspires to be a ballerina. It's a remarkably assured directorial debut, a beautiful yet emotionally devastating story about the struggles of a trans woman, and a captivating film with gorgeous cinematography throughout. This had me right from the start, and by the end I was raving about it and telling everyone to go see it. And I am sure I won't stop raving about it, because damn it's an outstanding film. Girl is worthy of being heralded as an exceptional debut but also a film that carefully shows how much trans people suffer, while showing there are good people who unconditionally support them. It's not a film about hate at all, it's a film about love, and I most certainly fell in love with it.
The World is Yours (Le monde est à toi) - Directed by Romain Gavras
One of the best gangster comedies in years (think Snatch meets Spring Breakers with some serious French attitude), and an amazingly entertaining film from French director Romain Gavras, delivering his second feature. This is one you'll want to get in on and watch before anyone else does, so you can say you saw it first and loved it first before it eventually explodes into a worldwide hit. The World is Yours is about a Parisian small-time drug kingpin who still operates under the watchful eye of his mother, an even more iconic drug kingpin played by Isabelle Adjani. He decides to break free and get out with one final job, making this a sort of gangster coming-of-age film, but things go awry (as they always do). He still recovers and figures out how to get things back on track, and this whole experience is amusing to watch. Gavras brings his music video flair and style, and music knowledge, to make it even more enjoyable. This is definitely one to watch.
Dogman - Directed by Matteo Garrone
Dogman is an Italian film about a humble, quiet dog groomer who gets back at a bully terrorizing a small town. And it's just perfect the way it is. Much of the criticism for this film is that it's not as "profound" or as deep as Matteo Garrone's past work (e.g. Reality, Gomorrah, Tale of Tales), but that doesn't really matter. Dogman is a character study with some political undertones, and it's about this one guy being awesome and loving dogs. Seriously, what more could I ask for? He saves a dog in one of the opening scenes, and spends most of his time taking care of various pooches when not dealing drugs or getting beat up. Marcello Fonte is excellent as Marcello, making this character feel lovable and a little squirmy. He won the prestigious Best Actor Award at Cannes for his performance, deservedly so. And the film won the Palm Dog 2018, an award for the best dog(s) in a Cannes film. If you're a fellow dog lover like me, add this one to your list to watch.
Border (Gräns) - Directed by Ali Abbasi
The most "WTF did I just watch?!" film of Cannes 2018, and yet also one of the best genre films of the year. It's so good, and so crazy, and so absurd, and so much fun. Border is a totally wacky Swedish film adapted from a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the writer of the cult hit Let the Right One In, who also co-wrote the screenplay. He takes this one as far down the genre road as that film, and really gives audiences something gnarly and completely original to chew on. I don't want to give away the big reveal in Border, but that's the best part - once you learn about what's going on, they keep pushing it further. They go there, and then they go there, and then holy shit, they GO THERE and yes, it happens, and it's disgusting and yet you can't look away. Why! WHY?! But oh yes. I can't believe this film was made and that they went as far as they did, and yet it still has this very sweet, charming side to it. It's a weird, one-of-a-kind, instant cult classic.
Capharnaüm - Directed by Nadine Labaki
THIS FILM. This film should've won the Palme d'Or. It was 100% my pick, and it deserved to win. Nadine Labaki has crafted an incredible, jaw-dropping film about the lives of impoverished children in Lebanon. She asks provocative questions that no one has ever asked in this way before: is having children really a good idea? Are we doing anything about parents who treat their children like crap? Parents who sell them off for money? Why do we give them a pass and say good job for having a kid? The concept is this: the film opens with a 12-year-old boy suing his parents in a court in Lebanon. It then drifts back into an extended flashback showing his life at home, and how horrible his parents are to him, and how he escapes and runs around the city living on the streets with other kids. Capharnaüm, which has been retitled Capernaum in English, is one of the finest films of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and will hopefully go on to win numerous awards all over the world. It's the kind of eye-opening, extraordinary film Cannes is known for discovering.
The Wild Pear Tree (Ahlat Agaci) - Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The more I watch from Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the more I love him. And his films. This one is honestly a hard sell - the film is three hours long and features numerous, lengthy scenes of philosophical dialogue. But that's what is so brilliant and endearing about it. Ceylan is a master of dialogue. The way he lets the conversations flow (perhaps not realistically but cinematically they're entrancing) and the topics they talk about, they light up the fire in my mind unlike anything else. They make me think about life, and what it all means, and why we're here, and what we're doing. The Wild Pear Tree seems to be Ceylan digging very deep and confronting his own dilemma - being a filmmaker, an artist, who makes work that few people enjoy. But he has to keep at it, he has to keep going, he has to create and express and speak his mind (and let his characters speak for him) even if there is nothing at the end. This film is poetic and very intellectual, and if you let yourself get lost in it, you may find that there's so much important wisdom being offered here.
A few other films I want to mention even though they weren't my favorite. While I didn't care for the first half of it, Bi Gan's film Long Day's Journey Into Night ends with a mesmerizing 3D one-hour long take dream sequence that is breathtaking and extraordinary. See it just for this sequence, even if the first half is too confusing to make sense of it. Next up, Spike Lee's Grand-Prix-winning BlacKkKlansman is a riot, a masterful dark comedy meets social commentary meets true story about racism in America. It's a must see even if not perfect, mostly because it's Spike Lee expressing his anger in the best way possible - with fierce filmmaking. Finally, I loved Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story. I watched this movie at Cannes in the Debussy theater where I see all these other masterpieces. It was loud, it was awesome, it was exciting, I felt like a kid again, I had a blast. The action is totally incredible and the romantic core of the story got me.
And that's it for Cannes 2018, wrapping up our coverage of the festival. Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters won the Palme d'Or - find the full list of 2018 awards winners here. My coverage is finishing up with this list and additional trailers on the way. I'm very much looking forward to returning to Cannes next year, it's one of my favorite festivals and I always enjoy going back to get introduced to the latest that cinema has to offer.