I had the misfortune of missing out on this year's Cannes Film Festival, and while I usually prefer Berlinale's chilly pleasures and the Mostra's replenishing sunshine, this year's roster made me think twice about my life choices. Thankfully, during a recent trip to Lyon, I got to catch several films during their French theatrical releases and during special Cannes retrospective screenings. It was during one of these screenings that I got to catch up with French filmmaker Céline Sciamma's fourth feature film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a breathtaking tour de force that is as mesmerizing on a stylistic level as it is rewarding on an emotional one.
Pixar's original Toy Story (1995) movie was a major milestone in filmmaking. It was nominated for three Oscars (Best Original Screenplay; Best Original Song; Best Original Score), and two Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical; Best Original Song). Director John Lasseter won a special achievement award from The Academy "for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film." Made by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures, Toy Story was a massive commercial success, launching toys (of course), video games, theme park attractions, spin-offs, and two fantastic sequels — Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Now, after creating the perfect animated trilogy, Pixar & Disney are extending – and perhaps concluding – the franchise with Toy Story 4, a very weird, melancholic epilogue to the series and to childhood itself.
Written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Byrne, the "Dark Phoenix" saga is one of the most enduring storylines in the history of Marvel Comics. First published in Uncanny X-Men #129-138 (1980), the iconic story follows Jean Grey's transformation from gifted mutant into a god-like cosmic entity known as the "Phoenix". In 2006, screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn adapted elements of the story for Brett Ratner's sequel X-Men: The Last Stand with mixed results. Now thirteen years later, Kinberg is taking another stab at adapting the classic tale with Dark Phoenix, the twelfth installment in Fox's seemingly-never-ending X-Men film series. A direct sequel to Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), the film is the final installment of the main X-Men saga after The Walt Disney Company's acquisition of 20th Century Fox.
In the aftermath of World War II, Japan's Toho Co., Ltd. assembled a team of filmmakers – co-writer and director Ishirō Honda, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, co-writer Takeo Murata, and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya – to create a new kind of movie monster. Originally conceived as a walking metaphor for nuclear annihilation, Godzilla roared onto screens in Honda's genre-defining 1954 masterpiece, Gojira. The film captured the imagination – and embodied the fears – of an entire nation. Now 65 years later, the Godzilla series is fully recognized by Guinness World Records as the longest running film franchise in history with a whopping 35 films starring the titular beast. The latest entry, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is the next chapter in Warner Bros Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' cinematic "MonsterVerse", following in the massive footsteps of Gareth Edwards' Godzilla (2014) and Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island (2017).
The latest film made by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Diao Yinan (who won the Golden Bear at Berlinale in 2014 with his film Black Coal, Thin Ice) is a noir feature titled The Wild Goose Lake, or Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui in Chinese. Both written and directed by Diao Yinan, this crazy cool crime thriller is about top gangster who ends up on the run from cops when a night of stealing motorbikes goes sideways. A quiet woman works with him and helps facilitate his sly getaways, and he starts to feel closer and closer to her while constantly coming under attack - both by rival gangsters and ruthless cops who put a bounty on his capture. The Wild Goose Lake is built upon old school film noir filmmaking but with a modern feel. I pretty much loved watching this film, it totally sucked me in even though I wasn't always sure what was going on.
Based on the Arabic folktale Aladdin and the Magic Lamp from the book One Thousand and One Nights (aka "Arabian Nights"), plus the 1940 film The Thief of Bagdad, Disney's animated Aladdin from 1992 was the most successful movie of that year, grossing $217 million in the US and over $504 million worldwide. The hand-drawn animated film's massive success led to two direct-to-video sequels, The Return of Jafar (1994) and Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996), an animated series for TV, and a Broadway musical adaptation. Now, after the success of other live-action Disney remakes like Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast, British director Guy Ritchie is reimagining the beloved animated classic as a big-budget, live-action, Bollywood spectacle with flying carpets, magic genies, and a lot of wishful thinking.
Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu has quickly established himself as one of the most unique and clever Eastern European directors making original films these days. Between Infinite Football last year, and his new feature at Cannes this year, Porumboiu has proven that his mind is unlike any other and is giving us some of the quirkiest, weirdest, smartest, and most interesting cinema that you'll discover in tiny art house cinema all over the world. His latest film is an adventurous dark comedy titled The Whistlers, a cops and criminals story from Romania about a double-crossing cop-criminal who is recruited to help get a guy out of jail in exchange for cash. For the first half I wasn't even sure where this story was going, but by the end it was obvious he was giving a nod to Hitchcock's quirky capers and classic film noir. And having fun doing so.
Olivia Wilde. The American actress, who derived her stage name from Irish author Oscar Wilde, is best known for her roles on television series including "The O.C." and "House", and in films like Tron: Legacy, Cowboys & Aliens, Year One, In Time, Drinking Buddies, and Rush. Now, the talented star of stage and screen is working behind the camera. After directing the shorts Free Hugs (2011), Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: No Love Like Yours (2016), and Red Hot Chili Peppers: Dark Necessities (2016), Wilde is making her feature-length directorial debut with Booksmart, an uproarious and unfiltered coming-of-age comedy that's equal parts Superbad, Lady Bird, Can't Hardly Wait, and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, filled to the brim with a bevy of top-notch performances from an ensemble of young, up-and-coming stars.
For his next film, Quentin Tarantino is taking us back to the year 1969. Right at the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood. When hippies roamed the streets, men landed on the moon, and westerns were at the end of their time. Tarantino's ninth feature film is titled Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and it premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival playing in competition - a major feat. He won the Palme d'Or back in 1994 for Pulp Fiction, and has returned a few other times previously with Grindhouse and Inglourious Basterds. This sprawling, nearly-three hour "Old Hollywood" feature is one of Tarantino's most casually entertaining – part of it is a western, part of it is cruising around Los Angeles, and part of it is a story about a fading TV actor and his badass stuntman. There's plenty of slick moments in it, alas it doesn't best his previous films.
Bong Joon-ho reigns!! I didn't think he could be any better than he has already been (almost every film he has made is fantastic - from Memories of Murder to Okja), but South Korean master filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has delivered yet another near-perfect film. His latest film is titled Parasite, a dark comedy with some twists and turns and shocking moments and hilarious moments, and it's absolutely amazing. A complete and total knockout, a masterpiece of cinema. Oh my goodness gracious, it's so fucking good. This is one of Bong Joon-ho's best films, and I LOVE all of his films, so it's hard to even say that this is better than any of them before but he might just be getting better the more he makes. A complex construction of satire and social commentary worked into an intelligent, amusing, devious, uniquely-Korean script that is a total knockout.
Acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick returns to the Cannes Film Festival this year 8 years since winning the Palme d'Or in 2011 for The Tree of Life. His latest film is officially titled A Hidden Life (in French: Une vie cachée), originally called Radegund while in production - which is also the name of the town in Austria (St. Radegund) where most of the film takes place. This 2 hour, 53 minute-long film tells the true story of a young farmer in rural Austria during World War II who refuses to sign an oath to Hitler, landing himself in prison. We have seen and heard many stories about conscientious objectors, but this time it's told from the perspective of the Nazis - or rather, someone who was conscripted to join the Nazi army (like most Germans and Austrians) and refused to do so. His family was scorned and spat at, and he never could get out of jail.
I genuinely love animation and I always enjoy catching every new animated film, wherever they may come from, however they may be made. I Lost My Body, also known as J'ai perdu mon corps, is a charming new French animated film directed by Jérémy Clapin about a missing hand. This first premiered in the Critics' Week sidebar at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and it's wonderful. Really wonderful. One of the most imaginative, ambitious, and touching animated films of the year - there's no debate. It's unconventional and unique, but so easy to enjoy and fall deeply into, even if it is just a bit creepy at times. I'm so glad I caught this film in Cannes, as it's a smaller one and animation usually gets brushed aside at this festival. But this deserves our attention, and the acclaim, as it's a truly beautiful film and a one-of-a-kind animation creation.