So, the funster Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the Palme d’Or for his snoozefest Winter Sleep, the only film I’ve seen in Cannes this year where I actively engaged in a ten-minute power-nap halfway through its 196-minute slog. I wonder which one of the Grand Jury did the same. Hands up, anyone? Or perhaps all of them. The problem with Ceylan’s film is not its running-time but its dearth of a compelling narrative, making conversations feel a like an absolute, meandering drag to go through. I watched Ingmar Bergman’s 5-hour original cut of Scenes from a Marriage and barely moved in my seat, enthralled throughout its emotionally blistering yet thoroughly engaging epic length. Winter Sleep, in comparison, feels like it’s crawling through a five-day marathon of marital and pseudo-philosophical blah blah.
I’ve seen twenty films altogether, and at least ten of them are better than Winter Sleep. Allow me some leeway, I missed two major Competition entries, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan and Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, as I had to fly back to London earlier than expected. Notwithstanding the misses, I’ve ranked all the films below and ever the contrarian, the placement of each goes against popular opinion. Because my independent gut tells me so – and this list is judged by The Moviejerk Jury comprised of one. Myself.
Scroll down, bitches.
The Dardennes brothers have been mining the epic Sisyphean toils of the working-class throughout their sublime filmography, and Two Days, One Night is one of their finest variations. It’s a masterful study of empathy, compassion and composure at the face of tribulations, up there with The Son, The Child and Rosetta with an immensely affecting performance by the matchless Cotillard. This is a heartbreakingly humane piece of cinema that’s worth any prize out there.
It’s about time we coin the cinematic term ‘Dolanesque’. Mommy is, basically, How I Killed My Mother 2.0, but far more exhilarating, ebullient, vibrant, hard-hitting and ten times more heartbreaking – a blitzkrieg emotional drama of the highest calibre with towering turns from Dorval and Pilon. Above all, this is a fierce, audacious cinematic coup, fusing style, technique and dramatics into one magnificent creation, swiftly placing Dolan as one of the world’s fiercely ingenuous filmmakers working today.
Bennett Miller places riveting character drama first before biting social commentary, making Foxcatcher a cut above other wrestling movies of late. Its purpose doesn’t settle as quickly as it should, but when it does, it’s a haunting, quietly scorching indictment of the self-interest, vanity and madness of the corporate powers that run the fabric of society. Tatum and Ruffalo both excel, but Carell is revelatory in this modern American tragedy.
A gloriously fucked-up movie about the fucked-up movie tinseltown. Maps to the Stars is Cronenberg’s furious, jet-black missive to the movie business, redeeming the director’s predilection for dark, deliciously twisted narratives, subverting the Hollywood satire with edgy self-awareness, running a freakshow through Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard via David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. It’s not always 100% satisfying, but when it works, it’s damn enthralling.
Mike Leigh’s immaculate Sokurovian compositions are beautiful sights to behold, doing Turner’s art the beatific justice it deserves. But this snapshot of a painter’s life is a touch too languid and dramatically inert to fully engage with barely anything new to say about the canvas that connects life, art and mortality. Timothy Spall, however, turns a mightily impressive performance as the eccentric eponymous artist that’s arguably one of his best.
Le Meraviglie (The Wonders) is a quaint little film about a family of beekeepers, a dying occupation as you know, that’s unassuming, sincere and heartfelt. Low-key and naturalistic, this gentle coming-of-age-cum-family drama may seem aimless at first, giving way to a slightly opaque ending, but it never descends into rote sentimentality and cliché that beset many other coming-of-age movies. There’s an emotional undertow beneath the family’s ongoing crisis that’s never, for once, manipulative.
Terribly elegant yet sober portrait of the man behind the luxe fabrics and haute couture, revealing YSL’s creative genius, success, tragedy and nihilism in equal measure. Saint Laurent is a partly problematic biopic, but this is a genuine attempt at deconstructing a fashion icon with dark existentialism, warts, flaws and all. Plus, Gaspard Ulliel is mesmeric in the central role.
The Search is intermittently moving and powerful, exposing the brutality of war and yet manages to find levity and hope amid the bleakness. While it’s nowhere near as devastating as the great anti-war films with children (e.g. Ivan’s Childhood, Come and See, Au-revoir les enfants), it features a heartbreaking child performance in the form of Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev, whose pair of mournful eyes are enough to convey the trauma he’s suffering and fatalities he has witnessed, easily overshadowing the more established actors Bérénice Bejo and Annette Bening.
Joyful, spectacular and a shade darker, this sequel doesn’t better its predecessor but it manages to be visually vibrant, engaging and even touching in a way that doesn’t patronise even the most highbrow of menfolk. Dean Deblois how to create a follow-up, and his output is perhaps the best Dreamworks animation since, well, 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon.
Inherently flawed, often artlessly edited yet far from the disaster everyone’s banging on about. While it’s a handsomely mounted, lavishly styled throwback melodrama with shades of Max Ophüls, Grace of Monaco paints a less peachy picture and more of a portrait of a regally coutured woman in both creative and domestic turmoil with Kidman’s luminous performance cutting deep into Kelly’s core.
Adieu au langage is a dazzling, irreverent yet enormously bewildering 70-minute cinematic essay on the death of communication, intellectualism and narrative in the digital era. It posits Godard as a prankster of the medium, lobbing image, sound, vision and ideas like a collage, deliberately calibrated to pierce your eyeball, eardrums and brain. There are moments of breathtaking invention – but this is an anarchic piece of intellectual cinema that doesn’t fully enlighten but rather designed to exasperate, occasionally thrill and assault the senses.
A missed opportunity rather than a huge disappointment, The Homesman engrosses at first with and then awkwardly amuses, serving up a faux-feminist parable undermined by the script’s lack of balance and a powerful coda, failing to fully rouse what could be a deeply subversive Western. Hilary Swank gives a layered performance, but alas, this is no True Grit.
There are glimpses of bleak beauty and scatterings of nihilism, but The Rover is strangely unaffecting and an ultimately unsatisfying post-apocalyptic drama. While I love Guy Pearce’s performance and his ability to convey quiet gravitas by saying very little, Robert Pattinson, on the other hand, look amateurish, grappling with a role that’s beyond him. This is a step-back from a director who held so much promise with his blistering debut Animal Kingdom.
The strongest contender for the most divisive film to play in the Cannes this year. It’s a visually accomplished work – hypnotic, bizarre and sometimes striking – but Gosling really needs to knuckle down and enroll himself to a writing workshop. His characters are one-dimensional, despite Christina Hendricks looking like a pitch-perfect Lynchian damsel in distress and Ben Mendelsohn usurping the one crazy motherfucker role that Dennis Hopper used to own in Blue Velvet. Lost River wears its influences on its sleeve unabashedly, and we shouldn’t crucify first-time directors for their influences as we live in a postmodernist world where everyone emulates somebody else (go ask Tarantino).
Ned Benson’s debutante The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby or The One That Got Botched Up By Harvey Scissorhands, pruning two parts Him and Her into the awkwardly subtitled Them. It’s perhaps the indiest relationship drama I’ve seen so far this year, with enough potential to be excellent. With James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain at the forefront of this project, providing beautiful chemistry together, it’s supposed to give off fireworks but the result is nothing more than a conventional spark.
A 196-minute funeral march into self-importance and pseudo-intellectual indulgence that’s philosophical and contemplative at times, but mostly overlong, overwritten and over-satisfied of itself. Winter Sleep blows the ‘action makes character’ screenwriting tenet out of the water and into the ponderous abyss, making cinematic conversations look and sound so dull and demeaning. Nuri Bilge Ceylan gives ‘slow cinema’ a new meaning – it’s called lifeless.
Jimmy‘s Hall might as well be shot in black-and-white with its Manichean politics. There’s an admirable, potentially rousing paean to community and the joys of dancing somewhere in this anti-establishment, true-to-life tale, but Loach’s approach is so stiflingly conventional, his execution banal, his writing a little dastardly. After the audacious films that played previously the Official Competition strand, this is so artistically unadventurous.
An enigmatic, haunting prologue aside, Still The Water tediously wears its pretensions on its sleeve. It smacks of ponderousness, ruminating on death with juxtapositions of pretty shots of the sea and shaky amateurish handheld takes just because there is no need for a dolly or even a fucking tripod in art cinema. Malick is an obvious forebear, and Kawase milks those sunshine-through-the-canopy like a film student enthralled by Malickian cinema. That’s been done to death, love. And don’t even start with the goat killings. Kawase slaughters two animals to contemplate on the nature of death, whilst Malick can take one steadicam shot of a sunset and we’re sold.
A ludicrous, clumsily written and preposterously plotted child abduction drama that insults Denis Villeneuve by retreading Prisoners and making the sub-genre more hackneyed than it already is. Egoyan wastes an intriguing premise with pretentious narrative choices and clunky characterisation, failing to explore the issues The Captive raises in its first half. Potentially the worst film to play in the Official Competition slot in Cannes this year.
Miserable to the point of nihilistic despair, this is an unrelentingly grim cinema with very little purpose other than to portray two pathetic characters without exploring the complexity of the situation (this is about an incestuous father-daughter relationship), and the scenes of self-mutilation, gang rape and torrid sex feel flat and unjustified. Director Keren Yedaya barely holds anything back, throwing subtlety and restraint into the toilet. And no, Grace of Monaco isn’t the worst film in Cannes. That Lovely Girl occupies that abyss.