This year’s Cannes Film Festival ran any number of good but unremarkable titles, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it was a bad year. There were any number of brazen and truly exciting films by familiar faces and new ones in every section of the festival, from the main competition to the festival’s marketplace. Of the 42 films I saw at this year’s festival, here are my 10 favorites:
10 ) Martha Marcy May Marlene (Un Certain Regard)—American writer/director Sean Durkin’s first feature is a quiet but effectively unnerving melodrama following Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), a young woman that tries and ultimately fails to escape her past as a member of a Manson-like cult. The pervasive sense of dread that surrounds the film is uncanny for its intimations of impending violence. Read more about this film here.
9 ) Oslo, August 31 (Un Certain Regard)—This perceptive, proudly unsentimental and incredibly poignant drama follows a twenty-something former drug addict that tries to reconnect with his friends and loved ones. Danish director Joachim Trier takes a big step up with this follow-up to his promising but uneven Reprise.
8 ) The Skin I Live In (Main Competition)—I left the theater after watching Pedro Almodovar’s not sure how to process its explosive final act. A plastic surgeon kidnaps and experiments on a mysterious woman (Elena Anaya) whose identity prompts the plot to escalate to an appropriately preposterous head. Read more about this film here.
7 ) Puzzle of a Downfall Child (Cannes Classics)—The more I think about Jerry Schatzberg’s 1970 directorial debut, the more I appreciate its oppressive ambience. Read more about this film here.
6 ) The Minister (Un Certain Regard)—This extraordinary character study of a politician struggling to figure out if there’s a way to both pursue his ideals while furthering his career features some of the most satisfyingly nuanced dialogue of any film at this year’s festival. Olivier Gourmet (The Son) gives an excellent performance as the conflicted title protagonist. He talks out of both sides of his mouth without even making it seem like that he’s compromising his position.
5 ) Sleeping Beauty (Main Competition)—This Australian film about looking for a transformative change through sexual debasement is, like Emily Browning’s fearless protagonist, totally self-possessed and startling in its complexity. Read more about this film here and here.
4 ) Pina (Cannes Marketplace)—Wim Wenders’ dynamic exploration of interpretative dance choreographer Pina Bausch’s work will hopefully be remembered as one of the first to turn the tide in favor of 3D as a legitimate means of enhancing movies as art. Read more about this film here.
3 ) This Must Be the Place (Main Competition)—Paolo Sorrentino’s strongest film after the revelatory The Consequences of Love is a surreal road movie about a retired Robert Smith-like rock star (an exceptional Sean Penn) that goes in search of the Nazi that tormented his recently deceased father in Auschwitz. The film’s dialogue is sharp as a tack, David Byrne’s soundtrack is on-point and Sorrentino’s ostentatious direction is as charmingly playful as it ever was. This should come as a major shock to American viewers that only know Sorrentino from Il Divo, his middling last film.
2 ) Take Shelter (Critics Week)—American director Jeff Nichols’ follow-up to Shotgun Stories delivers on the promise of that film and then some. Read more about this film here.
1 ) The Tree of Life (Main Competition)—Terrence Malick’s tribute to both God’s majesty and frailty is brimming with extraordinary images of man relating to his creator by struggling to understand himself. It stands singularly apart from the festival’s very strong slate.
Simon Abrams is a NY-based film, tv and comics critic for various outlets, including the Village Voice, the Onion’s A.V. Club and Wide Screen. He collects his writing on film at Extended Cut.