Top Five Films at Cannes (That I Saw)...

by keithsim | last updated - 23 May 2016

When you get back from a festival it's often a matter of excoriating yourself for the films you didn't see rather than counting your blessings for the great films you did see.

Below are my five favorites that I caught that rose above the others I saw that didn't pass muster.

Here's some of what I missed, either because it screened too late, or my schedule wouldn't allow me to attend: Neon Demon, Blood Father, The Salesman, It's Only the End of the World, Personal Shopper, The Red Turtle, American Honey, Captain Fantastic and so many more. Sigh.

PS: My top two favorite films at Cannes are Amazon Studios films. Full disclosure.

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1. Paterson (2016)

R | 118 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
90 Metascore

A quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.

Director: Jim Jarmusch | Stars: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Nellie, Rizwan Manji

Votes: 49,862 | Gross: $2.14M

If you'd have told me that the Jim Jarmusch film about the bus driver who moonlights as a poet was going to be my favorite film at Cannes I would have been in utter disbelief (assuming you had a good history of predicting these things which is why I'd asked you in the first place).

About half-way through this beautiful film I started to repeat to myself, "Please don't turn into a movie. Please don't turn into a movie." And by that I meant "Please don't suddenly introduce a plot contrivance that advances the narrative."

It never happens.

This is a film that 10, 20 years from now, when an artist has lost faith in themselves, their medium, in the world, in the power of others to inspire us, a friend of theirs will sit them down and make them watch Paterson. And they will be healed.

2. Ah-ga-ssi (2016)

Not Rated | 144 min | Drama, Romance, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
84 Metascore

A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.

Director: Chan-wook Park | Stars: Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-Woong Cho, So-Ri Moon

Votes: 67,986 | Gross: $2.01M

Every frame of Chan-wook Park's film is gorgeous in the same way that every frame of Cannes Best Director winner last year Hsiao-Hsien Huo's film, The Assassin, was gorgeous.

It is also over-the-top entertaining in a lurid, sexy and unseemly way that Hollywood seems to be too embarrassed or too juvenile to attempt any more.

3. I, Daniel Blake (2016)

R | 100 min | Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
78 Metascore

After having suffered a heart-attack, a 59-year-old carpenter must fight the bureaucratic forces of the system in order to receive Employment and Support Allowance.

Director: Ken Loach | Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy, Briana Shann

Votes: 40,347 | Gross: $0.26M

I, Daniel Blake was not on my Top 16 Films I Want to See at Cannes list because so many of director Ken Loach's films are didactic and one-sided.

But, thanks to his fine leads in Dave Johns as Daniel Blake, a carpenter trying to get injured worker's assistance, and Haley Squires as the single mother struggling to survive, he has his most human, humorous and clear-eyed films in a long, long time.

4. Mal de pierres (2016)

R | 120 min | Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
40 Metascore

In 1950s France, Gabrielle is a passionate, free-spirited woman who is in a loveless marriage and falls for another man when she is sent away to the Alps to treat her kidney stones. Gabrielle yearns to free herself and run away with André.

Director: Nicole Garcia | Stars: Marion Cotillard, Alex Brendemühl, Louis Garrel, Brigitte Roüan

Votes: 4,060 | Gross: $0.04M

Dear Lord can Marion Cotillard act.

Sure, we all knew that after Rust and Bone, Two Days, One Night, etc. but here it's akin to what she pulled off in her Oscar-winning performance in La Vie en Rose.

She plays Gabrielle an unbalanced young woman forced into an arranged marriage. When she ends up in a spa to regain her health she meets a young French soldier and falls in love for the first time in her life.

The film has a problematic third act (the kind that works well in a novel but not so hot on screen) but Cotillard shines. When we first meet her character, she's a love-besotted schoolgirl, about the age when we first meet Edith Piaf singing in cabarets in La Vie en Rose. But that film was almost a decade ago. We know intuitively that Cotillard is no schoolgirl. But minutes into her portrayal of an impulsive, romantic woman-child she has us believing she is. Later she transforms herself into a fully-mature wife and mother yet a woman crushed by despair and loss.

The tears that runs down her face at this stage are hot tears, not just excess water squeezed out through extra ducts on command. They are tears of agony and pain.

Really, I don't know how she does it.

5. Loving (2016)

PG-13 | 123 min | Biography, Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  
79 Metascore

The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose arrest for interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia began a legal battle that would end with the Supreme Court's historic 1967 decision.

Director: Jeff Nichols | Stars: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Dean Mumford

Votes: 26,229 | Gross: $7.70M

Ultimately Loving is such an act of self-restraint on the part of director Jeff Nichols that it seems more like a missed opportunity than the teed-up, presumptive triumph one would have suspected. Yet, for it's coolness, the film leaves a haunting remnant of reality in its wake.

Dramatic turns and outbursts don't happen in the film and the performances, particularly by Ruth Negga, are stripped quite naked to stand on their own. Fortunately, they do.

It's a quiet film about people who just wanted to go on with their lives and were more concerned with raising their kids than making a statement. That we want something different from it and from them says more about us.

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