What to See at Cannes Film Festival 2015

With an unusual number of movies to look forward to this year, and never enough time to see them all, we narrowed our must-watch list down to the top 20.

It’s that time of year: The 2015 Cannes Film Festival opens today with the usual heady mix of glamour, hierarchy and, of course, cinema. No matter how good HBO gets or how many devices we stream to, Cannes exists to remind us that behind the digital catch-phrase “content” lies that august, oft-compromised, ideal, “Art.”

In fact, this year programmer-in-chief Thierry Fremaux has assembled a slate packed with art house heavy hitters that should stoke the flames of envy for any cineaste caught on the other side of the Atlantic. For starters, the latest from that tireless modern master Woody Allen, Irrational Man with Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone, will premiere out of competition. Joining it are two highly-anticipated animated features: Pete Docter’s Inside Out, the long-awaited next film from Pixar; Mark Osborne’s adaptation of the beloved children’s story The Little Prince. But, like Mad Max: Fury Road, also premiering here and opening stateside in a little over a week, these will all make their way to American shores soon enough.

The real joy of Cannes is its competition line-up of artistic juggernauts (many of which don’t always make it across the Atlantic), and this year’s Jury Presidents, America’s auteur-laureates the Coen brothers, have their work cut out for them. While only two American films will compete, both are from art house icons: first, there’s Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees with Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe as two suicidal men who meet at the base of Mt. Fuji; and Carol, acclaimed director Todd Haynes’ adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s landmark lesbian novel The Price of Salt, with Carol Blanchet and Rooney Mara as the central couple. Neither should be missed, but Haynes and Highsmith seems like a particularly potent artistic pairing.

But even if only two Americans will vie for the Palmes D’or, Hollywood will be nonetheless well-represented thanks to several international directors competing with English-language films. After his Oscar nomination for Incendies, French-Candian Denis Villeneuve digs into the world of Mexican cartels with his drama Sicario. Meanwhile, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ made a splash with his disturbing, subversive 2009 film Dogtooth, which won the Prix Un Certain Regard that year; his reward has been an entrée into the main competition with The Lobster, featuring an all-star cast of Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and Lea Seydoux. Meanwhile the two reigning maestros of Italian film also have must-see English language films: the ever stylish Paolo Sorrentino (Oscar-winner for The Great Beauty) brings Youth with Michael Caine and Paul Dano, while Matteo Garrone changes pace from his gritty crime drama Gomorrah with the lavish Tale of Tales featuring Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly in an adaptation of Giambattista Basile’s 17th-century fairy tales.

Of course, you don’t come to the South of France to hear English and Cannes features plenty of both Europe and Asia’s finest masters working in their native tongue: mainland China should be well represented by the brilliant Jia Zhangke’s latest Mountains May Depart while the titan of Taiwanese film Hou Hsiao-Hsien shifts gears from his quiet conversation pieces to a martial arts epic The Assassin. And don’t forget Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s fourth Cannes berth Our Little Sister. (For those at home, queue up either Nobody Knows or Like Father, Like Son right on Netflix now.) Of course, as always, the French have a strong presence in competition, but my pick for Gallic must-sees are Maiwenn’s Mon Roi and Dheepan, the latest crime drama from A Prophet’s Jacques Audiard about a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior’s precarious life in Paris’s suburbs. (Interestingly, Audiard’s co-writer on A Prophet, Thomas Bidegain, has his directorial debut The Cowboys bowing in the Director’s Fortnight sidebar)

Speaking of the sidebars, even the non-competition, side-bar selections have no shortage of intriguing options: for one, Natalie Portman’s directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness, an adaptation of Israeli author Amos Oz’s autobiography; or perhaps Romanian new wave director Corneliu Porumboiu's The Treasure; or previous Palmes winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour. And lastly, if you have a taste for provocation, you can’t miss the latest from Cannes enfant terrible of note, Gaspar Noe’s Love, whose pornographic poster alone tells you all you need to know about the latest film from the mind behind Enter the Void and Irreversible.

And we haven’t even gotten to Un Certain Regard and Directors’ Fortnight selections. Suffice to say, this year’s Cannes feels unusually jam-packed with noteworthy films—and, as always, too little time to see them all.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival