13 Biggest Winners and Losers at Cannes Film Festival

A 2015 festival overview, from bravos to boos to controversial shoes

Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey and Cannes heels
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The 2015 Cannes Film Festival has now come to an end, with “Dheepan” winning the Palme d’Or, a pair of flat shoes grabbing headlines and a consensus gradually emerging that this wasn’t a particularly impressive Cannes – that, perhaps, the first few days of euphoria that TheWrap noted last weekend faded into a succession of good-but-not-great films.

Over the 12 days of the festival, a variety of winners and losers emerged. Here are a baker’s dozen of them:

WINNER: “Carol”
No, it didn’t win the Palme d’Or, and had to settle for an odd tie (Rooney Mara tying with Emmanuelle Bercot from the histrionic “Mon Roi”) from the Cannes jury. But Todd Haynes’ 1950s-set Patricia Highsmith adaptation, one of only two films from American directors in the main competition, drew some of the festival’s biggest bravos. It also prompted a rare unanimity among reviewers, almost all of whom used the word exquisite to describe Haynes’ subtle, luminous work.

Also read: ‘Carol’s’ Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Todd Haynes Talk Women’s Rights and Secret Love

It’s possible that the Cannes kudos will build up unrealistic expectations for what is a low-key, understated character study, but you can count on the Weinstein Company to put the film – and particularly its performances from Cate Blanchett and Mara – in the thick of the awards race.

Naomi Watts and Matthew McConaughey in The Sea of Trees

LOSER: “Sea of Trees”
The other American director in competition, Gus Van Sant, fared significantly worse with his film. If “Carol” was Cannes’ biggest hit, “The Sea of Trees” was its biggest bomb, drawing loud boos at the end of its first press screening and earning scathing reviews afterwards.

“Everybody has as much right to boo as they do to ovate,” said star Matthew McConaughey afterwards, and Van Sant pointed out that his 2003 Palme d’Or winner, “Elephant,” had actually caused a fistfight at Cannes. But those defenses couldn’t alter the fact that “Sea of Trees” went to Cannes as a presumed awards contender, and came out dead in the water.

Also read: Matthew McConaughey on Cannes Reaction to ‘Sea of Trees’: ‘Everybody Has a Right to Boo’

Geza Rohrig in Son of Saul

WINNER: “Son of Saul”
Hungarian actor-turned-director Laszlo Nemes was already a winner by having his debut film accepted into the main competition at Cannes – the festival, after all, almost never gives first-time filmmakers a slot in its most prestigious section. But “Son of Saul” more than justified the booking, quickly becoming one of the festival’s most acclaimed films, picking up a U.S. distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics and landing the festival’s Grand Prix, its second-place award.

“Son of Saul” is a dark, claustrophobic Holocaust movie that uses an almost square frame to zero in on the face of a Jewish concentration-camp inmate who must block out the horror around him to survive in his job as part of a group of prisoners who assist the Nazis in their deadly mission. The film brings something new to a familiar genre; the next stop, one assumes, will be the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Feature.

Also read: ‘Son of Saul’ Cannes Review: Rookie Director Shocks Festival With Wrenching Holocaust Drama

High heels on the Cannes red carpet
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LOSER: Cannes’ dress code
It’s a weird year when the biggest controversy at Cannes has nothing to do with the movies. Forget about the the incest movie (“Marguerite & Julien”), or the graphic sex movie in 3-D (“Love”) – headlines screamed and petitions were drawn up because a security guard at one evening screening reportedly denied a woman entrance because she was wearing flats instead of heels.

Cannes is known for its dress code and its occasionally overzealous guards – I saw one man turned away from a press screening for wearing sandals, and everybody knows that the festival’s definition of black tie demands a bow tie, not a long tie – but this case seemed a little extreme, and the festival quickly denied that its dress code specified heels. But by that point the damage was done, and the festival had a black eye to match its black tie.

Also read: Cannes Flatgate: 11 Outrageous Reactions to Red Carpet High Heel Drama

"Inside Out"
“Inside Out”

WINNER: Hollywood
Away from the main competition, Cannes always makes room for a couple of Hollywood studio films in its out-of-competition slots. And this year, Warner Bros.’ “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out” weren’t just the studio movies on hand to bring out the movie stars – they were two of the most acclaimed films at the entire festival.

Between George Miller‘s reboot of the “Mad Max” franchise, which some reviewers dubbed the greatest action movie of all time, and Pete Docter’s smart and complex animated trip inside a young girl’s brain, the studio fare went toe-to-toe with all those international auteurs and didn’t give an inch.

Also read: ‘Inside Out’ Cannes Review: Pixar Invades Cannes With One of Its Richest, Best Films

Cemetery of Splendour

LOSER: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
And speaking of international auteurs … the last time this celebrated Thai director came to Cannes, he was in the main competition with “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” and he won the Palme d’Or. This time, only five years later, he was surprisingly demoted to the Un Certain Regard sidebar with “Cemetery of Splendour,” a decision by the festival that he admitted in interviews was disappointing.

And not only was Weerasethakul not eligible for the Palme this time around, his film was overlooked for awards in Un Certain Regard, too. Perhaps “Cemetery” was not as gloriously weird as “Uncle Boonmee,” which seduced the jury headed by Tim Burton in 2010. But it did cast an odd, magical spell as it examined the town where its director grew up, and its final stretch was mesmerizing enough to have warranted more attention than it received.

Woody Allen at Cannes
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WINNER: Woody Allen
The director has the timing of a standup comic (which he used to be) and the worldview of a true fatalist – and together, they made the press conference for Allen’s “Irrational Man” one of the most entertaining half hours at Cannes. Trashing religion and explaining his role as one of distracting viewers from the fact that life is pointless, Allen kept the press in stitches with a virtuoso performance.

“We’re living in a random universe with no meaning,” he said with a shrug. “It’s very hard to sell anyone a bill of goods that there’s any good to this.” It doesn’t sound funny in print, but trust us – if you were there, you were laughing.

Also read: Woody Allen at Cannes: Life Has No Meaning, and His Amazon Series Could be a ‘Cosmic Embarrassment’

Joaquin Phoenix in Irrational Man

LOSER: Woody Allen’s movie
But as entertaining as Allen himself was when he spoke to the press, “Irrational Man” just wasn’t the director at his best, or anywhere near it. When the press conference to support the movie is better than the movie itself, you’ve got a problem.

Tale of Tales
“Tale of Tales”

WINNERS: The Italians
Of the 19 films in the main competition, three were by Italian directors – and all three delivered, giving Italy the best track record of any country in the competition. Matteo Garrone’s “Tale of Tales” was a divisive but gloriously twisted take on fairy tales, Nanni Moretti’s “Mia Madre” a touching blend of comedy and drama and Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth” a gorgeous film featuring an acclaimed performance from Michael Caine.

Then again, the jury overlooked all three of them, so maybe they weren’t quite the winners they seemed to be.

Emmanuelle Bercot at Cannes
Emmanuelle Bercot; Getty Images

LOSERS: Women directors
Cannes organizers were proud that the festival opened for only the second time with a film directed by a woman, but Emmanuelle Bercot’s “Standing Tall” received only a lukewarm reception on opening night. The two films directed by women in the main competition, meanwhile, were two of the least-liked: Maiwenn’s “Mon Roi” won at best mixed reviews, though Bercot, shifting to her other job as an actress, surprisingly tied with Rooney Mara for the jury’s best-actress award. And Valerie Donzelli’s “Marguerite & Julien” was widely dismissed.

In Un Certain Regard, meanwhile, Naomi Kawase’s “An” met with tepid response, as did Natalie Portman’s directorial debut (which screened out of competition), “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” Overall, the films made it seem as if Cannes had booked films from female directors just to avoid the embarrassment of not having enough of them at the festival.

See photos: Cannes Wrap Magazine Directors Portfolio: 10 Esteemed Auteurs Showing at the Festival (Photos)

Benicio del Toro in Sicario

WINNERS: Genre movies
Cannes may be a temple for arthouse cinema, but it also showcased a number of films that didn’t really fit that label this year. Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario” enlivened the main competition with a tense, adrenaline-filled take on the drug trade along the U.S./Mexican border, while Hou Hsiao Hsien’s “The Assassin” was a lavish martial-arts epic in the same section of the festival.

Then there was the action flick “Mad Max” out of competition, Alice Winokur’s “Maryland” in Un Certain Regard, Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” in Directors’ Fortnight.


LOSER: Cannes’ documentary policy
It’s long been a rule of thumb for savvy festival-goers: When in doubt, see a documentary. But Cannes doesn’t give you that option, because for the most part it stays away from docs.

This year, Asif Kapadia’s harrowing Amy Winehouse doc “Amy” was one of the most acclaimed films at the festival, and other well-received non-fiction films included Kent Jones’ “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” Stig Bjorkman’s “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” and John McKenna and Gabriel Clarke’s “Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans.” But apart from show-business docs, Cannes tends to ignore the rich world of non-fiction filmmaking, shutting it out of its main sections almost entirely.

And that policy, sad to say, drags down the quality of the festival.

Also read: ‘Amy’ Cannes Review: Controversial Amy Winehouse Documentary Is Hard to Watch, Hard to Forget

Jake Gyllenhaal Southpaw

WINNER: “Southpaw”
The Weinstein Company’s boxing movie directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal wasn’t an official part of the festival, but as a member of the jury, Gyllenhaal was. Which means that he was around to drop in on TWC’s annual presentation of its upcoming slate, at which Harvey Weinstein all but promised that he’d land the actor the Oscar nomination he was denied for “Nightcrawler,” and for other appearances on behalf of the film, including a VIP screening on a yacht on the final Friday of the festival.

“Southpaw” came out of the festival with buzz, and it did so without screening for the ever-fickle Cannes press – a win-win situation, perhaps, for a distributor looking to build early heat in advance of a fall release.