A bold and brash Cannes Film Festival came to an end on Sunday evening in the south of France with a surprising batch of awards, crowning Ken Loach‘s low-key drama “I, Daniel Blake” with the Palme d’Or and leaving many who’d been to the festival scratching our heads.
But the awards ceremony isn’t the only place where Cannes’ winners and losers are identified. Here’s TheWrap’s roundup of how we score Cannes 2016:
LOSER: Either the jury or the press
The Cannes jury is always its own animal, and there’s typically a disconnect between what the jury likes and what the critics like. But has there ever been as vast a gulf between the two as there was this year? If you compare the jury’s winners to the ranking of critical reaction compiled by Screen International, the differences are staggering.
The Palme d’Or went to “I, Daniel Blake,” a perfectly fine film that the critics thought was tied for the 11th best film out of the 21 in competition. The film that won the runner-up award was Xavier Dolan‘s “It’s Only the End of the World,” a succession of screeching family members yelling at each other over an unbearable weekend (think of an art-house version of “August: Osage County”), which got booed at its press screening and was ranked 20th out of the 21 contenders.
Meanwhile, Maren Ade’s funny and touching family drama “Toni Erdmann” set a new Screen International record for critical reception, but didn’t win a single award. Neither did Jim Jarmusch‘s “Paterson,” which finished second with the critics. Of the films ranked by critics in the top five, only “Graduation” won anything; of the films in the top 10, only “Graduation” and “The Salesman” did.
Here are two quotes from the jury press conference that followed the awards ceremony:
Juror Donald Sutherland (on the fact that the press considered best-actress winner Jaclyn Jose to have a supporting role): “I think the critics were wrong.”
Jury president George Miller: “We did the best we could.”
So maybe the jury is right. Maybe the press is right. But they can’t both be right, so one of the two is a big loser.
WINNER: “Toni Erdmann”
No, it didn’t win anything from the jury. But in a way, that made the jury look worse than the movie, which was the clear sensation of the festival.
Maren Ade’s film about a father trying to loosen up his grown daughter drew the best reaction from audiences, bringing the house down with two brilliantly funny and touching scenes in its homestretch. It got the best reviews. It landed a North American distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics, the gold standard when it comes to bringing Cannes movies to the American audience — and into the Oscar race, where “Toni Erdmann” figures to be a strong contender, assuming that Germany makes the film its official foreign-language submission.
And now the jury’s snub has made it a cause celebre. Sure, Maren Ade might be sitting prettier if she had become the first woman to win the Palme d’Or outright, but don’t cry for her, or her movie.
LOSER: Sean Penn
Penn’s earnest drama about love in a war zone, “The Last Face,” was unquestionably the most poorly-received film at Cannes. In Screen International’s final ranking, which asks critics to rank the films they’ve seen with one, two, three or four stars, it scored a mind-boggling 0.2 average with two one-star reviews and eight zero-star reviews. (The next lowest was “It’s Only the End of the World,” which scored a by-comparison stratospheric 1.4.)
On Twitter, somebody even speculated that the movie was so bad it must have broken up Penn’s relationship with its star, Charlize Theron.
Last year, the three female directors in the main competition felt like afterthoughts, or tokens. This year, with the same number in competition, they felt essential. Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” was great, Nicole Garcia’s “From the Land of the Moon” was solid and Andrea Arnold‘s “American Honey” was a vital piece of filmmaking, even if lots of people hated it.
This was supposed to be the year in which fear of terrorist incidents could cast a pall over the Croisette. But apart from slightly more security and a few more armed troops walking around the city, there was no visible tension inside the Palais des Festivals or at any Cannes events.
It felt like a normal Cannes, not a tense or troubled one.
WINNER: “The Red Turtle”
Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit won an Oscar for the animated short “Father and Daughter” more than a decade ago, but he’s stayed away from features and hasn’t been visible on the international animation front.
Still, his new feature-length fable about a man stranded on an island was one of the hits of the festival’s homestretch, landing rave reviews and a Sony Classics deal. Next stop seems, inevitably, to be the Oscar animation race.
LOSERS: Festival stalwarts
People always complain that the festival is a closed-off “old boys club.” And to an extent they’re right. But the reaction to Woody Allen, Pedro Almodóvar, the Dardenne brothers and others was tepid. (Ken Loach would have been on that list if the jury hadn’t given him the Palme d’Or.)
At Cannes, few people were talking about those directors, in part because they’re known commodities. People know what to expect from them, and aren’t wowed when they deliver.
WINNERS: New voices
On the other hand, festivalgoers were enthusiastic about younger directors like Ade and Kleber Mendonca Filho (“Aquarius”), whose films were reportedly added to the competition lineup the day of the Cannes press conference announcing that lineup.
Call this the year of the new voice.
LOSERS: The sidebars
Some of the most vital work at Cannes often surfaces in the Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week sidebars, which screen out of the festival headquarters and down the Croisette. But this year those independent sections were lackluster. Pablo Larrain‘s “Neruda” was good, and so was the Shiva stoner comedy “One Week and a Day,” but overall there was no breakout sidebar hit, at least not from an American perspective.
In 2016, there was no “Take Shelter,” no “It Follows,” not even a “Blue Ruin” to enliven the sidebars. That might not be the sidebar’s fault — if the films aren’t there, they aren’t there — but there wasn’t much to pull people down the Croisette.
WINNERS: Genre movies
Still, the sidebars and the festival itself did showcase some ace genre films. Nathan Morlando’s “Mean Dreams” is a tough little teens-on-the-run drama that manages to make a duffel bag full of cash seem relatively fresh; David Mackenzie‘s “Hell or High Water” puts a fascinating, elegiac spin on a Western crime story; Michael O’Shea’s “The Transfiguration” is an inner-city vampire movie with a nice bit of ambiguity to its lead character.
They’ll all look good in Stateside indie theaters before long.
LOSER: Kristen Stewart on Monday
A few days after starring in the festival opener, “Café Society,” the actress was back for Olivier Assayas‘ slow-burn ghost story “Personal Shopper.” The film toyed with its audiences’ expectations, and the audience at its first press screening didn’t like that and booed. For a day, the big story out of Cannes was “Kristen Stewart Gets Booed!”
WINNER: Kristen Stewart on Tuesday
And then the next day, “Personal Shopper” had its official invitation-only premiere, and the audience responded with a lengthy standing ovation. That always happens at official Cannes premieres, but it was enough to change the narrative, and the headlines, to “Kristen Stewart Gets a Standing Ovation!”
And then on Wednesday “Personal Shopper” screened again to a less-than-capacity crowd in a smaller theater, and got a tepid round of applause with no boos. And on Sunday Assayas won an award from the jury.
LOSER: Woody Allen
The director opened the festival with “Café Society,” which got fair-to-middling reviews. But Allen could never get the focus onto his work and off his personal life: The big news out of opening night was that the ceremony emcee made a rape joke that involved Allen and Roman Polanski, and the big news out of a private press luncheon that took place the following day was Allen refusing to talk about a recent column in which his son Ronan Farrow accused the press of ignoring the rape accusations made against Allen by Farrow’s sister Dylan.
When you go to Cannes and everybody talks about old accusations instead of your new movie, you’ve got a problem.
This year’s festival was full of directors who wanted to stir things up, to be brash and provocative and transgressive. They didn’t all win awards, but they gave Cannes 2016 a bold and aggressive feeling.
They included Paul Verhoeven, with his rape-themed “Elle”; Andrea Arnold, making heroes out of drugged-out teens in “American Honey”; Park Chan-wook, finding new frontiers in over-the-top lesbian lovemaking in “The Handmaiden”; Xavier Dolan, constructing “It’s Only the End of the World” out of 90 minutes of unpleasant conversations shot in unpleasant close-ups; Alain Guiraudie, ending “Staying Vertical” with a lengthy scene that combined euthanasia and gay sex; and Nicolas Winding Refn, whose “The Neon Demon” included a lengthy necrophilia masturbation scene and some eyeball-eating to boot.
“Art is no longer about good or bad, guys,” Refn asserted at the press conference following his film. “Those days are over … This is f—-the-establishment youth culture.”
It’s typical for Hollywood studios to bring over big films for a splashy Cannes premiere prior to U.S. release, which happened this year with Sony’s “Money Monster,” Warner Bros.’ “The Nice Guys” and Disney’s “The BFG.”
But really, what’s the point? Especially if you’re opening the movies in the U.S. a day or two later, as was the case with “The Nice Guys” and “Money Monster,” why even bring them to a festival where the focus is on art-house auteurs?
Cannes greeted all three movies with a collective shrug, then went back to the business of waiting for the new Mungiu, Almodóvar or Verhoeven. You just had to wonder if it was worth the time and effort to bring them over to Cannes.
The online retail giant and relative newcomer in the content arena came into the festival with five films in the official competition. It didn’t win anything with “The Neon Demon,” “The Handmaiden,” “Paterson,” “Gimme Danger” and “Café Society” (which was out of competition), but Amazon established itself as a serious indie player in one fell swoop.
That’s not only because it had the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, Park-Chan Wook and Jim Jarmusch in its stable, but because it came to Cannes with the credibility of a staff that included indie vets Ted Hope, Bob Berney and Scott Foundas. Cannes can be snooty, but it welcomed Amazon into the temple of cinema.
LOSER: Brady Corbet
OK, this is a joke. But look, indie actor Corbet was at the festival in 2011 with “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Melancholia,” and in 2014 with three movies: “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Force Majeure” and “Saint Laurent.”
And now he’s gone two years without any Cannes movies at all. Once the unsung King of Cannes, poor Corbet now eats humble pie.