Unlike last year, there's no cloud of volcanic ash hovering over Europe and delaying flights to the Cannes Film Festival. Unlike last year, there's not much doubt about the depth of a lineup that Peter Knegt calls "a cinephile’s dream of a program." And unlike last year, Terrence Malick finished "The Tree of Life" in time, and his long-awaited and long-delayed opus will screen at the festival.
Which means that as the international film community arrives in the South of France for a festival that kicks off with a Wednesday night screening of Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," there's a celebratory air on the Croisette. Kenneth Turan summed it up in the first sentence of his pre-Cannes report in the Los Angeles Times: "Cannes is always the film festival that critics have to go to, but this year it's shaping up as a place you actually might want to be."
Turan's picks for the festival's must-see films start with three English-language entries: "The Tree of Life," Paolo Sorrentino's "This Must Be the Place" (with a very glam-looking Sean Penn) and Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin."
But the ads that cover the front of the Carlton Hotel, he points out, offer equal time for big American summer films: "Cars 2," "Super 8" and "Transformers: The Dark of the Moon."
At indieWIRE, Eric Kohn offers 20 films he can't wait to see in Cannes – at which, he says, "a relatively unknown film can become a frontrunner for the Palme d’Or after its premiere and a few boos at a morning press screening can kill a movie’s prospects by afternoon." His list includes the Malick and the Almodovar and the von Trier and the Dardenne brothers and a lot more of the usual suspects, along with a handful of riskier offerings, including the black comedy "Habemus Papum," the presumably subversive "Hors Satan" and the festival's single 3D entry, "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai" (if you don't count the out-of-competition screening of the new 3D "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie).
And indieWIRE also has a guide to every film in the festival – though at this point, that guide mostly consists of each film's title and director, and the date of its first screening. The site's criticWIRE score, which averages letter grades from a variety of critics, is full of TBDs at this point: the only Cannes films that have enough reviews are Jodie Foster's out-of-competition "The Beaver" (B-) and two Sundance favorites, Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (B+) and Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter" (B+). The grades will start to come in soon – and for the most part, the indieWIRE critics are a tough group to please.
At In Contention, Guy Lodge has been posting more elaborate guides to many of the Cannes films. So far he's summed up what he's been able to round up about "Drive," "Melancholia," "This Must Be the Place," "Michael," "We Need to Talk About Kevin," "We Have a Pope," "The Tree of Life" and quite a few others.
Here's an interesting curtain-raiser: the Hollywood Reporter staff (that's what the byline says, anyway) interviews the trade's own chief movie critic, Todd McCarthy, about Cannes experience. (What, he couldn’t have written it himself?) McCarthy says he's been attending since 1970, and shares memories of seeing films that ranged from "Stranger Than Paradise" to "E.T." He also wonders about what kind of jury president Robert De Niro will make, and talks about a "dicey" bar that was once the scene of an apparently mild (and strangely song-based) tussle between the French and the British.
Another THR interview is with Woody Allen, who says that Cannes is "an unreal experience" with "no connection to real life." Seemingly dreading the Wednesday opening-night experience for "Midnight in Paris," he details the impending misery: "[T]here are a million flashbulbs going off in your face. People clap when you walk in to take your seat. You have to sit through the movie, that’s the worst part. And after the movie, you have to stand up and people clap … I'm always embarrassed." Oh, the horror.
AFP, meanwhile, offers a story that's heavy on the names of big movie stars who'll be in attendance, though it also includes some less-starry Cannes stats: 20 films in competition for the Palme d'Or, a stepped-up security presence that will include 700 police officers, a city's population swollen to 200,000, and a market of 10,000 participants from 101 countries eyeing the rights to 4,240 films.
Anne Thompson thinks it’ll be a seller's market on the Croisette this year – partly for the foreign films in the competition, but mostly for Cannes market offerings like Walter Salles' film version of Kerouac's "On the Road"; David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" (international rights only; Warner Bros. already has domestic); Lone Scherfig's follow-up to "An Education," "One Day"; and Roger Mitchell's "Hyde Park on Hudson," with Bill Murray starring as Franklin Roosevelt. Thompson on Hollywood has more details.
The Marche du Film market also provides an irresistible opportunity for production companies to announce their new projects to a media already focused on Cannes: the project may never have any chance of officially playing at the festival, but that "FESTIVAL DE CANNES" dateline works wonders when it comes to attracting attention. Hence Tuesday's announcement of the July start of production for "Sleight of Hand," an action comedy directed by Brad Mirman and starring Kiefer Sutherland, Gerard Depardieu, Thomas Jane, Johnny Hallyday and Jon Lovitz. “There is no better place to announce a French film with International stars than the Cannes Film Festival,” said producer Richard Rionda del Castro in the release. Attention, buyers: the film will be selling at the Hannibal Pictures booth at Lerins S13.
And finally, any film festival as seen through the eyes of Jeff Wells is about far, far more than the movies. So, before Cannes even officially began, a perusal of Wells' Hollywood Elsewhere tells us a variety of things. First, he's mad at Air France for not offering on-board wi-fi. (Wells usually waits until he arrives at festivals to complain about the wi-fi, so he's outdone himself here.) He sat in seat 22D on the flight from Paris to Nice. He and Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday are paying $244 a day for the nicest place he's ever rented at Cannes (video included). He didn't get much sleep on Tuesday night, but he thinks the cawing of the seagulls and "the distant buzz-saw roar" of Cannes scooters "makes for a curiously soothing dawn symphony." And he's not looking forward to the Dardenne brothers' "The Kid with the Bike," because "I don't like movies about red-haired kids with high-pitched voices who wear red T-shirts." I think we're in for a classic Wells performance here, folks.
(Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)