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Cannes So Far: Stars Bomb But Movies Deliver at 2015 Festival

Cannes 2015: With a strong, varied slate of movies, does it even matter that people booed Matthew McConaughey?

A little before midnight on Sunday, in an elegantly appointed tent next to the beach in Cannes, “Carol” director Todd Haynes stood near Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara accepting congratulations on his film, which had premiered to a lengthy standing ovation a couple of hours earlier.

“This,” Haynes said to TheWrap with a grin, “has been a very heady night for me.”

But then, this has been a heady few nights for lots of people – because as the 68th Cannes Film Festival wraps up its first weekend and its first five days of screenings, it has been a very heady Cannes.

Haynes and Gus Van Sant may have been the only U.S. directors in the main competition, and the star power has been a little less than in many recent years, but that’s missing the point of Cannes. What has become clear since the festival opened on Wednesday is that this year’s festival has something more crucial to Cannes than marquee names.

It has great movies.

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

There was “Carol,” about which reviewers unanimously raved, and almost as unanimously trotted out the same entirely appropriate word: exquisite.

And the harrowing “Son of Saul,” in which first-time Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes found a new way to capture the horrors of the Holocaust.

There was the stylish, imaginative, genre-blending “Tale of Tales,” a twisted take on fairy tales from Matteo Garrone.

And the lovely, meditative “Our Little Sister” from Kore-eda Hirokazu; and “The Lobster,” another surreal delight from “Dogtooth” auteur Yorgos Lanthimos; and the richly-drawn comedy-drama blend of Nanni Moretti’s “Mia Madre.”

And if you went for the out-of-competition screenings, the first few days have seen George Miller‘s dazzling action flick “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

And hey, Cannes has even given us a classic movie to hate in Gus Van Sant’s famously booed “The Sea of Trees.”

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

I mean, what more do you want from the first five days of a Cannes Film Festival?

Oh, and on the business side, a year admittedly lacking in high-profile projects has still managed to stir up some decent sales, with Sony Pictures Classics grabbing “Our Little Sister” and “Son of Saul” from the competition slate, while market acquisitions include Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” going to Focus Features and Miles Teller’s boxing drama “Bleed for This” selling to Open Road, among others.

It hasn’t been a booming year for business, and in a way it hasn’t been a booming year for movie stars. The festival’s biggest dud, “The Sea of Trees,” features one of its biggest stars, McConaughey. Natalie Portman‘s directorial debut, the period drama “Tale of Love and Darkness,” debuted to a lukewarm response. And Woody Allen‘s press conference was more entertaining than his movie, “Irrational Man,” with Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix.

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

In the competition for the Palme d’Or, which seemed wide open going into the festival, “Carol” might be the leader in the clubhouse – it certainly is with the critics. But it’s easy to picture the jurors enamored of more formally daring works like “Tale of Tales,” “Son of Saul” and “The Lobster,” and 10 of the 19 films in the main competition have yet to screen for anybody.

The jury co-presidents, the Joel and Ethan Coen, are among the first to exit the Grand Theatre Lumiere after press screenings every morning, and reading clues from their expressions is pretty much impossible: Joel always looks serious and Ethan always looks happy.

As for that other award, the Oscar, it’s safe to say that as usual, Cannes is showing us several films that will be submitted by their home countries in the Best Foreign Language Film race later this year – although their job is made harder by the fact that several foreign directors, including Greece’s Lanthimos, Norway’s Joachim Trier and Italy’s Matteo Garrone, have opted to make films in English.

Also read: Cannes Wrap Cover Story: Isabelle Huppert Surveys Her Career, Her Life and Her Beloved Festival

Among the U.S. titles, meanwhile, “The Sea of Trees” is surely DOA, but “Carol” is very much alive in multiple categories, including picture, director and above all actress.

(The big question: Do you campaign Mara for Best Supporting Actress, or do you try to land two Best Actress nominations, which is truer to the film’s dynamic? Harvey Weinstein is no doubt figuring out the angles and the odds.)

Also read: ‘Carol’ Cannes Review: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara Shine in Bold Romance

With new films screening through Saturday and the festival not ending until next Sunday, we’re not even at the halfway point; still to come are Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario” and Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth” and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “The Assassin” and Justin Kurzel’s “MacBeth” – and out of competition, two animated films that could well be squaring off come Oscar time, Pete Docter’s “Inside Out” and Mark Osborne’s “The Little Prince.”

And the next Cannes sensation could very easily not be on that list at all. This is a festival, after all, where people wait in long lines every morning to fill a huge movie theater for an 8:30 screening of a movie by Lanthimos or Moretti or Audiard.

Of course, it’s pretty cool that a place like that exists, where an enormous international media event can create a buzz around the new Kore-eda.

That’s Cannes, and so far this year it’s been a heady place to be.

See exclusive stories and pictorials from TheWrap Magazine: Cannes Edition:

Isabelle Huppert (Sandro Baebler)

Sandro Baebler