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26 Movies To Be Excited About At The Cannes Film Festival

Cinema's glitziest showcase kicks off this week with a slew of new movies from some of the greatest directors in the world. Here's a guide to what to keep an eye out for.

The Cannes Film Festival is known for bringing a parade of celebrities to the south of France every May. But it's also considered one of the most important events for movie lovers around the world, showcasing new work from established and upcoming directors that we'll spend the rest of the year talking about.

Here's a look at more than two dozen films from this year's fest and its side programs that you'll want to look out for.

The New Gothic Dramas

Amazon Studios

Elle Fanning plays a would-be model who, like a lot of showbiz aspirants, heads to Los Angeles in (1) The Neon Demon (pictured). But, because we're talking about the new film from Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, a man who takes his style with a hefty dose of darkness and vice versa, what follows is not a story about working as a waitress while waiting for a big break. Instead, it's a glittery nightmare in which people want to drain our heroine of her youth. An early trailer, which features bloody mouths and declarations of being dangerous, is entrancing, with Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone, and Keanu Reeves playing backup.

But The Neon Demon may not be as lush as (2) The Handmaiden, the latest from Oldboy's Park Chan-wook, which looks just as feverishly beautiful with all sorts of period trappings. The drama is set in Japan-occupied 1930s Korea, where a young woman (Kim Tae-Ri) takes a job at a country estate as part of scheme to help a con man marry the lady of the house, until everything overheats. Here's a rhythmic teaser filled with intrigue that suggests that in a competition between these two features, we all win.

The True Stories

Focus Features

(3) Loving (pictured) wins the prize for film most likely to garner Oscar talk at Cannes. It stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested and charged with violating Virginia's anti-miscegenation statutes in 1958. The Supreme Court case they brought about struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage, making for a story with more than enough power to fuel a movie. But Loving is promising beyond the weight of its story; it's written and directed by Jeff Nichols, of Midnight Special and Take Shelter, who seems capable of making this a good movie in addition to being an important one.

Over in the Directors' Fortnight, a program that runs parallel to Cannes, Gael García Bernal plays a police inspector hunting Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) in Pablo Larrain's (4) Neruda. It focuses on the Nobel laureate in the late '40s, at a time when he was a fugitive after speaking out against the right-wing regime. Larrain's not one to let a biopic just be a biopic, and Neruda reportedly has a solid film noir streak.

Meanwhile, (5) Hands of Stone focuses on the relationship between boxer Roberto Durán (Édgar Ramírez) and his trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), but its supporting roles are what's really eye-catching — especially Usher as Durán's famous opponent over multiple fights, Sugar Ray Leonard.

Love in Extreme Circumstances

River Road Entertainment

Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany heads north for Kim Nguyen's chilly Directors' Fortnight romance (6) Two Lovers and a Bear. She falls for Dane DeHaan in a small town of around 200 near the North Pole until the past comes calling.

And it's in war-ravaged Liberia where Javier Bardem and Charlize Theron stage their love story in (7) The Last Face (pictured). She's the director of an international aid agency and he's a doctor, though a behind-the-scenes relationship has just as much dramatic potential — the movie's directed by Sean Penn, Theron's former fiancé. Either way, the cast is terrific, with Blue Is the Warmest Color's Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jared Harris, and Jean Reno in supporting roles.

Kristen Stewart's Double Feature

IFC Films

Kristen Stewart's transformation from YA star to arthouse darling continues apace with two movies at Cannes this year. One, alas, is the new Woody Allen movie — (8) Café Society, in which Stewart joins Jesse Eisenberg for their third onscreen romance, this time in 1930s Hollywood and New York. If you haven't already bailed on Allen or been chased away by his comments about his marriage in his most recent interview, you can check out this trailer, which makes the film look like a less buoyant sibling to Hail, Caesar!. Stewart plays the assistant of a powerful agent (Steve Carell), with Blake Lively holding up the other point of a love triangle with Eisenberg's character.

In 2014's Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart also played an assistant, then working for an actor (Juliette Binoche). The role highlighted her strengths in a way few others have, particularly her restless naturalism. She reunites with director Olivier Assayas for (9) Personal Shopper (pictured), once again playing someone employed in a celebrity-adjacent field. This time, though, there's a supernatural twist: Stewart's character, Maureen, has a late twin who could communicate with spirits, an ability she might share. Besides, fashion-centric ghost story is a seriously under-explored genre.

And Jim Jarmusch's double feature

Amazon Studios

Indie legend Jim Jarmusch, of the ferocious deadpan and the fantastic hair, also has two movies at Cannes. The first, (10) Paterson (pictured), stars Adam Driver as a New Jersey bus driver and poet who shares a name with the movie and the city in which he lives. Driver seems like a perfect fit for Jarmusch's dry sensibilities, and he'll share the screen with the excellent Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani, who plays his wife.

Jarmusch's other film in the festival is a documentary, (11) Gimme Danger, about the life and legacy of the Stooges. And while there are more than enough docs being made about musicians these days, Jarmusch doesn't seem like the kind of filmmaker to just trudge dutifully through the lives of rock 'n' roll greats.

The Horror Wild Card

Transfiguration Productions

While other festivals pack their midnight sections with slashers and strangeness, last year Cannes programmed Asif Kapadia's Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse doc Amy. This is to say, Cannes isn't known for genre films. But the fest and its parallel programs have been known to surface the occasional horror gem, like the gorgeous and terrifying sexually transmitted ghost story It Follows, which premiered during Critics’ Week in 2014 and turned out to be one of the best horror films in recent memory. This year's intriguing prospect is (12) The Transfiguration (pictured), a New York–set vampire movie that's the first feature from writer/director Michael O'Shea. O'Shea has described The Transfiguration as an indie drama as much as it is a horror movie. Keep an eye out for the relative newcomers as its leads: Eric Ruffin, who plays 14-year-old Milo, and Chloe Levine.

Salespeople of the Hard-Partying and Literary Kinds


Brit filmmaker Andrea Arnold's 2009 film Fish Tank was a searingly good portrait of a teenage girl. It starred first-time actor Katie Jarvis alongside a just-about-to-break-big Michael Fassbender, who was at his snaky best as a man whose relationship with his girlfriend's neglected 15-year-old daughter wavers between encouraging and inappropriate. So the prospect of another teen portrait from Arnold is more than encouraging. Her new film, (13) American Honey (pictured), has the added benefit of being a road-trip movie that plunks its heroine, Star (Sasha Lane, another newcomer), into the unstable world of sales crews taken around the country to sell magazine subscriptions. The group she falls into is young and raucous, and includes characters played by Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, and Arielle Holmes, star of last year's autobiographical addition drama Heaven Knows What.

How sales figured into Asghar Farhadi's (14) The Salesman isn't so clear — the movie, which is set in Farhadi's native Iran, was reported early on to be tied in some way to Arthur Miller’s famous play Death of a Salesman. The Cannes description is more circumspect, noting only that it's a movie about a couple whose relationship is changed by a move to a new apartment. But Farhadi, who won an Oscar and was nominated for another in 2012 for A Separation, is one of the most consistently impressive directors working today, so who cares? The result is bound to be heartrending.

Fathers Trying to Do Right

CBS Films

Desperate dads are probably a theme of every festival, but this year's Cannes has a few notable ones. The biggest question mark is (15) Blood Father (pictured), Mel Gibson's first leading role in four years. The film comes from a French director, Mesrine's Jean-François Richet, and features Gibson as an ex-con whose teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty) has to be saved from drug dealers. Gibson's stock in Hollywood has been understandably low since his various meltdowns, legal troubles, substance abuse issues, and racist and anti-Semitic remarks over the last decade; this film floats the idea of him as a viable leading man again, and it'll be interesting to see how that works out.

There's also an ex-con and another desperate dad in (16) Hell or High Water, the new film from David Mackenzie. They're brothers, played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, and they plan a bank robbery to save their family's farm. Mackenzie is a gifted director whose prison drama Starred Up was a deeply tender movie about some very violence-prone men, so there's promise to this West Texas heist scenario.

Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda has a way with understated family dramas in which huge emotions lurk under quiet scenes, and his new film about a deadbeat dad trying to reconnect with his son, (17) After the Storm, sounds like it'll offer more of the same.

And in Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu's latest, (18) Graduation, a Transylvanian doctor has to decide if he'll go against his own beliefs to help his daughter get an education and live abroad after an attack gets in the way of her final exams. Mungiu is capable of making thrillers out of people struggling against impassive systems (see his tremendous 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, about a woman trying to obtain an illegal abortion), and this one certainly has that potential.

Men on the Run

Blue Budgie Films Limited

(19) Dog Eat Dog (pictured) sounds like a straightforward crime movie: Three ex-cons botch a kidnapping job and go on the run from the Mexican mob in Los Angeles. But the film comes from Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, director of American Gigolo and Affliction. He's a great talent in need of a win, as is Nicolas Cage, who plays one member of the main trio, alongside Christopher Matthew Cook and Willem Dafoe.

(20) Risk is, like Dog Eat Dog, a Directors' Fortnight selection, and it's also about being on the run, though in the case of its subject, Julian Assange, it's extradition that's the issue. Documentarian Laura Poitras, film's foremost chronicler of our age of surveillance, was there with Glenn Greenwald in Edward Snowden's Hong Kong hotel room in Citizenfour before the former NSA analyst was granted asylum in Russia. Assange has himself been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over three years now, and Risk reportedly looks at the period leading up to that confinement, when WikiLeaks was responsible for major information dumps.

High-Powered Women

SBS Productions

Isabelle Huppert plays a ruthless video game executive in (21) Elle (pictured), which should be enough in itself to sell the film. But Elle is also directed by Paul Verhoeven, who, after a Hollywood run that included RoboCop, Total Recall, and Showgirls, went home to the Netherlands for World War II drama Black Book, starring Carice van Houten as a Jewish woman who becomes a resistance spy. In the decade since, he's kept quiet, releasing only a small film called Tricked while trying to get together a bigger project. Elle is his comeback, and, given that it places Huppert in a tense game with a man who attacked her, it doesn't seem like he's softened up one bit.

(22) Toni Erdmann is also about a dedicated exec, a jet-setting woman (Sandra Hüller) whose relationship with her free-spirited music teacher dad (Peter Simonischek) has drifted. They seem destined to grow more distant until he calls on his alter ego, a wilder, freer version of himself that allows the two to bridge the gap. Sounds odd, maybe, but the film is written and directed by Germany's Maren Ade, whose last film, the relationship drama Everyone Else, showed an incredible talent for catching all the little ways people wound and criticize the ones they love.

The main character (Adèle Haenel) in (23) The Unknown Girl isn't an executive — she's a doctor who chooses to ignore a late visitor who comes to her clinic after she's closed for the day. The next day, a dead girl is found nearby, and the doctor becomes obsessed with finding out her identity. The Unknown Girl is the latest film from the Dardenne brothers, favorites of Cannes, whose work often explores people in tenuous economic positions. This sounds no different, and, coming off of the high of 2014's Two Days, One Night, it's one to really look forward to.

The Hollywood Moment

Daniel McFadden / Warner Bros.

Cannes leans decidedly toward art films, but the fest always makes a place for a handpicked studio debut or two, like last year's Mad Max: Fury Road. This year, Cannes is showcasing a few, most notably (24) The Nice Guys (pictured), the chatty '70s-set buddy-cop movie from Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black, which should bring stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe to the festival's famous red carpet and get a touch of prestige in return.

Thriller (25) Money Monster, in which George Clooney goes big as a Jim Cramer-style finance show host who, with his producer (Julia Roberts), is taken hostage on air, is headed to Cannes the day before it hits theaters. The movie, which takes on themes of corporate ruthlessness and the 24-hour news cycle, is Jodie Foster's fourth as a director.

And Steven Spielberg's (26) The BFG, adapted from the novel about a big, friendly giant by Roald Dahl, will come to Cannes a big two months before its scheduled release date, with Ruby Barnhill playing Sophie and Mark Rylance as her outsized pal.