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For the first time since May 2019, the Cannes Film Festival – finally – once again welcomes filmgoers to the Palais, where a new selection of films vie for the coveted Palme d’Or (the festival’s top prize) and perhaps go all the way to the Academy Awards as the 2019 winner Parasite did in 2020. This year’s jury, led by director Spike Lee, will determine which film with take home the golden laurels, but we also have a host of films from the Une Certain Regarde section and out-of-competition sections that already have us buzzing.
The Venice Film Festival managed to scale itself down during the pandemic, and Sundance hosted an all virtual affair, but Cannes marks the first major festival to welcome stars, critics, industry insiders, students, and fans to the festival in over two years. All eyes are be on the French affair to see how well they can navigate COVID-19 restrictions, which have prevented most in-person gatherings and devastated the film festival calendar. Cannes Festival Delegate Thierry Frémaux has stated that he intends to have full capacity at the various theaters, and though attendees are encouraged to be vaccinated prior to attendance, it will not be required. Additionally, travel restrictions have kept many, including stars from the various films, from attending, but Rotten Tomatoes will be on the ground with a daily diary of all the goings-on and hot titles for those interested in staying informed.
If you are curious what we are gearing up to cover, read on for the seven buzziest films we are looking out for at Cannes 2021; you’ll definitely want to check them out when they reach theaters near you or land on streaming.
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Cast: Jodie Turner-Smith, Colin Farrell, Haley Lu Richardson, Justin H. Min, Clifton Collins Jr.
Official Synopsis: In the near future, a family reckons with questions of love, connection, and loss after their A.I. helper unexpectedly breaks down.
Why we want to see it: If by chance you missed Kogonada’s previous effort, Columbus, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately, and you will understand why we are so excited for his latest, After Yang. The sci-fi drama stars Haley Lu Richardson (who previously appeared in Columbus alongside John Cho), Colin Farrell, and one of our favorite new leading ladies, Jodie Turner-Smith. In what appears to be a reverse of the premise of Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s A.I., in which artificial intelligence is taken for granted, After Yang seems to explore the positive impact of an artificial being on the family unit and how they wrestle with the grief of its absence.
Director: Valérie Lemercier
Cast: Valérie Lemercier, Danielle Fichaud, Sylvain Marcel
Official Synopsis: The life story of Canadian singing sensation Aline Dieu, a fictitious pop star whose life is loosely based on Grammy-winning superstar Celine Dion.
Why we want to see it: You had us at “Aline.” Someday we will likely get an official Celine Dion biopic that the singer herself has approved. Still, if the television show Hacks (based on the life of Joan Rivers) and the film adaptation Dreamgirls (based on the forming of The Supremes) have taught us anything, “loosely inspired” biopics can often turn out to be quite entertaining for both critics and audiences. Valérie Lemercier, who directs and co-wrote the film, also stars as Aline throughout her life, and despite the lack of sign-off from Celine Dion, it seems we will still get to hear a few of her classic songs during the film, and that is enough to guarantee our attendance.
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Virginie Efira, Lambert Wilson, Daphne Patakia, Olivier Rabourdin, Clotilde Courau, Charlotte Rampling, Hervé Pierre
Official Synopsis: A novice nun in the 17th century joins an Italian convent and begins a love affair with another woman.
Why we want to see it: An erotic thriller about 17th-century nuns from the mind behind Basic Instinct? What more do you need? If the premise sounds like a lot of spice without substance, let us remind you the same could be said of an erotic thriller about rape and revenge starring Isabelle Huppert, and yet Verhoeven managed to pull that off with room to spare in Elle. Here, he reteams with many of his collaborators from that film, including co-writer David Birke and star Virginie Efira, and we think it will push past its titillating logline to unveil a compelling drama that should get people talking.
Director: Leos Carax
Cast: Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard
Official Synopsis: The glamorous life of a provocative stand-up comedian and his wife, a world-famous soprano, takes an unexpected turn when their daughter Annette is born with a unique gift.
Why we want to see it: We got a glimpse of Adam Driver’s singing ability in Marriage Story when he flawlessly belted out the Broadway staple “Being Alive” from Company. Since then, the thought of an Adam Driver musical has been dancing in our collective minds. This year, those wishes come true alongside Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard, which only further increases the anticipation. This is the first English-language film from director Leos Carax, who returns to Cannes after his film Holy Motors competed in 2012. Annette is on track to be the most commercial work of the French filmmaker’s career while still staying true to his French New Wave inspirations.
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Director: Justin Chon
Cast: Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Mark O’Brien, Linh Dan Pham, Martin Bats Bradford
Official Synopsis: A Korean-American man raised in the Louisiana bayou who works hard to make a life for his family must confront the ghosts of his past after discovering that he could be deported from the only country he has ever called home.
Why we want to see it: Actor-turned-director Justin Chon has shown promise since his debut film Gook, which earned him an Indie Spirit Award as a filmmaker to watch. Chon followed up Gook with another critical darling, Ms. Purple, and with his third feature, he has made it to the Croisette. He pulls triple duty writing, directing, and starring in Blue Bayou, and with the added star power of Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander, this intimate immigrant tale set in the Louisiana bayou might confirm his breakout director status.
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson
Official Synopsis: Three stories unfold as the dedicated journalists at the French office of a Kansas newspaper scramble to pull together the publication’s final issue.
Why we want to see it: Wes Anderson has garnered over 15 Academy Award nominations and four wins for his previous films, and he returns to the festival with a film that has been destined for a Cannes premiere for nearly 2 years. Those facts alone would be enough to get our attention, but with another stellar ensemble cast of Oscar winners and Anderson staples, this love letter to journalism set in France has us hoping it can reach the height of his Best Picture-nominated film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Also starring Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan in a mini Lady Bird/Little Women reunion, The French Dispatch is arguably the most highly anticipated feature of the festival.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, and Abigail Breslin
Official Synopsis: A father travels from Oklahoma to France to help his estranged daughter, who is in prison for a murder she claims she didn’t commit.
Why we want to see it: Tom McCarthy has mostly stuck to television and family films since he won an Oscar for Best Picture with 2015’s Spotlight, but his latest, another “inspired by true events” crime drama, could see him back in the Oscar conversation. Matt Damon, who stars in the film, is clearly the one to watch in the Best Actor race with his role here as a tough oil rig worker seeking to free his daughter from jail. Focus Features has several awards contenders in 2021 between this, Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, and Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter, so the Cannes premiere likely signals a more commercial appeal for the feature, which is not in competition but slated to hit theaters July 30.
Thumbnail image by CG Cinéma International