Cannes Films On the Critical List

Variety’s critics have to see a lot of the Cannes selection, but which pics are they really excited about? The answers below.

SCOTT FOUNDAS

“All Is Lost” (J.C. Chandor)
Chandor, who made an impressive debut with Margin Call in 2011, ventures far from Wall Street — and dry land — for this followup, starring Robert Redford as a man lost at sea in a movie that purports to have even less spoken dialogue than “The Artist.” “Life of Pi” minus the tiger? Ideal viewing for Cannes’ beachside Cinema de la Plage? Only time will tell.

Behind the Candelabra” (Steven Soderbergh)
Though it will premiere on HBO while the festival is still in full swing, it’s still hard not to be excited by the prospect of this long-planned Liberace biopic from retiring renaissance man Soderbergh, with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon” (two actors Soderbergh has made excellent use of in the past) surrounded by Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd and Debbie Reynolds. Bring on the sequins!

“Grand Central” (Rebecca Zlotowski)
With its raw, feral performance by Lea Seydoux as a wayward Jewish teen drawn into the subculture of illegal street motorcycle racing, Zlotowski’s 2010 Belle Epine ranks among the most assured debut features of recent years. Seydoux is back for Zlotowski’s followup, alongside “A Prophet” star Tahar Rahim and Dardenne brothers’ muse Olivier Gourmet. Details about the plot are scarce, except that it is a love story set against the world of the French nuclear power industry. No matter; that Zlotowski is at the helm is all you really need to know.

The Immigrant” (James Gray)
Previously graced with the more allusive title Low Life, this period drama set among the immigrant communities of New York’s Lower East Side in the 1920s marks Gray’s fourth competition berth. All the more remarkable, “The Immigrant” is only Gray’s fifth feature, and yet he remains more of a household name in France than at home, where his highest-grossing film, the 2007 We Own the Night, topped out at $28 million. A stellar cast — Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner and Marion Cotillard — plus Gray’s always atmospheric direction could make this the dark horse of Cannes’ U.S. slate.

“Norte, the End of History” (Lav Diaz)
One of the heartening things about Cannes is its inclusion of films by some of the world’s best-known filmmakers alongside those who are relatively unknown even in rarefied critical and programming circles. Case in point: The Philippines’ Lav Diaz, whose credits include the panoramic, five-hour New Jersey crime drama “Batang West Side” (2001) and the nine-hour “Evolution of a Filipino Family” (2004), a film I once spent an entire day watching at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, emerging high on Diaz’s rapturous black-and-white images and his profound, unpatronizing concern for his people and their place in the world. At merely four hours, Diaz’s latest — his overdue Cannes debut — seems practically a short, even as the title intones another epic.

“Seduced and Abandoned” (James Toback)
This hybrid fact/fiction whatsit from the always provocative director was shot on location during Cannes 2012, with Toback and co-star Alec Baldwin playing thinly fictionalized versions of themselves, on the Croisette to seek financing for a film project. Along the way, they turn their camera — and their questions about everything from filmmaking to fear of dying — on a who’s who of actors, directors and film financiers, including Bernardo Bertolucci, Ryan Gosling, Martin Scorsese, and yes, even this humble critic … provided I haven’t ended up on the cutting room floor.

The Selfish Giant” (Clio Barnard)
Barnard’s thrilling “The Arbor” was the revelation of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, using a most unconventional style — actors lip-synching to pre-recorded documentary interviews — to tell the life story of the troubled British playwright Andrea Dunbar. For The Selfish Giant, a self-described contemporary fable loosely based on an Oscar Wilde story, Barnard tells the tale of two outcast teenage boys and their relationship with a charismatic scrap merchant. Expect the unexpected.

“Tip Top” (Serge Bozon)
Bozon’s sophomore feature, La France, was one of the major discoveries of the 2007 Directors’ Fortnight. Adapted from a novel by British pulp author Bill James, Bozon’s latest stars the indefatigable Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Kiberlain as rival police inspectors in a film the director has said is secretly inspired by Robert Aldrich’s marvelous female wrestling romp, “All the Marbles.” He had me at Huppert.

“A Touch of Sin” (Jia Zhangke)
The new film by arguably China’s greatest living filmmaker is not the director’s long promised martial arts epic. Instead, it’s a quartet of stories set across disparate stretches of modern-day China that also marks the once-banned enfant terrible Jia’s first official co-production with a major Chinese studio. It’s unknown whether the four stories will literally or merely thematically intersect, but one can rest assured that whatever Jia has to say, it’ll be no tower of Babel.

“Venus in Fur” (Roman Polanski)
Polanski follows up his Carnage with another adaptation of a one-room Broadway play: David Ives’ tale of a playwright auditioning an actress for his production of the 1870 novella that gave us the term “masochism.” Onstage, “Venus in Fur” was electrifying, if hard to imagine as a film. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s Polanski, a genius of claustrophobic spaces whose Death and the Maiden trafficked in similar who’s-torturing-who terrain.

JUSTIN CHANG

“Bastards” (Claire Denis)
The fact that this isn’t in competition suggests it’s a minor work from one of our greatest living filmmakers. Then again, if 2007 Un Certain Regard opener “Flight of the Red Balloon” was Cannes’ idea of minor Hou Hsiao-hsien, Denis’ first feature since “White Material” could be as outstanding as anything in competition.

“The Last of the Unjust” (Claude Lanzmann)
Any addition to Lanzmann’s peerless body of work on the Holocaust, including Shoah and Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m., demands to be seen and reckoned with.

“Like Father, Like Son” (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Having just caught up with Kore-eda’s wonderful I Wish, I’m ready for this paternity-switch drama from one of our most consistently clear-eyed humanist filmmakers.

“The Past” (Asghar Farhadi)
Could it be as great as “A Separation”? Could anything? Either way, it will be fascinating to see what Farhadi has devised as he becomes the latest international auteur to fall under the spell of Paris.

“The Selfish Giant(Clio Barnard)
“The Arbor” was one of the standout documentaries of recent years, a form-busting masterwork. Barnard’s followup sounds completely different.
Color me intrigued.

“Blind Detective” (Johnnie To)
Et voila, To’s directed another nonsensical-looking crime yarn with Andy Lau and stylized blood-smoke explosions.
Count me in.

The Bling Ring” (Sofia Coppola)
Hermione Granger meets our reigning poet of poor-little-rich-girl anomie. What’s not to love?

“The Immigrant” (James Gray)
Could this perennial Cannes bridesmaid finally get his due — or, barring that, at least some respect from the quick-to-boo press corps? We’ll know soon enough, but at present, Gray’s period drama looks like one of the competition’s most enticing prospects.

“Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian)” (Arnaud Desplechin)
No idea how the sensibility behind such feverishly inventive Gallic gabfests as “Kings and Queen” and “A Christmas Tale” will translate to a post-WWII Kansas setting with Benicio Del Toro, but Desplechin is nothing if not resourceful.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche)
As a fan of Kechiche’s masterful “The Secret of the Grain” and his great, incendiary “Black Venus,” I was excited for this even before I found out it starred Lea Seydoux with blue hair.

PETER DEBRUGE

“The Immigrant” (James Gray)
No American director respects the art of classical storytelling more than Gray. Starting with Ellis Island, this period piece reveals a dark chapter of his own family history.

“The Past” (Asghar Farhadi)
With a plot that advances the premise of the Iranian helmer’s exceptional 2011 film “A Separation,” this drama goes abroad to examine the final stages of a couple’s divorce.

“Young & Beautiful” (Francois Ozon)
Until In the House, I feared French provocateur Ozon had lost his edge, but this psychosexual offering appears to pick up where he left off with 2003’s “Swimming Pool.”

“Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian)” (Arnaud Desplechin)
In the latest from the helmer of “A Christmas Tale,” a French psychotherapist treats a Native American damaged by his experiences in WWII. The French “Awakenings”?

“Inside Llewyn Davis” (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
The Coen brothers tackle the 1960s folk music scene. That milieu doesn’t do much for me, though the trailer suggests a welcome return to Barton Fink mode.

“Only God Forgives” (Nicolas Winding Refn)
Refn reunites with Ryan Gosling in what looks like a neon-lit homage to Hong Kong cinema. I can’t wait to see what the director does with Kristin Scott

“Thomas. Nebraska” (Alexander Payne)
Eleven years after “About Schmidt,” Payne returns to Cannes with a film set in his home state, though I’m troubled that the Midwestern auteur didn’t write the screenplay.

“The Congress” (Ari Folman)
The “Waltz With Bashir” director adapts Polish sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem’s “The Futurological Congress” as a cartoon? Sounds like one heckuva head trip.

“A Castle in Italy” (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi)
This year in Sundance, half the pics in competition were directed by women. At Cannes, this is the only one, a personal episode from Gillian Anderson’s Gallic doppelganger.

“The Bling Ring” (Sofia Coppola)
This is the femme-made movie I most want to see in Cannes, opening Un Certain Regard: a teeny-bopper true-crimer with a splash of “Spring Breakers.”

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