Cannes 2014: The ten biggest buzz films

Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco which is the opening night film at Cannes.
Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco which is the opening night film at Cannes.

It's a temple of cinema, a den of frenzied deals and a haven for hangers-on: yes, the Cannes film festival in all its variegated glory and notoriety is back, kicking off tomorrow NZ time and running for 12 days. Here is Hugh Montgomery's armchair guide to the 10 films that will likely have everyone talking this year:

1. Grace of Monaco

What's the story?

Nicole Kidman stars as Hollywood actress turned Principality Princess Grace Kelly in this tale of her troubled marriage to Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth).

Why the buzz?

Because the gleeful prospect looms: could this out-of-competition opener be the new Diana? After all, like that peerless 2013 cinematic dud, it is the controversial biopic of a troubled princess in possession of a respected European director (La vie en roses Olivier Dahan), A-list Australian actress and ominously overblown trailer, while its troubled gestation has included multiple release date changes and reported disagreements over the edit between Dahan and Harvey "Scissorhands" Weinstein.

Which is to say: bring on the press conference!


2. Mr Turner

What's the story?

Veteran English director Mike Leigh goes period once more with this biopic of that great British dauber JWM Turner starring regular muse Timothy Spall.

Why the buzz?

Because when was the last time a Leigh film disappointed? In fact, has a Leigh film ever disappointed? (OK, well give you All Or Nothing at a stretch.) Plus the director has form in the mostly drearily unilluminating genre that is the artist biopic, as anyone who has seen his brilliant 1999 film Topsy Turvy, about comic opera duo Gilbert and Sullivan, will know.


3. Winter Sleep

What's the story?

The latest from highly revered Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan centred on a snowbound hotelier in the Anatolian steppes. There are no English subtitles on the trailer we've seen, but we did pick up on an air of unmitigated bleakness.

Why the buzz?

Because as well as Ceylan's standing within world cinema, less high-mindedly it is also a favourite for the Palme d'Or. And anyone who has seen Ceylan's last Cannes entry, 2011's police-procedural-meets-Waiting-for-Godot number Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which won the runner-up Grand Prix gong, will know why: his glacial anti-dramas are exactly the kind of high-cultural palate-cleanser that a jury might favour after two weeks of exposure to Eurotrash excess.


4. Foxcatcher

What's the story?

Another true-life, sports-related drama from Moneyball's Bennett Miller about the 1996 killing of US wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) by his team sponsor, billionaire and paranoid schizophrenic John Du Pont (Steve Carell).

Why the buzz?

Because Steve Carell is clearly giving it the full thespian. Ever since his breakout big-screen role as a depressed Proustian in Little Miss Sunshine, we've been waiting for the US Office star to flash us more of his dark side but mostly he's stuck to a blandly goofy breakfast-TV-presenter comic persona in a succession of supremely middling films that we can barely remember if we have seen. With him sporting ageing prosthetics and a chilling monotone to inhabit the role of Du Pont, however, this might just be his Truman Show.

Watch the trailer for Foxcatcher:

5. Lost River

What's the story?

A magical-realist fantasy involving a single mother of two and an underwater town, it also marks the directing debut of Ryan Gosling.

Why the buzz?

Because of the involvement of everybody's favourite aw-shucks Hollywood-arthouse crossover lust object, obviously. You might say ducking behind the camera is a sensible move for a man who has become increasingly catatonic in front of it but when it comes to actors-turned-directors, will the little Goose be more George Clooney or Johnny Depp? Only time will tell, though whatever the case, the world will still be able to appreciate the no doubt endless stream of photos of him pulling off Riviera smart-casual with effortless aplomb.


6. The Search

What's the story?

Michel Hazanavicius and Bernice Bejo, the husband-wife director-star duo of silent, black-and-white Oscar-winner The Artist, reunite for this war drama about an NGO worker who bonds with a young boy in Chechnya.

Why the buzz?

Because everyone's dying to know: just how do you follow up such a cinematic anomaly as The Artist? More traditionally, it would seem: The Search is both in colour and with sound, while the story is an update of a 1948 Fred Zinnemann film starring Montgomery Clift. In fact, Hazanavicius conducted the shoot in secret last year, reportedly in order to avoid media pressure. Naturally, that only makes us more curious.


7. Goodbye to Language

What's the story?

It's a Jean-Luc Godard film, so don't think youre going to be handed a sentence-long synopsis, OK? We do know that it's some kind of relationship drama and that this ends in barking and a baby's cries.

Why the buzz?

Because the latest from the increasingly obscure New Wave legend might well be the mad uncle of this year's competition. Plus it's the 83-year-old's first feature in 3D: and if anyone can turn this overrated technology on its head, Godard can.


8. Mommy

What's the story?

French-Canadian whizz kid Xavier Dolan directs this tale of a mother who has custody of a child with a difficult past.

Why the buzz?

Because it's cheering to see a precocious talent such as Dolan in the main competition alongside all those venerable auteurs/straight old white men. Just 25, the three-times Cannes veteran grabbed the spotlight with a trio of pop-arthouse films, 2009's I Killed My Mother, 2010's Heartbeat and 2012's Laurence Anyways, in which he combined eye-popping colour and high melodrama like a millennial Almodovar. But will this fifth feature follow in the footsteps of his recently released thriller Tom in the Farm in playing things more sinister?


9. Clouds of Sils Maria

What's the story?

Juliette Binoche plays an actress confronted by her mortality when she stars in a revival of the play that made her famous. Now, as the older lead, she must face off a precocious Hollywood starlet (Chloe Grace Moretz).

Why the buzz?

Because, for one, there's the Bechdel Test-friendly ensemble, with Binoche and Moretz joined by magna cum laude Twilight graduate Kristen Stewart as Binoche's PA. And for another, there's the fact that the story would seem to be riffing off All About Eve: and there's no more delicious narrative in cinema than that Bette Davis tale of backstage backstabbery.


10. Pride

What's the story?

A comedy-drama about how gay and lesbian activists rallied around the workers during the mid-Eighties miners strike.

Why the buzz?

Because, between its social conscience, culture-clash dynamics and louche casting (that's to say Bill Nighy and Dominic West appear), this Director's Fortnight closer has Brit-hit written all over it: at a guess, were thinking Billy Elliot does The Full Monty while wearing some Kinky Boots Made in Dagenham. And stage director Matthew Warchus, coming off a socking great crowd pleaser like Matilda: the Musical, is poised for the transition to the big screen.

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