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Cannes 2017: 10 standout movies to watch for

From American comedies to Russian tragedies, these are the films that are bound to make waves in the year ahead.

Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel in The Meyerowitz Stories.
The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected hits Netflix this fall.
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

The 70th Cannes Film Festival concluded on Sunday, May 28 with a glittering awards ceremony, hosted by Monica Bellucci, that honored the year’s films and brought some surprises.

The films Cannes picks for its screenings and awards inevitably land on the must-watch lists of cinephiles around the world. But this year’s entries served up plenty of films for casual moviegoers with a taste for adventure too. Two of the festival’s selections will be released in the United States within the next month: Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, which heads straight to Netflix on June 28, and Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, which opens in theaters on June 30.

But a number of other films from the festival are bound to make waves in the year ahead. Some will play at festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival before heading to theaters. Others will spend time looking for the right distributor before they appear in arthouse theaters and eventually on streaming services.

Whatever their release methods, though, all 10 of these movies are worth keeping on your radar. Some are entertaining, some are frightening, and some are fierce, but each will expand your horizons and keep you thinking long past when the credits roll.

The Florida Project

A scene from Sean Baker’s The Florida Project
A scene from Sean Baker’s The Florida Project.
Marc Schmidt

Tangerine director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project unfolds at first like a series of sketches about the characters who live in a purple-painted, $35-a-night motel called the Magic Castle down the street from Disney World. The film is held together by the hysterical antics of a kid named Moonee and her pack of young friends, as well as long-suffering hotel manager Bobby (a splendid, warm Willem Dafoe), who tries to put up with it all while keeping some kind of order. But as The Florida Project goes on, a narrative starts to form, one that chronicles with heartbreaking attention the sort of dilemmas that face poor parents and their children in America, and the broken systems that try to cope with impossible situations.

A24 will distribute The Florida Project in the United States.

Happy End

Happy End
From Michael Haneke’s Happy End.

Happy End, from the celebrated Michael Haneke (Amour, Cache), is about a lot of things: psychopaths, wealth, privilege, suicide, even murder. But if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss what’s it’s really about: the European refugee crisis. Haneke’s focus in Happy End (and often throughout his work) is on how privilege and wealth, treated nonchalantly, can corrupt and distort humanity. Here, they’ve turned a family belonging to the wealthy bourgeoisie into several generations of unhappy psychopaths, who quietly hide some of their pathologies while disguising others as benevolence — especially toward the immigrants who serve them and live on the fringes of their lives. The result is a chilling, suspenseful ride.

Happy End is awaiting US release.

I Am Not a Witch

Maggie Mulubwa in I Am Not a Witch
Maggie Mulubwa in I Am Not a Witch.

Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is a Zambian girl banished from her village after a weird incident, and winds up living with a traveling camp of witches that takes her in. An uneasy and often exploitative deal has been struck between the area government official and the witches, and the official sees opportunity in Shula. I Am Not a Witch feels like a remarkable discovery: part comedy, part social critique, part tragedy, and all bracingly original.

I Am Not a Witch is awaiting US release.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell headline in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell headline in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer shared the Best Screenplay award at Cannes (with Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here). It’s co-written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) and stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman — identified only by the titles “Surgeon” and “Surgeon’s Wife” — as the well-off parents of two children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). The family lives in an ordinary, affluent American suburb and appears to be mostly normal, if a little formal with one another, until a menacing stranger enters their midst. To craft the story, Lanthimos twisted the elements of the Greek myth of Iphigenia into something modern and nightmarish. The result is fascinating, and horrifying.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is slated to release in the US on November 3.


Maryana Spivak in Loveless
Maryana Spivak in Loveless.

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless is two things at once: a tragedy about a divorcing couple so disconnected from each other that their son is gone for two days before they notice, and a parable about the loss of hope in contemporary Russia. The film also pointedly focuses on the contrasts between characters’ lavish homes and abandoned, dismantled buildings that silently tell the stories of a nation’s hopes dashed, just as we see how couples’ big hopes turn into dust in their hands. A sense of impending apocalypse hangs heavily over the whole film. It’s a remarkable achievement.

Loveless is awaiting US release.

The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected

Grace Van Patten, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel in The Meyerowitz Stories
Grace Van Patten, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel in The Meyerowitz Stories.

One of two movies that kicked up a controversy around Netflix at the festival (the other was Okja), The Meyerowitz Stories is set up as a series of chapters about its title family, led by patriarch and moderately successful sculptor Harold (Dustin Hoffman). The film boasts an all-around knockout cast, but its most notable — and maybe surprising — performance comes from Adam Sandler, who carries the proceedings as Danny, Harold’s oldest and least professionally successful spawn. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (Mistress America, The Squid and the Whale), The Meyerowitz Stories is a tale of a family that still hasn’t quite figured out how to live with each other's deficiencies. But at least they’re trying.

The Meyerowitz Stories will run in limited US theaters and release on Netflix in the fall.

The Square

Elisabeth Moss and Claes Bang in The Square
Elisabeth Moss and Claes Bang in The Square.

Taking some by surprise, The Square won the coveted Palme d’Or, the highest honor given by the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure), it’s a hilariously needling comedy about the contemporary art world, as well as the kind of idealistic liberalism that is tough to maintain in the face of real problems. The outstanding Claes Bang stars as Christian, a curator whose cluelessness leads him into some outlandishly rough spots, with Elisabeth Moss in a too-short but brilliant part as an American journalist who isn’t letting him get away with his shenanigans.

The Square will be released in the US in the fall.

Visages, Villages

A still from Faces Places
A scene from Visages, Villages.

Far and away my favorite film of the festival, the unusual documentary Visages, Villages (Faces, Places) turns on the friendship between the accomplished French street artist JR and legendary Belgian film director Agnès Varda, whose work was central to the development of the French New Wave movement. The pair (whose difference in age is 55 years) met after years of admiring each other’s work and decided to create a documentary portrait of France — by making a number of actual portraits. The film chronicles a leg of the “Inside Outside Project,” a roving art initiative in which JR makes enormous portraits of people he meets and pastes them onto buildings and walls. In the film, Varda joins him, and as they talk to people around the country, they grow in their understanding of themselves and each other.

Visages, Villages is awaiting US release.


Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck
Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck.

Gorgeous, moving, and innovatively told, Todd Haynes’s Wonderstruck is the odd children’s film that actually treats kids like intelligent creatures capable of watching good films. It’s based on Brian Selznick’s critically praised novel of the same name, about two deaf 12-year-olds living 50 years apart, in 1927 and 1977. Haynes’s previous films, like Carol and Far From Heaven, while certainly for adults, are deeply emotional and luminous — which makes him a surprisingly perfect fit for this material. Haynes is never afraid of plunging to the bottom of wells of emotions, and he does it so confidently that it never comes across as saccharine or sentimental. It’s a master class in making children’s films — and entirely well-suited to adults, too.

Wonderstruck is slated for limited US release on October 20.

You Were Never Really Here

Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here.

Lynne Ramsay shared the screenwriting award at Cannes for this film with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and its star, Joaquin Phoenix, won Best Actor (to his own shock; the actor didn’t recognize his name at first). Adapted from a Jonathan Ames novel, it’s an expressionist, emotional, and brutal film about a haunted hitman who becomes an inadvertent vigilante. It rightly earned raves from critics; this is the kind of film that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go.

You Were Never Really Here is awaiting US release.