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9 standout Cannes movies you’ll be hearing about this year

From the praised to the provocative, these films will be part of this year’s conversation.

Closing Ceremony - The 71st Annual Cannes Film Festival
Spike Lee took home the Grand Prix for BlacKkKlansman, which opens in the US in August.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
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 71st Cannes Film Festival concluded on May 19 with an awards ceremony and the premiere of Terry Gilliam’s long-awaited and possibly cursed film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The festival’s nearly two-week run was filled with protests and pledges regarding the festival’s history of gender inequity and sexual harassment, as well as programming that seemed poised to critique every sort of ideological oppression.

But it was also a celebration of some of the best films and filmmakers working in global cinema today — and for those who were lucky enough to see the offerings, it was a veritable feast. Cannes helps set the pace for the next year of film conversation, including the inevitable awards season prognostication.

This year’s most talked-about films will certainly be on the radar of cinephiles and more casual moviegoers in the months ahead. Here are nine of the films that generated the most buzz at Cannes in 2018, why they mattered, and what you can expect from them soon.


Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, a critique of the age of Trump by way of a true story from the 1970s about a black cop who infiltrated the KKK, took home the Grand Prix at Cannes, which is the second-highest honor the festival gives out. Styled after blaxploitation films, the movie stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace (who plays a pitch-perfect David Duke). It’s a passionate, no-holds-barred film that pleased many critics as well as the jurors. I didn’t feel the same way — its heavy-handedness about modern parallels seemed to both mistrust the audience and blunt its force — but there’s no doubt it will generate a lot of discussion when it’s released later this summer.

BlacKkKlansman opens in the US on August 10.


Burning, from Korean director Lee Chang-dong, was one of the most critically lauded films at the festival, topping many lists and drawing nearly universal praise. It’s loosely based on Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning,” which was first published in the New Yorker in 1992. It’s gripping and unnerving, a noir-style mystery with no answers that goes in entirely unexpected directions (and harbors a hint of William Faulkner too). You can expect it to become a favorite at arthouse cinemas around the country when it finally lands stateside — and if you love a haunting mystery, it’s one to watch for.

Burning is awaiting US distribution.


Critics were divided on Nadine Labaki’s film, which tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named Zain who is born into poverty in Beirut and, at the start of the film, tells a judge that he wants to sue his parents “for giving him life.” Most of the film is devoted to giving the backstory behind that lawsuit — a device that, to my mind, didn’t entirely work and swings into contrived and manipulative territory at times. Still, the film contains some outstanding performances by children (including a toddler!) and it’s undeniably going straight for the heartstrings, a combination that will likely give it legs with audiences when it arrives in the US — and may possibly put it in Oscar contention.

Capernaum will be distributed in the US by Sony Pictures Classics and is awaiting a release date.


Even some critics who don’t love director Gaspar Noé’s characteristically provocative movie pyrotechnics (his last film, Love, released in 3D, sparked arguments over whether it was just straight-up porn) were taken in by Climax, which ultimately won the prize in the Directors’ Fortnight competition at Cannes. It follows a group of hip-hop dancers who, following an intense performance, discover someone has spiked their sangria with LSD. The film turns into a terrible drug trip that had audiences reeling, and some applauding. At the Playlist, Jessica Kiang warned that it was the “definition of the mileage-may-vary movie,” while the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called it “demonically inspired.”

Climax will be distributed in the US by A24 and is awaiting a release date.

Cold War

Cold War was my favorite film at the festival, a decade- and continent-spanning, pristinely shot romantic tragedy from Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, who was awarded the directing prize for the film. Set in Europe in the early decades of the actual Cold War, the film balances its captivating central characters and their fiery love with the grand sweep of the places and times they find themselves in. It shows how those two things twine together, country and ideology pushing and prodding their characters into shapes that ultimately determine their fate. You couldn’t call it a political film, exactly, but if their stars are crossed, then politics had a hand in bending them, and the tragedy of that is almost, in the end, too much to bear.

Cold War will be distributed in the US by Amazon Studios and is awaiting a release date.

Girls of the Sun

Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun dramatizes the story of a group of young Kurdish women who, having been stripped of their families and livelihoods by extremists and forced into sexual slavery, literally fought back, escaping and taking up arms. Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (probably most familiar to US audiences from her role in Jim Jarmusch’s excellent 2016 film Paterson) leads the film, which is often stirring even when the narrative gets clunky. The movie drew mixed reviews from critics, but it should do well with audiences, especially since it’s based on true events. It’s likely to be another strong contender for awards season buzz later in the year.

Girls of the Sun will be distributed in the US by Cohen Media Group and is awaiting a release date.


The Cannes jury awarded its top prize, the Palme d’Or, to the critical favorite Shoplifters. It’s perhaps an unlikely candidate: an intimate and accessible drama about a family of small-time petty crooks from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. But as the story unfolds, a mystery seems to emerge almost imperceptibly from the family’s ordinary interactions, and it becomes something else altogether. With strong performances and an engaging narrative, it’s undoubtedly one of the best films that screened at the festival — and the jury agreed.

Shoplifters will be distributed in the US by Magnolia and is awaiting a release date.

The House That Jack Built

The most controversial movie at Cannes was The House That Jack Built, the latest brutally violent film from Lars von Trier, who was banned by the festival in 2011 for commenting that he sympathized with Hitler. This film — which tweaks the festival with a character who, you guessed it, talks about his sympathy for Hitler — stars Matt Dillon as a sadistic serial killer who focuses most of his violence on women and children, in between talking to a therapist about art and killing. It drew praise from some and heavy criticism from others, and it provoked mass walkouts — all of which will undoubtedly serve as free advertising when it arrives in the US.

The House That Jack Built will be distributed in the US by IFC and is awaiting a release date.

Under the Silver Lake

A twisted postmodern neo-noir that’s set in contemporary Los Angeles but folds itself back onto classic Hollywood tropes, Under the Silver Lake — from It Follows director David Robert Mitchell — garnered very mixed reviews at its Cannes debut. (I loved it, despite its flaws.) Starring Andrew Garfield as a hapless, aimless hipster who finds himself investigating the disappearance of a Marilyn Monroe-styled girl next door (played by Riley Keough), it’s blatantly knowing in how it recycles the tropes Hollywood has pressed on its women characters. But it poses the possibility that pop culture is all recycling anyhow, and there might not be any way out of that. It’s cheerily pessimistic and imaginative, and you’ll either love it or hate it — but you won’t want to miss it.

Under the Silver Lake will open in the US on June 22.

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