The Best & Buzziest Films From Cannes 2024


Going into this year’s Cannes Film Festival, a couple of films dominated the headlines. Everyone was talking about the Mad Max: Fury Road prequel Furiosa, which is great and already in theaters, and Francis Ford Coppola’s long-awaited Megalopolis, which is truly bananas and incredibly divisive. But the festival in the South of France, known for its glamor as much as its cinema, brought with it a number of gems. Want to see Selena Gomez, Barry Keoghan, and Emma Stone dance in three different movies? You can at Cannes. Want vital dramas from Iran and Zambia? Those are there, too. With all that in mind, here are the best films that debuted on the Riviera that we’ll be talking about all year.

On Becoming a Guinea Fowl

A surreal and darkly funny image opens Rungano Nyoni’s feature, which will be released by A24: A woman drives down a darkened road in Zambia wearing the costume from Missy Elliott’s “The Rain” video, suit and all. In the middle of the street, she finds her uncle dead on the ground. The protagonist, Shula (Susan Chardy), she of the Missy costume, is drawn into participating in the mourning traditions of her family, but it soon becomes clear that her uncle was a serial abuser, assaulting many of his younger female relatives. As Shula, Chardy is deceptively quiet, her own experiences remaining deeply buried for most of the film, as her older aunts around her make excuses for the uncle’s behavior as they send him off. On Becoming a Guinea Fowl is a disturbing film that consistently surprises as it unleashes its rage.

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Bird

Director Andrea Arnold is one of the foremost contemporary chroniclers of neglected youth on screen, from Fish Tank to American Honey, and she arrived at Cannes this year with what is maybe her most adventurous work yet. Bird is a fairytale-like story about 12-year-old Bailey (Nykiya Adams), who lives with her tattooed father, Bug (Barry Keoghan), in a graffiti-coated flat in North Kent. She’s furious when Bug announces that he’s marrying his girlfriend of three months, a wedding he plans to pay for by extracting hallucinogenic slime from a toad to sell as drugs. (In one scene, he and a bunch of mates sing Coldplay’s “Yellow” to the frog to get it to slime.) After Bailey runs away one night, she meets a man who goes by Bird, played by the always-alluring Franz Rogowski of Passages. She’s at first creeped out by him and his peculiar friendliness but eventually starts to see a kindred spirit in the lost Bird. It’s a film doused with humor and a touch of magic, with absolutely wonderful performances from Rogowski and Keoghan, the latter of whom charms in a way he never has before.

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Armand

In 2021, Cannes served as the breakout moment for Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve when she appeared in Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, an epic tale of millennial floundering. Now she’s returned with Armand, and she may be even better in this upsettingly tense drama from Halfdan Ullmann Tøndell. (Tøndell happens to be the grandson of Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann—how about that for film royalty?) Reinsve plays Elisabeth, the mother of the title character, a 6-year-old who is never seen but who we are told has been violent toward a classmate, using sexually frank language that is shocking for a child that young. Elisabeth is summoned to the school to meet with the parents of Armand’s accuser, and we watch as she grapples with the accusation in increasingly surreal ways. In one extraordinary sequence, she cannot stop laughing, her giggles turning into hysterical guffaws, then drool. It goes on and on and is utterly hypnotizing.

Eye Eye Pictures/Cannes Film Festival

Kinds of Kindness

At this point, Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos are one of the most exciting teams in modern cinema, and while I doubt this one will yield another Oscar for Stone the way Poor Things did earlier this year, it’s still a thrilling new frontier for the pair. Kinds of Kindness is kind of an anti-crowd pleaser, even though many at Cannes went nuts for it. An anthology, the movie has three stories in which the likes of Stone, Plemons, Margaret Qualley, Mamoudou Athie, and Willem Dafoe play multiple different characters, all people seeking the affection of others by any means. Their desires take them to increasingly dark places. Your stomach might be sickened by some of what they do, but your mind will be blown.

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

The Substance

Speaking of sickening: enter The Substance, the grossest movie at Cannes, which has already elicited strong pro- and anti-arguments from the Croisette. I’m firmly on the pro side. This body horror fantasia from director Coralie Fargeat tells the story of Demi Moore as Elisabeth Sparkle, an actress and star of workout videos who is still stunning (obviously) but feels rejected from her chosen profession thanks to her age. So she turns to a mysterious drug called “The Substance,” which promises a new you. Once she injects herself, she falls to the floor of her immaculate bathroom, and a younger version of herself, played by Margaret Qualley, emerges from her spine. (You see the whole gruesome affair, but that’s just the start of the contortions to come.) Qualley’s Elisabeth, who goes by “Sue,” happily starts pursuing her dreams of continued stardom while trying to skirt the very strict rules of “The Substance,” which requires its users to switch bodies every seven days. The result is, expectedly, disastrous. The Substance is a wild ride that pulses with anger even as it remains extremely fun.

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Emilia Perez

Maybe one of the most talked about films at the festival outside of Megalopolis was Emilia Perez, from French director Jacques Audiard. Why? Because it’s a musical about a cartel leader who fulfills a long-held dream of transitioning genders with the aid of a lawyer and then re-enters her wife and children’s lives without letting on her former identity. If that sounds like a lot to pack into one movie, well, it is, but Emilia Perez also pulsates with creativity, given the propulsive songs, the kinetic dance numbers, and the surprising camera movements (and it’s already been picked up by Netflix). It also boasts a trio of excellent performances from Zoe Saldaña as the lawyer, Selena Gomez as the ex-wife, and Karla Sofía Gascón as Emilia herself. While Saldaña and Gomez are already famous, you’ll be hearing a lot more about Gascón in the near future, as her heartbreaking performance is the soul of this adventurous film.

Shannon Bessa/Cannes Film Festival

The Kingdom

If you take the tender father-daughter relationship of Aftersun and add in some gangsters, you get The Kingdom from director Julien Colonna. One of the smaller titles on this list, it’s nonetheless a gem of a movie that will eventually be released by Metrograph Pictures, which purchased the title out of the festival. Newcomer Ghjuvanna Benedetti plays Lesia, a wide-eyed teenager who just wants to spend her summer kissing a boy and going to the beach but is summoned to spend time with her dad, a feared Corsican mob boss (Saveriu Santucci). Lesia’s frustration with being stuck in these circumstances evolves into curiosity, and she and her dad grow closer as he starts letting her in on his secrets. While on the run, Lesia hardens toward the world but softens toward her father, building to a tragic conclusion.

Chi fou mi productions/Cannes Film Festival

The Seed of the Sacred Fig

The day Cannes kicked off, it was announced that Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof had fled his home country in light of a sentence from Iran’s Revolutionary Court that included eight years in prison and flogging, among other punishments, for his films. The film he made, which premiered May 24th, is a brilliant and searing indictment of the same legal body that condemned him—a story of a family in turmoil that mirrors Iran’s own. When the plot begins, Iman (Misagh Zare) has just gotten a promotion from the Court to investigating judge, a role that brings more power and pressure to act in accordance with his ruthless bosses. Iman is drawn further into his work and away from his home, where his wife, Najmeh (Soheila Golestani), is raising their high school and college-aged daughters. At the same time, Iran is roiling from the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for not wearing her hijab in compliance with government rules. Iman’s daughters try to obey their parent’s strict rules while remaining sympathetic to the protestors speaking out against the theocracy that brutalizes women. The dynamic between husband and wife, father and daughters takes a devastating turn when the gun that Iman was given for his new role suddenly disappears, leading the family to break under the weight of the patriarchal society. It’s a remarkable and moving film about not just the state of Iran but how family members hide their true selves from one another.

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Anora

There’s an unfettered joyousness to Anora, the latest effort from director Sean Baker, who previously brought us the sunkissed glories of Red Rocket and The Florida Project. Another tale of people on the margins, this one is about the title character, a sex worker played by Mikey Madison. One night at the club where she strips, Anora, who goes by Ani, meets Ivan (Mark Eydelshteyn), a rich Russian patron who turns out to be an oligarch’s son. He pays for her to come by his mansion after hours, and soon enough, he offers her the opportunity to be his girlfriend for a week, during which they fly to Vegas and get married. These early scenes are delirious fun as we ride Anora’s high of living Ivan’s lifestyle. But after the nuptials, the situation gets hairy when Ivan’s parents start doing everything possible to get the marriage annulled. (Ivan, for his part, just runs away, leading to a very stressful but hilarious chase through Brooklyn.) Baker never loses sight of who this movie is about, however, and we are always with Ani as she falls in love and fights back. Much of the credit for her vividness goes to Madison, who stakes her place as one of Hollywood’s best young talents with this turn.

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival



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