Cannes Film Festival's best moments, biggest stars and top premieres
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Cannes Film Festival's best moments, biggest stars and top premieres

Jan 15, 2024

CANNES, France — "I feel like I’m in a scene in a very elaborate, expensive James Bond movie," a tuxedoed James Marsden said as he looked around, wide-eyed, at Thursday night's annual Amfar gala at the Hotel du Cap — perfectly summing up how this year's entire Cannes Film Festival felt to us plebes.

It's debatable if a return to Cannes normalcy is a good thing, but it was happening nonetheless. Renowned filmmakers were back on the Croisette, but so, too, were superyachts along the Mediterranean horizon, gaudy displays of European wealth, required black tie at galas, and fleets of sharp-elbowed Bond-girl types tottering around with their six-inch high heels and incredibly high pain tolerances.

Even Marsden, a bona fide celebrity (and star of Amazon's recent word-of-mouth hit "Jury Duty"), didn't quite know how to process the glitz, randomness and extreme wealth before him at Amfar — a benefit for HIV/AIDS research that is seen as the culmination of two weeks of Cannes parties, while having almost nothing to do with movies. There he was, with Kate Beckinsale and Odell Beckham Jr., watching the sun set over one of the most famous hotels in the world, while standing next to a green Aston Martin that he and Eva Longoria would later auction for 1.5 million euros to the 30-year-old scion of a Mexican real estate family. The lucky bidder, Joaquin Jimenez, told me he’d be driving his new ride exclusively at one of his ancillary residences in Cancún because there are too many potholes in Mexico City, where he lives.

This was the first full-force year of the Cannes Film Festival since its total cancellation — and the pandemic-induced global shutdown of film production — in 2020. The backlog meant a lineup stacked with major premieres from major filmmakers, such as Martin Scorsese, Todd Haynes, Wes Anderson, Aki Kaurismäki, Hirokazu Kore-eda and Jonathan Glazer, not to mention Harrison Ford's final turn as "Indiana Jones," Johnny Depp's controversial "comeback," and a record-breaking seven films by female directors in competition. On Saturday, Justine Triet won the Palme d’Or for her courtroom drama "Anatomy of a Fall." She's just the third female director to win the festival's top prize.

And just as quickly as the chaos arose, it was over, with crews starting to tear apart the red carpet early Sunday morning. Here's the best, worst and funniest of what I saw in two weeks in Cannes, on three hours of sleep a night:

Harrison Ford, 80, earned every one of the many tears he shed while premiering "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," his final turn as the iconic character. He spent the few days he was in town surrounded by actors and directors who told him that Indy was why they got into movies. "It's just extraordinary to see a kind of relic of your life as it passes by," Ford said, freely getting nostalgic in front of a roomful of adoring press.

Set in a 19th-century French countryside manor, this sumptuous delight of a movie is for anyone who needs nothing more from a film than Juliette Binoche cooking on-screen for 2½ hours. Every time I ran into a fellow film writer, we’d break into rhapsodies about this gift from Tran ("The Scent of Green Papaya") — who won the Cannes jury's best director prize — and how it could be the kind of food porn art-house hit we haven't seen since "Chocolat" (also starring Binoche) or "Babette's Feast." The plot, such as it is, follows the slow, simmering romance between renowned gourmand Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel) and Binoche's Eugénie, his live-in cook of 20 years. The actors are former lovers and co-parents, and their intimacy pairs perfectly with Tran's lingering shots of braised veal and glistening vol-au-vent. Don't go see it hungry! You’ve been warned!

No matter how bad things get for Johnny Depp in the States, it's clear he’ll always have a place in Cannes. Less than a year after disturbing details about his relationship with ex-wife Amber Heard played out in open court, the embattled movie star was greeted with fans waving signs reading, "Viva Johnny!" and shed a tear during the standing ovation he got for playing Louis XV in "Jeanne du Barry," his first film in three years. It played as the festival's opening film, even as actors and activists criticized Cannes for its history of celebrating men accused of being abusers. Also enjoying a scandal-proof bubble was Lily-Rose Depp, who got her own standing ovation for playing a troubled (and often barely clothed) pop star in the Sam Levinson miniseries "The Idol," which has been plagued by reports of behind-the-scenes drama and was completely reshot. A father-daughter Teflon duo.

Jonathan Glazer's first film since 2013's mesmerizing "Under the Skin," opens with a static shot of an German family enjoying a swim and a picnic along a river. And it's only slowly, through birthdays and family visits, that it becomes clear that this is the family of Nazi officer Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedle), and his wife, Hedwig (a chilling Sandra Hüller, who also stars in "Anatomy of a Fall") — and that the wall abutting their pastoral garden is Auschwitz. Glazer shot mostly on location and the most common question in the news conference after the awards on Saturday was why he’d only won second prize, and not the Palme d’Or. "That's a very cruel question," Glazer said, laughing. "I’m very, very, very happy to be here."

Air Mail editor Graydon Carter's party on Tuesday night at the Hotel du Cap was a near replica of the legendary parties he used to throw at the same space while editor in chief of Vanity Fair. It was also strikingly similar to the party that his VF successor, Radhika Jones, had thrown in the same Hotel du Cap space three days earlier. Coincidence? Not a chance. "I wanted to — I wanted to beat them," Carter told The Washington Post.

Scorsese's 3½-hour epic about a string of murders among members of the oil-rich Osage Nation in the 1920s doesn't open in theaters until October, so premiering the film at Cannes doesn't make a ton of sense — unless you’re just doing it for the moment and to kick-start Oscars buzz before the field gets crowded. But what a premiere it was. The 80-year-old Scorsese returning to the festival that gave him the Palme d’Or for "Taxi Driver" in 1976. Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio together in a Scorsese movie for the first time. Lead actress Lily Gladstone having a star-is-born moment. Indigenous people getting a standing ovation on the global stage. Start polishing the statues now.

Haynes's disturbing, campy look at a tabloid sex scandal, with the powerhouse duo of Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, nabs the crown for the most fun film at the fest. Portman plays Elizabeth Berry, a boundary-crossing actress with a reckless ego who comes to a small town in South Carolina to embed with the woman she's playing in a movie: Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Moore), who, as a married woman, had an affair with a 13-year-old (Charles Melton of "Riverdale"), then had his baby in prison and married him. Based on a true story, Haynes's film sold to Netflix for $11 million, and is full of uncomfortable laughs as the dark power dynamics between the couple start to emerge as they’re sending their second daughter to college, with Berry's presence, of course, wreaking havoc.

During a news conference, Anderson explained that he’d shot his latest whimsical diorama-like comedy during the pandemic, with the star-stacked cast (Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jason Schwartzman) and crew living in a bubble in a desert in Spain, eating dinners and drinking great wine at a long table together every night. His films sound like a blast to make, but that seems to increasingly be the problem. Both this one (set in an 87-person Southwestern town that gets a visitor from outer space) and "The French Dispatch," which he premiered at Cannes two years ago, are so in love with the filmmaking process, the world-building and the actors’ camaraderie that the audience's experience, and any kind of emotional resonance, feel like afterthoughts. Maybe it's time for Anderson to sit around a table with his friends without any cameras and think hard on what kind of stories he wants to tell.

I happened to screen Walker's film — about a trio of 16 year-old Brits on a girls trip to a party town in Crete — back-to-back with Arnow's deadpan character study of a 30-something woman's life as a BDSM submissive, and recommend the experience. Walker's won the Un Certain Regard competition for first- and second-time filmmakers and is being mentioned in the same breath as Charlotte Wells's "Aftersun." It's a dark, visceral trip into the lives of the "Love Island" generation, with questions of consent and Mia McKenna-Bruce in a breakout role as Tara, who's on a misguided quest to lose her virginity. In the latter, Arnow is her own often-naked protagonist, and a "Sliding Doors" version of a future Tara — a woman who knows what she wants but isn't yet ready to admit it.