Cannes 2014: old boys dominate the selection again

From Cronenberg to Godard, familiar names leave room for only five Palme newcomers

TWO DAYS ago, the Cannes Film Festival opened with a right royal stinker. Nicole Kidman’s Grace Kelly biopic Grace of Monaco was met with a galaxy of one star reviews, the consensus being that it surpassed even last year’s Naomi Watts’ Diana flop for sheer awfulness. Don’t let that put you off. From Tommy Lee Jones’ latest directorial effort to Belgian favourites the Dardenne brothers, the 2014 official selection (the 18 films going head to head in pursuit of the Palme D’Or) promises cinematic delights by the truck-load. Despite the relative paucity of new blood (commentators have criticised the jurors for a selection dominated by already established filmmakers) Cannes can always be relied on to throw up a few surprises.

Here are the our top six films in the running for this year’s top prize:

1. Mr Turner
Mike Leigh’s JMW Turner biopic was met with a cacophony of praise when it premiered at the festival yesterday. Timothy Spall stars as the great painter in Leigh’s first feature since 2010’s Another Year. Veteran Leigh has performed well at Cannes before, winning a best director award for 1993’s Naked, and the Palme D’Or for Secrets and Lies three years later. His last foray into period drama was 1999’s Topsy Turvy, which was recently voted one of the best films of all time by Empire, despite being a commercial failure.

2. Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars is the fifth time the Canadian director has had a film in the competition. None of his previous four – Crash (1996), Spider (2002), A History of Violence (2005) and Cosmopolis (2012) – yielded a win, something which could play in his favour this year when the judges come to consider his latest; a satirical drama about a Hollywood dynasty and the ongoing troubles of two former child actors. The film stars Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore.

3. Mommy
Somehow 25-year-old Canadian actor/director Xavier Dolan has already found the time to make four films, three of which were showcased at Cannes. His latest, Mommy, is the first he’s had in the official competition. It focuses on the difficulties encountered by a widow (Ann Dorval) bringing up her emotionally disturbed 15-year old son (played by Antoine-Oliver Pilon). It’s the first film from Quebec to be entered into the official selection since Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions, and sits alongside entries from fellow Canadians David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan.

4. Foxcatcher
Bennett Miller is no stranger to critical acclaim but he’s never been in the running for the Palme D’Or before. In keeping with his Hollywood pedigree, the director of Capote and Moneyball was able to attract Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo for his adaptation of the autobiography of Olympic wrestling gold medallist Mark Schultz. The story focuses on the murder of Schultz’s brother Dave (Ruffalo) by schizophrenic millionaire ornithologist John Eleuthère du Pont.

5. Goodbye to Language
At 83 Jean-Luc Godard is the oldest director in contention for the prize. Not one to shy away from the latest technological innovation, Goodbye to Language (Adieu au Langage) is Godard’s first film to be shot in 3D. A cast of unknowns combine to act out a (supposedly) simple narrative: a married woman and single man meet, fall in love and argue. The godfather of the French new wave is sure to have a few tricks up sleeve.

6. The Homesman
Tommy Lee Jones is well known as one of the best actors of his generation. Less well-documented are his considerable skills as a director. He’s already directed a TV film written by Cormac McCarthy as well as 2005’s critically acclaimed The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Now he’s in the running for his first Palme D’Or with the Homesman, about a woman attempting to recruit someone to help her transfer mentally ill women across America. The cast features Jones himself, as well as a number of his Hollywood pals, including Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep.