Cannes: Todd McCarthy on the Possibilities, Probabilities and Near-Shoo-Ins

A scene from 'Tomorrowland.'

THR's chief film critic takes a look at the movies with the best shot of scoring a coveted slot at the 68th edition of the world's most prestigious cinema event.

With Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux and his selection committee squirreled away for the next several weeks watching hundreds of films, there's no way to know yet what will definitely be on view at the Palais du Festival May 13-24. However, it's quite possible to make some good guesses, given the committee's known proclivities and the range of titles that looks ready for unveiling.

On paper, it looks like a big year for European and Asian auteurs but perhaps less so for major American names. Two big-budget, much anticipated Hollywood-backed productions, George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road and Brad Bird's Tomorrowland with George Clooney, seem very much in the mix for special slots, with the former a strong contender for opening night, since it opens on May 13 throughout France. Tomorrowland will debut there on May 20, two days before its U.S. bow.

A couple of perennial Cannes favorites among American directors, Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn, could be back in competition with, respectively, The Sea of Trees and The Last Face. The former stars Matthew McConaughey as a suicidal American lost in a forest near Mt Fuji, who meets a Japanese man (Ken Watanabe) who helps him try to find a way out. Naomi Watts is also in the cast. Penn's latest features Charlize Theron and Javier Barden as humanitarian doctors in a war-torn African nation, with Adele Exarchopoulos and Jean Reno also on board.

African strife also lies at the center of another plausible American contender, Beasts of No Nation, from fast-rising director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, TV's True Detective), about a child soldier forced into service under a warlord played by Idris Elba. Cannes veteran Jeff Nichols (Mud) could well be back with Midnight Special, a sci-fi drama about a father and son's journey after the latter has been discovered to have special powers. Heading the cast are Kirsten Dunset, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton and Michael Shannon.

Other U.S. titles in the mix are Todd Haynes' eagerly awaited Carol, with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara starring in the 1950s-set lesbian love story based on Patricia Highsmith's second novel, The Price of Salt. Haynes' only appearance in the Cannes competition to date was in Velvet Goldmine in 1998.

Other American titles that could be in the frame include Denis Villeneuve's Sicario, a Mexican cartel drama starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro and Jon Bernthal; another organized crime saga, Scott Cooper's Whitey Bulger biographical drama Black Mass with Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch; Australian director Justin Kurzel's take on Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard; Norwewgian director Joachim Trier's New York-set drama Louder Than Bombs featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, David Strathairn and Amy Ryan; and — unlikely timing-wise, but still bruited — By the Sea, in which Angelina Jolie directed herself, along with husband Brad Pitt, in a drama about the reawakening of a couple's relationship in France. Another long-shot is Robert Zemeckis' The Walk, a dramatic recreation (in 3D, no less) of Philippe Petit's perilous tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring as Petit. Due to open in October, this one is thought likely to wait until the fall festival circuit.

The Un Certain Regard sidebar as well as the Directors Fortnight sometimes show a top title from Sundance, as happened last year with Whiplash. Two prime contenders for the privilege this year could be Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's top prize-winning Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Marielle Heller's widely acclaimed The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

After relatively low-key presences of late, Asia seems poised to bounce back cinematically with a vengeance this year. No doubt the greatest anticipation and curiosity will be centered on The Assassin (Nie Yin Niang), Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien's first feature in eight years. With a title character based on a female assassin during the Tang dynasty some 1300 years ago, the film was first announced in 1989 and has had a start-and-stop production history dating back to 2010. Actual filming ran 15 months total on locations in China, Taiwan and Japan and, in the end, the picture was over half-financed in China, a first for Hou.

Thai maverick Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d'Or for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recount His Past Lives in 2010, looks all but certain to return to the Croisette with Love in Khon Kaen, described only as a story about a middle-aged housewife who becomes interested in a young soldier suffering from sleeping sickness.

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, who won the Jury Prize at Cannes for his last film, Like Father, Like Son, in 2013, is looking to be back with the family drama Our Little Sister (aka Umimachi Diary), about three sisters who, after their father dies, learn that they have a teenage half-sister.

Possible contenders from China include Johnnie To's musical adaptation of the venerable Noel Coward play Design for Living starring Chow Yun Fat and Sylvia Chang and Jia Zhangke's Mountains May Depart (Shan He Gu Ren), a three-part saga about a couple and their son that time-jumps from the 1990s to 2025, the last part of which was filmed in Australia; the director's A Touch of Sin won the screenplay award at Cannes in 2013, and he was a member of the main competition jury last year.

From Japan, there could also be new films from Cannes regular Naomi Kawase (An), Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Journey to the Shore) and Takeshi Kitano, whose action comedy Ryuzo To 7 Nin No Kobun Tachi opens in its home country on April 25.

South Korean director Im Sang-soo, whose last two films, The Housemaid and The Taste of Money, were both in the Cannes competition, has a new one in My Friendly Villains, a contemporary thriller about a couple taking revenge on corrupt corporations. The Filipino Cannes habitué Brillante Mendoza has finished Taklub. Singaporean director Eric Khoo, four of whose films have shown at Cannes, could be on hand with In the Room, an episodic erotic drama set in a Singapore brothel over several decades, beginning in 1942.

From the U.K., a very likely contender would seem to be Terence Davies' Sunset Song, about the coming of age of a Scottish farmer's daughter in the early 1900s. Based on a well-known Scottish book, it stars Peter Mullan and Agyness Deyn. Another strong possibility is Stephen Frears' Icon, which centers on an Irish journalist's determination to expose cyclist Lance Armstrong's use of illegal performance-enhancing substances and stars Lee Pace, Dustin Hoffman and Ben Foster as Armstrong. Almost certain to land somewhere in Cannes is Ben Wheatley's thriller High-Rise, an adaptation of the 1975 J.G. Ballard novel about ferocious class conflicts that develop among the inhabitants of a high-rise apartment building. It stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss.

Another high-profile English-language contender could be The Lobster, from the rising young Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. Lea Seydoux, Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, Ben Wishaw and John C. Riley appear in this look at a dystopian near-future in which single people are obliged to find mates within 45 days or else be turned into animals and set loose in the wild.

Weisz also appears in Italian director Paolo Sorrentino's second English-language film, Youth (La Giovinezza), which costars Michael Caine as a retired orchestra conductor contemplating a return to the podium. Set mostly in the Alps, it also features Jane Fonda, Paul Dano and Harvey Keitel. Another Italian director, Luca Guadignino (I Am Love), also goes the English-language route with A Bigger Splash, an erotic drama starring Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts.

One Italian film virtually certain to turn up on the Croisette is Cannes perennial Nanni Moretti's Mia Madre, which opens on home turf on April 16 and stars John Turturro, Margherita Bay and Moretti. Other Italian possibilities are Matteo Garrone's The Tale of Tales (Il Racconto dei Racconti), “an historical fantasy” starring Vincent Cassel and Salma Hayek, and L'Ultimo Vampirothe, the latest from another longtime Cannes regular, Marco Bellocchio, .

Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar, whose Agora was in the 2009 Cannes competition, has a new one ready with the English-language crime mystery Regression, which stars Emma Watson, Ethan Hawke and David Thewlis.

Cannes often schedules at least one marathon work that tests viewers' endurance and scheduling skills. This year's candidate comes from Portuguese director Miguel Gomes (Tabu), who took a year to shoot Arabian Nights, which is divided into three sections—The Restless, The Desolate and The Enchanted—and reportedly runs six hours and 37 minutes.

The Cannes selection committee always waits until the very end of its deliberations to choose the French films for the competition, so quite a few high-profile filmmakers will have to sweat it out for several more weeks before learning if they're in or out. Among the leading contenders: Veteran 82-year-old director Jean-Paul Rappeneau, who hasn't made a film in 12 years but now has finished Belle Familles, which stars Mathieu Almaric, Karin Viard, Nicole Garcia, Andre Dussolier and Marine Vacth; Arnaud Desplechin, who also has Almaric in Nos Arcadies (My Golden Years), a “sort-of prequel” to his 1996 My Sex Life... or How I Got Into An Argument; Jacques Audiard, whose last two films, A Prophet and Rust and Bone, played in the Cannes competition, is now pushing hard to finish Erran, a banlieu-set thriller about a Sri Lankan Tamil fighter; and Maiwenn, who scored with her first feature, Polisse, four years ago, and now has completed Mon Roi, a drama starring Vincent Cassel, Louis Garrel and Emmanuelle Bercot.

The Garrel family could be omnipresent on the Riviera in May. Louis Garrel has finished his first directorial outing, Les Deux Amis (The Two Friends), in which he also co-stars, while his veteran director father Philippe has wrapped up his latest, L'ombre des Femmes (Women's Shadow).

Among the numerous other French contenders are Bruno Podalydes' Comme Un Avion, featuring Sandrine Kilberlain and Agnes Jaoui; the latest from Xavier Giannoli (whose The Singer and In the Beginning were both in the Cannes competition), Marguerite, about a singer in the 1920s and starring Catherine Frot and Christa Theret; Valerie Donzelli's Marguerite et Julien, based on an unfilmed 1971 screenplay by Francois Truffaut; Gaspar Noe's sex-loaded Love; and Eva Husson's debut feature Bang Gang, reportedly with boundary-pushing teen sex.

Two well known directors who could also turn up are Michel Gondry, whose has finished Microbe and Gasoil, about two teens on a wild road trip, and Barbet Schroeder, whose personal documentary Amnesia focuses on his own mother.

Algerian Cannes veteran Merzak Allouache has a new feature, Mother Courage, a modern street drama that is apparently not an adaptation of the Brecht play; Joachim Lafosse, the Belgian director whose Love Without Reason sparked Un Certain Regard three years ago, could be back with The White Knights, another look at African political problems, this one inspired by a true story from 2007 about European aid workers trying to take 103 children from Chad to France; Alex Van Warmerdam, the Dutch filmmaker whose Borgman was in the competition two years ago, has finished Schneider vs. Bax, about a hit man assigned to kill a writer — a job with unforeseen difficulties; and Danish director Tobias Lindholm could turn up with A War, about a Danish army commander arrested for a war crime in Afghanistan. Argentinian director Santiago Mitre's La Patota looks to be submitted, while Hungarian Bence Fliegauf's mother-son drama Lily Lane also looks like a possibility.

And then there is one-time Polish bad boy Andrzej Zulawski, who has finished his first film in 15 years, Cosmos, a “metaphysical noir thriller.”

In a category of their own are several films of uncertain stages of readiness; some could be done, while others could be months or years off. Among them are Romanian director Cristi Puiu's Sierra-Nevada, Sergei Loznitsa's Babi Yar, Polish veteran Jerzy Skolimowski's thriller 11 Minutes, Abdellatif Kechiche's La Blessure (The Real Wound), his first since his Palme d'Or-winning Blue Is the Warmest Color, and Guillaume Nicloux's The Valley of Love starring Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert.

And, finally, buffs can wonder about the will-it-ever-be-finished Dau, Russian director Ilya Khrzharovsky's mad venture that filmed for six years in a town specially prepared to represent the Soviet 1950s, involves 700 hours of footage and finished shooting three years ago when the town was deliberately burnt down.

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