Cannes: Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick the 20 Best Films of the Fest

6:00 AM 5/26/2019

by Todd McCarthy, Jon Frosch, Jordan Mintzer, David Rooney, Leslie Felperin, Stephen Dalton, and Deborah Young

A period freakout starring Robert Pattinson, a formally audacious bro-com, two very different queer romances and the latest from Quentin Tarantino and Ken Loach are among favorites from this year's edition (listed in alphabetical order).

'Portrait of a Lady on Fire,' 'The Lighthouse,' 'Sorry I Missed You'
'Portrait of a Lady on Fire,' 'The Lighthouse,' 'Sorry I Missed You'
Cannes Film Festival

  • 'Adam'

    (Un Certain Regard)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    A beautiful story centered around two female characters who transform each other's lives, Maryam Touzani's feature directing bow shows, with great delicacy, how Moroccan society censures a woman who gives birth outside marriage. It’s not a terribly original theme, but here it is made heartrending by the superb performances of Lubna Azabal and Nisrin Erradi in the lead roles. — DEBORAH YOUNG

  • 'Beanpole'

    (Un Certain Regard)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    Set in a ravaged Leningrad not long after World War II, this intense drama from Russian director Kantemir Balagov centers on the extremely close friendship of two women (powerfully played by Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina). It's a rather demanding sit but also impressively rigorous and rewarding. — TODD MCCARTHY

  • 'Bull'

    (Un Certain Regard)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    Annie Silverstein's modest, plaintively lovely debut revolves around the bond between a 14-year-old white girl (Amber Havard) and a black rodeo star (Rob Morgan) on the rural outskirts of Houston. It may sound sentimental, but the film is powerfully restrained — a clear-eyed, condescension-free portrait of American struggle. — JON FROSCH

  • 'The Climb'

    (Un Certain Regard)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    The rare contemporary American comedy that's as much about the form as the function, Michael Angelo Covino's clever, artful, often inspired bromance follows two lifelong buddies (Covino and Kyle Marvin) working out their issues through a series of ambitiously helmed vignettes, each one set in a different time and place. — JORDAN MINTZER

  • 'An Easy Girl'

    (Directors’ Fortnight)

    Julian Torres/Les Films Velvet

    Recovering from the dud that was Natalie Portman starrer Planetarium, French writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski offers up a relaxed, warmly sensual coming-of-age drama about a 16-year-old (Mina Farid) spending the summer with her sexually adventurous cousin (Gallic tabloid sensation Zahia Dehar). The film is so steeped in ripe South of France flavor that you practically want to eat it by the spoonful. — J.F.

  • 'Fire Will Come'

    (Un Certain Regard)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    Oliver Laxe follows his 2016 Cannes prize winner Mimosas with this hypnotic slow-burn drama about rural life threatened with extinction in the Galician mountains. There's an almost ethnographic detachment in the director’s gaze, but a piercing sensitivity as well, which makes the rigorously unshowy drama feel like the work of a Spanish Kelly Reichardt. — DAVID ROONEY

  • 'Ghost Tropic'

    (Directors’ Fortnight)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    A middle-aged cleaning lady falls asleep on the last subway after working late — and has to travel across much of Brussels to get home — in this beautifully observed, hushed nocturnal odyssey, the third feature from Flemish filmmaker Bas Devos. It’s a droll, delicate, humanistic miniature shot in a palette of rich, saturated nighttime hues. — BOYD VAN HOEIJ

  • 'I Lost My Body'

    (Critics' Week)

    Courtesy of Xilam Animation

    French director Jérémy Clapin's eerie yet heartfelt coming-of-age cartoon follows a hand (yes, you read that right) as it tries to reconnect with the boy it's been cut off from. A highly original, touching account of loss, this is exactly the kind of mature animation flick that deserves to find traction beyond the festival circuit. — J.M.

  • 'The Invisible Life of Euridíce Gusmão'

    (Un Certain Regard)

    BRUNO MACHADO.

    Two inseparable sisters (Carol Duarte and Júlia Stockler) in 1950s Rio de Janeiro are forced to live apart in Karim Aïnouz's sensual melodrama about spirited women in a machista culture. The film is far more complex than its plot suggests, winding through passages by turns seductive and sorrowful, tender and raw. — D.R.

  • 'La Belle Epoque'

    (Out of competition)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    The sort of vastly entertaining mainstream French film that was produced with regularity during the 1970s-'80s, this witty, sexy and original comedy is headlined by Daniel Auteuil as a man who gets the chance to revisit his past — literally. Costarring a terrific Fanny Ardant, it’s the rare contemporary Gallic attraction that could have a vibrant international career. — T.M.

  • 'Les Misérables'

    (Competition)

    Courtesy of SRAB Films/Rectangle Productions/Lyly films

    Set in the gritty Parisian banlieues, Ladj Ly's explosive first feature is like the titular Victor Hugo story remixed with The Wire and Training Day. Laced with scathing social commentary, it's a fiery, absorbing urban thriller about good and bad cops and the powder keg of a neighborhood they patrol. — J.M.

  • 'The Lighthouse'

    (Directors' Fortnight)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson deliver gripping turns as a lighthouse keeper and his junior mate stuck on a Maine island in the 1890s in this accomplished claustrophobic chiller from American up-and-comer Robert Eggers (The Witch). It's a distinctive hallucinatory tale, mixing maritime legend, ancient mythology and supernatural terror. — D.R.

  • 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

    (Competition)

    Andrew Cooper

    A poignantly paired Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play a fading action star and his stunt double in Quentin Tarantino's freewheeling trip through 1969 Tinseltown at the time of the Manson murders. The two ambling hours of detours and diversions that precede the climactic explosion of violence are light on plot. But the writer-director has sly fun riffing, and he folds the low-key buddy comedy into a lovingly re-created period piece. — D.R.

  • 'Parasite'

    (Competition)

    Courtesy of CJ Entertainment

    Returning to home turf after a run of international features, South Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho launches a sustained attack on the lifestyles of the rich and shameless, spiced with dark satire and noir-ish thriller elements.  At times a bit cumbersomely plotted, this tonally assured, prickly contemporary drama nevertheless packs a timely punch that will resonate in our financially tough, politically polarized times. — STEPHEN DALTON

  • 'Port Authority'

    (Un Certain Regard)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    Danielle Lessovitz's affecting first feature is a tender romance between a young Pittsburgh transplant (played with raw emotional transparency by Dunkirk's Fionn Whitehead) and a self-possessed black trans girl (the resplendent Leyna Bloom). The queer subculture of the New York underground ballroom scene provides a vivid backdrop. — D.R.

  • 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

    (Competition)

    Cannes Film Festival

    A female artist (Noémie Merlant) and the bride-to-be (Adèle Haenel) whose portrait she is hired to paint find themselves dangerously drawn to each other in French director Céline Sciamma's excellent drama set in 1770 coastal Brittany. It's an exquisitely executed love story, formally adventurous and emotionally devastating. — LESLIE FELPERIN

  • 'Song Without a Name'

    (Directors' Fortnight)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    Melina León's bold debut feature is a Kafkaesque thriller of crime and corruption that tells a stranger-than-fiction true story revolving around stolen babies in 1980s Peru. With gorgeous monochrome visuals and rich musical layers, the film is evidence of a strong new directorial voice, ear and eye. — S.D.

  • 'Sorry We Missed You'

    (Competition)

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach's latest — and one of his best — is about a Newcastle family (led by the extraordinary Kris Hitchen, a former self-employed plumber who looks like a blue-collar Damian Lewis) battling to stay afloat. It's a drama of searing human empathy and quotidian heartbreak that lays bare the unsparing predation of a gig economy. — D.R.

  • 'The Whistlers'

    (Competition)

    Courtesy of MK2 films

    Romanian Corneliu Porumboiu swerves into genre territory with his highly entertaining thriller about a cop double-crossing both his department and the gangsters with whom he's in cahoots. Set in Bucharest, the Canary Islands and Singapore, the corkscrewing film offers twist after twist. — L.F.

  • 'The Wild Goose Lake'

    (Competition)

    Cannes Film Festival

    Diao Yinan's bleak, beautifully made noir weaves familiar elements — the gangster on the run, the femme fatale at his side, the cops and bad guys trying to do them in — into a rich, dark portrait of contemporary China as a vast land of exploitation and criminality. — J.M.

    This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.