Todd McCarthy's Cannes Preview: American Auteurs, European Heavyweights and Stars Galore

BFG, Money Monster, and Loving split - H 2016
Courtesy of Cannes

In addition to the latest from Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar and the Dardennes, movies starring Marion Cotillard, Shia LaBeouf, Charlize Theron, Elle Fanning, Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert look likely to bow at the festival.

Even as Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Fremaux and his selection committee face several more weeks of watching films before deciding on the ultimate lineup for the 2016 edition of the planet's most storied festival, the profile of the May 11-22 event is beginning to take shape.

Over the past few days, the fest has nailed down a few key high-profile American titles, most notably Steven Spielberg's long-in-the-works adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG, which will have its world premiere out of competition on the Croisette prior to its U.S. opening on July 1. The Disney release, which was written by the late Melissa Mathison, author of the screenplay for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, stars Mark Rylance, Rebecca Hall and Bill Hader. Spielberg was most recently at the festival when he served as president of the jury in 2013.

The past week has also seen the confirmation of two other big-name-laden non-competing entries: Jodie Foster's Money Monster, a financial world thriller starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell and Giancarlo Esposito, to be released by Sony on May 13; and Woody Allen's Cafe Society, a comedy set in 1930s Hollywood featuring an ensemble cast that includes Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Judy Davis, Jeannie Berlin, Kelly Rohrbach and Corey Stoll. After aligning with Sony Pictures Classics on his last seven films, Allen sold the new film to Amazon, which will release it theatrically this summer before moving it to Prime.

Another star-driven Hollywood title, tagged for a midnight slot, is Shane Black's cop romp The Nice Guys, a May 20 Warner Bros. release domestically which stars Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling and Kim Basinger.

Two American films looking certain for the competition, according to sources close to the festival, are Jeff Nichols' Loving, a Focus release starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as an interracial couple imprisoned in 1958 Virginia for getting married; and Sean Penn's drama about aid workers in Africa, The Last Face, with Charlize Theron (will she walk the red carpet with estranged former fiance Penn?), Javier Bardem, Adele Exarchopoulos and Jean Reno. Penn has shown two of his earlier films, The Indian Runner and The Pledge, in Cannes, and was jury president in 2008.

As for films by other American directors, large question marks loom over several much-anticipated ventures, beginning with Martin Scorsese's medieval Japan-set Silence, which is reportedly not finished yet and looks more likely for Venice, and Terrence Malick's long-gestating “celebration of the earth” documentary Voyage in Time, doubtful because it's in Imax.

Films once considered likely bets for Cannes but now not so much are James Gray's long-aborning Amazon exploration drama Lost City of Z, which appears destined for the fall festival season, and Oliver Stone's Snowden, which has already been delayed once and may or may not be finished in time.

Another American director with a long history at Cannes is Jim Jarmusch, who has a new small film ready, Paterson, in which Adam Driver plays a Paterson, N.J., bus driver opposite Golshifteh Farahani as his poet wife. Amazon will release it in the U.S.

Two foreign Cannes favorites with U.S.-lensed features ready to debut are Nicolas Winding Refn and Andrea Arnold. Refn's Neon Demon is a horror thriller, also from Amazon, starring Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks and Jena Malone, while Arnold's low-budget American Honey chronicles a wild road trip by a group of young people and features Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf.

British features have been rather few and far between at Cannes of late, but it's very likely that the festival will welcome back one of its perennials, Ken Loach, who announced his retirement two years ago but is now back with a new social drama, I, Daniel Blake, based on a Paul Laverty script about two people caught up in welfare-state red tape in Newcastle.

Italian sources insist that two films from the country are definitely in. Marco Bellocchio's tenure at Cannes goes back nearly as far as any other director's, and it's certain that his latest, Fai Bei Sogni (Sweet Dreams), about a woman helping a man come to terms with his mother's death, will be in competition. Berenice Bejo, Valerio Mastrandrea and Fabizio Gifuni head the cast. And reportedly set for the Directors Fortnight is Paolo Virzi's La Pazza Gioia (Mad Joy), in which Micaela Ramazzotti and Valeria Bruni play two mentally ill women.

Two other Italian possibilities are Roberto Ando's The Confessions, a church-and-politics drama with Toni Servillo, Connie Nielsen, Daniel Auteuil, Lambert Wilson, Pierfrancesco Favino, Marie-Josee Croze and Moritz Bleibtreu; and Kim Rossi Stuart's second feature Il Centro del Mondo (The Middle of the World), featuring the director along with Cristina Capotondi and Jasmine Trinca.

Giuseppe Tornatore has made a documentary about the great composer Ennio Morricone, The Glance of Music, which could well turn up at the fest either at a special screening or in Cannes Classics.

The French films premiered at Cannes are typically the last to be selected, and it's likely that the committee hasn't yet seen many of the hopefuls. But set to fill a prominent spot in the main selection, prior to its May 25 domestic release, is the first French-language film — and the first full-length feature since Black Book a decade ago — by veteran Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven, Elle. It's a thriller starring Cannes perennial Isabelle Huppert as the ruthless CEO of a gambling software company who's attacked in her home by an intruder.

Based on their directors' track records with the festival, there are a number of eminent Gallic auteurs likely to be fighting it out for slots in the competition. Among the top candidates: Bruno Dumont with Slack Bay, a melodrama set in 1910 on the English Channel coast about the disappearance of several tourists, with a cast headed by Juliette Binoche, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Fabrice Luchini; Olivier Assayas with his English-language Personal Shopper, described as a sort-of ghost story set in the Paris fashion world and starring Kristen Stewart; Nicole Garcia with Mal de Pierro, an adaptation of an Italian novel in which Cannes stalwart Marion Cotillard portrays an independent-minded woman during the two decades after the end of World War II; Alain Guiraudie (Stranger By the Lake) with his latest, Staying Vertical (Rester Vertical); Rebecca Zlotowski, whose previous two features, Belle Epine and Grand Central, both showed at Cannes, with Planetarium starring Natalie Portman and Lili Rose-Melody Depp as sister spiritualists touring Europe in the 1930s; and Stephane Brize (The Measure of a Man) with his Maupassant adaptation A Life (Une Vie). Less certain to be ready is Benoit Jacquot's adaptation of Don DeLillo's novella The Body Artist, which toplines Mathieu Amalric.

Cotillard has a chance of appearing on the huge Palais screen in yet another film, French-Canadian boy wonder Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World, in which Gaspard Ulliel plays a terminally ill writer who has to break the news to his family that he's dying. Nathalie Baye, Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel round out the stellar cast.

All but a sure thing is the latest from Belgium's competition regulars the Dardenne brothers, The Unknown Girl, with double Cesar winner Adele Haenel as a young doctor driven to learn the identity of a young woman whom she refused to treat and who subsequently died.

Another lock for a competition slot is perennial Palme d'Or bridesmaid Pedro Almodovar with the melodrama Julieta, which opens in Spain on April 8. And all bets are on for Mexican Cannes favorite Amat Escalante to follow up his previous Cannes entry, Heli, with another visit to the competition with the sci-fi-ish, and much bigger budgeted, The Untamed, which opens in its native country on May 15.

From Chile may come Pablo Larrain's Neruda, a biographical drama about Chilean writer Pablo Neruda, played by Gael Garcia Bernal and focusing on the period in the late 1940s when he became a communist. And Brazil will give a push to Kleber Mendonca Filho's Aquarius, in which Sonia Braga plays a 65-year-old retired music writer and critic who can time-=travel.

Romania looks to make a double-barreled Cannes comeback this year with films from two of the nation's top directors: Cristi Puiu, who scored big on the Croisette many years ago with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, is poised to return with the family drama Sierra-Nevada, while Cristian Mungiu, whose 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days was also a Cannes highlight, is ready with a new entry, Family Photos.

It isn't entirely clear what Asian films will be ready and submitted to Cannes, but among the strong possibilities are Old Boy director Park Chan-Wook's crime melodrama The Handmaid, an adaptation of the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters in which an heiress falls for a petty thief in Japanese-controlled Korea during the 1930s, and Cannes favorite Hirokazu Kore-eda (Like Father, Like Son and last year's Our Little Sister) with an offbeat drama about a dissolute Japanese author's reunification with his family, After the Storm.

Another Japanese filmmaker, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who was in Un Certain Regard last year with Journey to the Shore, has finished his first French-produced venture, The Woman in the Silver Plate, an offbeat drama about a obsessed photographer starring Olivier Gourmet, Tahar Rahim and Constance Rousseau.

Veteran Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung (Scent of Green Papaya) will hope to return with Eternity, an adaptation of a French novel about three generations of women through the 20th century starring Audrey Tatou, Berenice Bejo and Melanie Laurent. And Johnnie To could conceivably be welcomed back with the crime drama Three, which opens on June 3 in Hong Kong.

One film strongly anticipated by high-art buffs, Argentine director Lucrecia Martel's first feature in eight years, the 18th century historical drama Zama, is still in editing and won't be ready in time for Cannes. Another auteur with long Cannes connections, Emir Kusturica, has his first film in nine years, the Balkan War love story On the Milky Road starring Monica Belluci and the director, in postproduction, but this is now looking like a fall festival title. The same goes for the anticipated debut feature from Australian Garth Davis, who alternated directing episodes of the acclaimed miniseries Top of the Lake with Jane Campion; his Lion, an India-and-Australia-set drama starring Rooney Mara, Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, is scheduled for U.S. release by The Weinstein Company in November and will likely also be held back until the autumn festival season.

Then there are three intriguing American films that could conceivably turn up in Cannes but about which there are no strong indications yet: Tom Ford's second feature, the Focus Features thriller Nocturnal Animals toplining Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kim Basinger and Armie Hammer; Damien Chazelle's L.A.-set musical romance La La Land, starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and J.K. Simmons and set for a December release by Lionsgate/Summit; and Warren Beatty's perennially mysterious Howard Hughes film, which Fremaux would dearly like to world premiere in Cannes. The still-untitled drama was shot two years ago and represents years of work for Beatty, but where and when it will finally be unveiled remains an open question.