When it comes to setting the pace for the year in cinema, the Cannes Film Festival occupies a coveted early-summer spot, often launching films toward awards-season stardom. That includes movies like recent Oscar nominees Parasite, BlacKkKlansman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Drive My Car, and The Worst Person in the World.
But there’s more to Cannes than awards chatter. Filmmakers from around the globe tell harrowing, moving, and spectacular stories on the big screens over the two-week span, and the whole world shows up to watch, boo, cheer, argue, walk red carpets, and drink a lot of rosé. And after two weird years — one canceled entirely because of the pandemic, one shifted to July and lightly attended — the festival was back in full force.
It’s impossible to see every movie at Cannes, but I did my best. Some of them are big and buzzy — like Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick — and you’ll see them soon enough. But here are the 15 best movies I saw at Cannes this year, why you should keep tabs on them, and how you can see them soon.
James Gray’s Armageddon Time is a semi-autofictional story of a sixth-grader named Paul (Banks Repeta) growing up in Queens in the 1980s who, after some trouble in his public school, ends up at a private academy at the behest of his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins). A jolt of a cameo with political implications appears midway through — I don’t want to ruin it — but the film’s broader aim is to excavate the layers of privilege that the protagonist, whose ancestors fled the Holocaust, is slowly coming to realize. Paul’s family is navigating the gluey border between being the target of anti-Semitism and enjoying the opportunities and social standing that their Black neighbors will never have. Meanwhile, Paul is caught between his left-leaning family and the children at his new school who casually drop racial slurs, or pump fists and chant “Reagan! Reagan!” at the mention of an upcoming election. It’s a truly poignant, troubling, and ultimately brilliant work of memory and self-implication.
How to watch it: Focus Features will open Armageddon Time in the US later this year.
One of the festival’s breakout hits is Aftersun, from first-time director Charlotte Wells and starring Normal People heartthrob Paul Mescal. In the 1990s, 11-year-old Sophie (first-timer Francesca Corio) is on holiday with her father, Calum (Mescal), and for a long time Aftersun seems like it’s merely the memories of a happy childhood. But we slowly come to realize that we’re seeing those memories as an older Sophie tries to process her relationship with her father, who, while loving and supportive, is fighting his own demons. Reminiscent of Joanna Hogg’s Souvenir movies, Aftersun is directed with a sure hand and immense empathy by Wells. We’re all just trying to do our best; what is left in Sophie’s memories is immense grace.
How to watch it: A24 will release Aftersun in the US.
Hirokazu Kore-eda won the coveted Palme d’Or with his devastating 2018 drama Shoplifters. Now he’s returned with Broker, another gentle story about people on society’s margins — one that packs a considerable emotional punch. The story starts when young mother So-young (Lee Ji-eun) drops off her infant son at a church in a “baby box.” Two detectives observe the action, but more importantly, so do Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won) and Sang-hyun (Parasite star Song Kang-ho), who work under the radar as adoption brokers on the Korean “gray market.” Broker is sentimental and sweet, often funny, and a lighter take on Kore-eda’s ongoing project of exploring chosen families.
How to watch it: Neon will release Broker in the US.
An unspeakably tender story about young friendship and grief, Lukas Dhont’s Close is the story of Rémi (Gustav De Waele) and Leo (an extraordinary Eden Dambrine), two young teens who have been best friends since childhood. They spend nights at one another’s house and say they are closer than brothers. But when Leo is made to feel self-conscious about their relationship by classmates, who ask if they are a couple, he starts to push Rémi away, and Rémi’s reaction leads to tragedy. Incredibly understated and finely realized, Close makes use of silence and nearly imperceptible facial expression to follow Leo through the months that follow, exploring the kinds of emotions and desires that young teens often feel but rarely understand. It’s an elegant, beautiful, moving film.
How to watch it: A24 will release Close in the US.
Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) brings his rich imagination and lush, masterful sensibility to film noir with Decision to Leave, a twisty thriller with nods to Hitchcock but certainly in a mystery-movie class all its own. It’s a kind of “black widow” story, centering on Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), a detective in Busan. He stumbles into a case involving Seo-rae (Tang Wei), who is a Chinese immigrant, newly widowed, and the prime suspect in the murder of her husband. Nothing is naturalistic about Park’s editing, which fades from timeline to timeline and often puts us inside Hae-joon’s head; we’re trying as hard to follow what’s going on as he is. And in the end, it becomes a swoony romance with a gloriously sharp edge.
How to watch it: Mubi will release Decision to Leave in the US.
A gritty little delight of a film, Funny Pages is the tale of teenaged cartoonist and comics obsessive Robert (Daniel Zolghadri), who isn’t interested in his parents’ college plans for him. All he wants is to draw — specifically, draw the kind of underground R. Crumb-style alt-comics that don’t make much money. He rents a room in a seventh-circle-of-hell-style basement apartment in Trenton, New Jersey, and picks up a job on the side; that’s how he meets Wallace (Matthew Maher), a strange guy who nonetheless had a mid-level job at a comics publisher that Robert worships. Their misadventures also function as a coming-of-age moment for Robert, who is staring down the barrel of the rest of his life and not seeing what he’d hope there. It’s a weird, smudgy, hilarious story from first-time feature director Owen Kline, and a grimy fun time.
How to watch it: A24 will release Funny Pages in the US.
Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis (writer/director and editor, respectively, of The Fits) return to co-direct God’s Creatures, a harrowing and revealing story set in a small Irish fishing village. Troubled son Brian (Paul Mescal) returns home from years drifting abroad, to the delight of his mother, Aileen (Emily Watson), and the consternation of some others. He rekindles an acquaintance with old flame Sarah (Aisling Franciosi) and restarts the family oyster farm. But then he’s accused of sexual assault, and the small village — especially Aileen — is cast into turmoil. A carefully-tuned story about the complicated social dynamics that arise in close-knit communities, God’s Creatures is a sharp-edged acting showcase and a devastating exploration of how justice and love do, and don’t, exist alongside one another.
How to watch it: A24 will release God’s Creatures in the US.
One Fine Morning
Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island was my favorite film of 2021, so expectations ran high for One Fine Morning — and I was not disappointed. Sandra (a luminous Lea Seydoux) is a young widowed mother and a translator whose life is full with caring for her young daughter and her ill father, whose condition is rapidly deteriorating. Then Clement (Melvil Poupaud), a married astrophysicist and friend of her late husband, re-enters the picture, and life begins to overflow with love, and longing, and loss, and joy. Time, in One Fine Morning, passes like a poem or a song, a string of moments weighty with emotion. History and the future can’t be helped, so you have to hang on to the moment. It nearly brushes melodrama, but Seydoux’s performance anchors the film, ultimately rendering it a love letter to the present, and to the ways heartbreak and hope intertwine.
How to watch it: Sony Pictures Classics will release One Fine Morning in the US.
Return to Seoul
Return to Seoul is a stone-cold stunner. The drama centers on Freddie (fantastic newcomer Park Ji-min), born in Korea but adopted by French parents; at 25, she’s decided to visit the land of her birth for the first time. With confidence, director Davy Chou plumbs Freddie’s interior landscape — this isn’t about finding home so much as reckoning with the realization that you feel like you don’t have one. As we move with Freddie through her life’s evolutions, she continually refuses to conform to audience’s expectations. It’s the rhythm, the warp and woof of the film, that really makes it sing, the ways Freddie’s turmoil breaks the surface at unexpected moments, capturing a difficult experience like lightning in a bottle.
How to watch it: Sony Pictures Classics will release Return to Seoul in the US.
With films like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Graduation, Cristian Mungiu is the reigning king of the Romanian New Wave. His latest, R.M.N. (named for the Romanian abbreviation for a brain-scanning MRI), is a rigorous, naturalistic, and devastating cross-section of xenophobia. Set in a Romanian town in which the local bakery is planning to employ immigrants, it’s certainly about a particular time and place. But it’s hard to ignore that the sentiments expressed by the townspeople about the outsiders — anchored in a long, barn-burning scene at a town meeting — are being echoed in countries all over the world, including, indisputably, our own. It’s a must-see.
How to watch it: IFC Films will release R.M.N. in the US.
Showing Up is an absolute, wry joy of a little comedy about making art and living life. The film marks another collaboration between Kelly Reichardt, her longtime writing partner Jon Raymond, and Michelle Williams, who plays Lizzy, a stressed-out artist in Portland. Her hot water is broken. Her cat caught a bird in the night. Her parents are unruly and her brother is troubled, and meanwhile she’s trying to get ready for a solo show. The film feels pulled from familiar reality for anyone who’s ever tried to make creative work — and it’s quiet, clever, and a whole lot of fun.
How to watch it: A24 will release Showing Up in the US.
Three Thousand Years of Longing
That “stories are powerful” is such an oft-repeated axiom that it’s become banal. Yet George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road, Babe: Pig in the City) finds new life for it in Three Thousand Years of Longing, a fairy tale for adults about how myths create meaning from madness and desire imparts bittersweet joy. Tilda Swinton stars as a lonely but content narratologist who accidentally lets loose a millennia-old djinn (Idris Elba) and breaks open something in her soul at the same time. The film draws on millennia of storytelling traditions (including, most obviously, Scheherazade’s), rendering it continually surprising. Sentimental, fantastical, and unabashedly moony, it’s a romance and a storytelling apologia all in one.
How to watch it: MGM will open Three Thousand Years of Longing in the US on August 31.
Tori et Lokita
Brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have made a long career of telling intimate stories from people marginalized by European society: drifters, strugglers, and, increasingly, immigrants. Their recent work, including Tori et Lokita, interrogates an uncomfortable truth — that the kindness of strangers and individual charity will never be enough to overcome inhumane and unjust systems that aim to divide societies and keep people in fear. Tori et Lokita follows a young woman (a terrific Mbundu Joely) and a boy (Pablo Schils) who have fought their way as undocumented immigrants into Belgium, where they team up to scrabble for a living and, they hope, gain papers that will make legal work possible. Things turn tragic, as they have for so many, and the conclusion is damning and biting: It’s not the people fighting for their life who are their problem, but the world in which their existence is rendered expendable.
How to watch it: Tori et Lokita is awaiting US distribution.
Triangle of Sadness
Brace yourself. The latest satire from Swedish director Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure, The Square) is uproarious, bleak, drenched in bodily fluids, and practically emblazoned with “Eat the Rich” in neon lights. It starts, briefly, in the world of modeling (the “triangle of sadness” being an area between the brows often tinkered with by plastic surgeons), but soon we’re on a luxury yacht populated by the worst people in the world. From there, things go nuts. Triangle of Sadness draws on everything from Roman vomitoriums to Lord of the Flies, skewering with equal force those who make their money without scruples and those who lack the courage of their convictions to do anything about it. It’s frequently gross, blunt as a battering ram, and very, very 2022.
How to watch it: Neon will release Triangle of Sadness in the US.
Un Petit Frère
In 1989, Rose (Annabelle Lengronne) moves from the Ivory Coast to France with two sons in tow, searching for more opportunities for them. But life takes many twists and turns. In Un Petit Frère, we watch as decades of their lives unfold, with Rose and, eventually, her children realizing that nothing in life is simple. And ultimately, the choices of mothers and older brothers shape the destiny of the youngest. Writer and director Leonor Serraille crafts a beautifully tender portrait of a family, a gentle meditation on the meanings of memories and how our pasts mold our presents and futures.
How to watch it: Un Petit Frère is awaiting US distribution.