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Ranking Every Film I Saw at Cannes 2023

June 1, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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The Cannes Film Festival, renowned for its celebration of the art of cinema, serves as an annual rendezvous for filmmakers, artists, and film enthusiasts from around the world. As the curtains drew back on the esteemed event, it bestowed upon us a plethora of remarkable films that pushed the boundaries of storytelling and left an indelible mark on our collective cinematic consciousness.

In this article, I’ll embark on a captivating recounting of the thirteen films I saw in this year’s edition. From intimate character studies to sweeping epics, the selection was a testament to the diverse voices and visions that grace the silver screen. Each film presented its unique tale, captivating audiences with its artistic merits and thought-provoking narratives.

13. The Old Oak

Painfully flat and oversimplified, Ken Loach and Paul Laverty’s umpteenth partnership spends way too much time speechifying instead of building characters. The message boils down to racism = bad, and it ends without resolving either the main plot or the secondary subplot. For someone as adept at social realism as Ken Loach, this is a glaring misfire that makes me worried if it will be his whimpering swan song.

12. Black Flies

You might as well walk into this movie with a headache because you're going to get one five minutes in. You might as well not watch this movie if you're squeamish with blood and needles. You might as well not watch this movie if you want to watch interesting characters in an original story filled with ideas you haven’t seen before. You might as well not watch this movie.

11. Last Summer

There’s nothing like climbing the steps of the Grand Théâtre Lumière at 7 am to watch a movie about an affair between a middle-aged woman and her teenage stepson. Infamous provocateur Catherin Breillat’s first film in a decade is not as button-pushing as her reputation or the plot summary would imply. Instead, it mutley looks under the surface at the psychological damage caused by the physical actions.

10. Banel & Adama

I’ve always had a blind spot for African cinema, so I felt compelled to let this be a mini-introduction. Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s debut film is confidently produced, with striking images and a welcoming lesson of a slice of African culture. The story may be too simple even for its 80-minute runtime, but the building blocks are there for further bites at the apple.

9. A Brighter Tomorrow

With his version of Bardo, Nanni Moretti provides a humourous meta-commentary on his personal and professional life, as well as the state of modern filmmaking, complete with discussions about the lack of auteurship and Netflix’s anonymous releases. While it may not be all that innovative or groundbreaking, it's still light and breezy enough to be a good time.

8. May December

Grab your marshmallows and graham crackers because Todd Haynes is bringing the camp! I give major props to everyone involved in this production for their ability to keep the silliness of this story a secret. This is “trash” handled by masters of the craft, with Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore understanding the assignment. I'm hoping the Netflix acquisition will allow a new generation of cinephiles to be welcomed into the diverse world of Todd Haynes.

7. About Dry Grasses

A runtime of 197 minutes is nothing unusual for Turkish Cannes all-star Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who fills his Chekovian dramedy with endless moments of beauty and frustration. It’s a film that definitely requires multiple watches to fully comprehend its ideas, but I don’t think this initial watch instilled the ambition needed to consider doing that.

6. Perfect Days

Wim Wenders’ best narrative feature in decades is a lesson in the serenity of doing the mundane, and the bliss we could all achieve if we didn't overcomplicate everything we do. Similar to the recent Sight and Sound crowned Jeanne Dielman, it’s a story that sounds terrible on paper. And yet, its uber-simplicity does wonders to lull you into a state of meditation. For the best results, watch this on a calm summer day with some tea.

5. Anatomy of a Fall

While Johnathan Glazer kept Sandra Hüller at a distance in The Zone of Interest, writer/director Justine Triet has front and center within her Hitchcockian courtroom drama. It may be missing something special that would have made me fall in love with it, but it still contains a densely layered mystery that keeps you guessing throughout its 150-minute runtime.

4. Firebrand

Karim Aïnouz’s tale of Catherine Parr and Henry VIII may not contain much directorial flair (begging the question of why it was here in the first place), but the fiery (pun intended) performances by Alicia Vikander and Jude Law keep things smoldering (again, pun intended). Historians will have a field day with its inaccuracies, which allow for a nontraditional and modern approach to a story that has become more relevant in the centuries since.

3. Monster

Hirokazu Kore-eda brings Rashomon into the modern age with Monster, a movie that is both more gentle and deadly than its title implies. For the first time in his career, the revered Japanese auteur doesn’t write the script, deferring that duty to Yûji Sakamoto. While I hope this separation of responsibilities doesn’t become a trend, Kore-eda crafts an endearing story about differing perspectives and the misconceptions we surround ourselves with.

2. Asteroid City

At this point in his filmography, you’ve probably made up your mind about Wes Anderson. I’m somewhat of an apologist, with those instantly recognizable production qualities and whimsical tones being music to my ears (and eyes). Asteroid City is another healthy dose of what I’m come to love, with the bonus of seeing an auteur continue to find new ways to channel what they do best. Full Review

1. The Zone of Interest

Sickening in the most calculated way possible, The Zone of Interest is Jonathan Glazer's ode to Stanley Kubrick. He answers the question of how evil can exist unchecked, holding all of your senses in a sterilized vice. Be sure to soak it all in during your first watch, because I doubt you'll ever want to view the world this way again. Full Review

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