Best of Cannes 2019

With your help, we pick our top ten dramatic premieres from the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

I queued for four hours to see this, and knew it had been worthwhile within the opening four minutes.” —⁠Blaise Radley

With the awards handed out and the red carpet rolled up, we know who the official Cannes 2019 winners are. But the pressing question is: what stood out for Letterboxd members?

With so many of you in attendance, we’ve plundered your reviews and ratings to confidently deduce a completely unofficial, non-verifiable yet utterly impressive list of the top 10 dramatic premieres at Cannes.

Regular readers already know of our enthusiasm for Bacurau, and Rocketman really doesn’t need our help (it opens in cinemas round the world this week), which is why they’re not on the list.

So, with the help of our roving correspondent Doug Dillaman and all the Letterboxd folk who made their way to the French Riviera, we present Letterboxd’s top ten Cannes premieres for 2019.


Parasite (기생충)

Written and directed by Bong Joon-Ho

In awarding Parasite the Palme d’Or, the Cannes jury merely affirmed what Letterboxd members already knew: the latest by Korean director Bong was the hands-down best entry in the competition, stealing the limelight not only from Quentin Tarantino (whose film premiered on the same day) but a star-studded directors lineup.

Stina Beana Wood sums it up: “It’s slick, it’s smart, it’s Bong flexing his cinematic strength with unparalleled precision… I lol’ed many a time… and finally, was left with the satisfaction of a sensational, social-status-satire story.”

While you’re waiting for Parasite to hit your shores, be sure to avoid spoilers per the director’s request. In the meantime, here’s a list of films personally selected by Bong to get you in the mood for Parasite!

The Lighthouse

Written and directed by Robert Eggers

One of the impossible-to-get tickets of Cannes 2019 premiered in Directors’ Fortnight, in part because of anticipation of the new film from the director of The Witch and in part because of the presence of the rumored new Batman himself.

Our Cannes correspondent was shut out despite waiting 90 minutes in the rain, but those with even more dedication found their efforts duly rewarded, like Blaise Radley: “I queued for four hours to see this, and knew it had been worthwhile within the opening four minutes. Stark, dizzying, stomach-churning—this is a surprisingly different beast to The Witch, but it’s in exactly the same tier… Needless to say, Dafoe and Pattinson are phenomenal.”

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)

Written and directed by Céline Sciamma

Some see the inclusion of four female directors in Competition as a high-water mark, others as a glaring reminder of how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality. Little Joe and Atlantique both brought home prizes, but the latest from the director of Girlhood took top marks not only as the best female-directed film, but one of the very best of Cannes.

Letterboxd member notmckinzie was more specific than most in her effusive praise: “Someone took all of my interests and did a study about what was gonna make me lose my goddamn mind and then they gave the results to Celine Sciamma and let her do her thing and now we have this! Throw in the mythic allegory, lots of women, 1800s period setting, fine art, pro-choice messaging, and lots of sexual tension?? We have a winner, ladies!” Also: Ehrlich has found his new Carol.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

The hottest ticket in town became even hotter after Tarantino canceled the traditional last-day re-screening in order to re-edit the film, meaning those lucky few who got in will be the only ones ever to see this cut. Its detractors called it meandering, but fans loved getting lost in its reverie of 1969 Hollywood. Take Lou Hicks: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is wonderful. It’s like Tarantino is just dreamily reminiscing for our benefit. Feels innocent somehow—lovely, pure, hilarious, charming.”

Atlantics (Atlantique)

Directed by Mati Diop

Even before Mati Diop’s freshman feature screened, she was assured of making history, as the first black woman in Cannes Competition. But her otherworldly seaside tale cast a spell on the 4pm audience, earning a lengthy standing ovation, and jury members were equally rapt. It was, as Chin Lin Gan writes : “An awe-inspiring, disciplined, rigorous and terrifying piece of work [that] operates on a hypnotic and almost occult powerful mode of storytelling that makes you think of folk-tales that grip generations and generations.”

Sorry We Missed You

Directed by Ken Loach

British activist Loach has long been a staple of the Cannes competition, but for both veteran fans and those new to Loach, his cautionary tale about precarious lives in the gig-economy resonated, not only as one of his strongest films but one of the strongest of the festival. Sebastian Chan heralded it as: “Brilliant, powerful stuff from Ken Loach … Funny, heartbreaking and eye opening; this is one of those must see films.”

And Then We Danced (და ჩვენ ვიცეკვეთ)

Written and directed by Levan Akin

Call Me By Your Name fans, your new obsession is here. This Georgian tale of first love and dance prompted no fewer than six Letterboxd members to compare the two films (with George Wood going one step further, dubbing it “Call Me By Your Name meets Whiplash”). Other members, though, felt no need for comparisons, with Emma declaring it: “Stunning and incredibly moving. Love poured out of every shot. Films like this are the reason I wanted to come to Cannes.”

Deerskin (Le Daim)

Written and directed by Quentin Dupieux

The absurdist creator of Rubber and Wrong has divided Letterboxd members fiercely in the past, but early reviews agree that Deerskin, the opening film of the offbeat Directors’ Fortnight, is a giant step forward and his best film yet. What is it about? Let’s let Anton Vanha-Majamaa summarize: “A hilariously odd and an oddly hilarious film about a divorced, worn-out man (the amazing Jean Dujardin channeling Colin Farrell in The Lobster) who becomes obsessed with a deerskin leather jacket that seems to have a mind of its own.”

Papicha

Written and directed by Mounia Meddour Gens

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmão may have won Un Certain Regard, but the debut feature by Mounia Meddour Gens, following a woman in 1997 trying to put on a fashion show in the midst of oppression, pipped it to the post with our members. Clara declared it: “The best film I watched in Cannes. Absolutely loved it. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful. I walked into the screening not really knowing what to expect, but I was mind blown.”

A Hidden Life

Written and directed by Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick’s three-hour WWII epic may have come home empty-handed from the Croisette and divided the press, but Letterboxd members loved it more than most (including our own Cannes correspondent). Savina Petkova named it: “The best film you can see in 2019, simply put. A timeless meditation on human suffering, the nature of evil and how it relates to our crooked nature.”


Special mentions

The highly acclaimed documentary For Sama, and two films that opened in their domestic territories prior to Cannes: Pedro Almodóvar’s Spain-premiered Pain and Glory and Kirill Mikhanovsky’s Sundance premiere Give Me Liberty.

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