Although the internet very nearly ruined any surprises this year, the Cannes Film Festival remains a somewhat bespoke event that makes it almost literally impossible to predict, even though the guessing game starts earlier every year. As ever, the initial reactions pointed out what's NOT there, something which also started earlier this year when new films by regulars Pedro Almodóvar, Woody Allen and Lars Von Trier were all nixed by the rumour mill in the run-up to Thursday's announcement. Having said that, most of the anticipated titles seem to be in the mix, the only notable no-shows – mostly because they simply won't be ready – appear to be Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave, SpikeJonze's Her, Terry Gilliam's Zero Theorem and Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin. Personally, I was relieved that Lee Daniels' The Butler didn't make the cut, and I'm wondering if Jim Jarmusch's vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive might pop up in another section in the coming weeks. Indeed, AriFolman's The Congress, his long-awaited follow-up to the harrowing animated confessional Waltz With Bashir – has just been confirmed to open Directors’ Fortnight.
Overwhelmingly, commentators this year have pointed to the dearth of women in the official selection, which somewhat bemuses me since the year there were four of them (2011), nobody seemed to break out the bunting. (This year at Sundance a full half of the competition films were by women, which seemed to go almost entirely reported.) So it's unlikely there'll be too much rallying for the lone female in the Competition – Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi with Un Chateau En Italie – since the press in Cannes don't like to dwell on positives. Looking down the rest of the Competition list, it's another very big year for the US, a territory that blows hot and cold on the Croisette. Cannes favourites the Coen brothers will be bringing Inside Llewyn Davis, Alexander Payne is returning for the first time since About Schmidt with Nebraska, James Gray – who, like Johnnie To, is practically an institution here – will be there with Lowlife, and Steven Soderbergh is presenting his HBO Liberace movie Behind The Candelabra (and not as a Special Screening, as assumed).
Internationally, there aren't the equivalent veterans of previous years, and I'm thinking here of the likes of Abbas Kiarostami, Alain Resnais and Hou Hsiao-Hsien (incidentally, Jean-Luc Godard's 3D film Goodbye To Language was another title that quickly dropped off the Definitely In list). It is left to Roman Polanski to represent the old guard with Venus In Fur, not a remake of the Sacher-Masoch story but an adaptation of a Broadway play by David Ives. Other than Polanski, the median age seems to be early fifties this year, and the festival does seem to be trying to create a new wave of favourites. Top of the list here has to be Denmark's Nicolas Winding Refn with Only God Forgives, his follow-up to Drive and right up the festival's alley with Larry Smith's exquisite cinematography. Making his Cannes debut (I think) with The Past, Iran's Asghar Farhadi is not to be under-estimated, having had widespread international success with the Oscar-nominated A Separation. The talented and prolific François Ozon has been welcomed back for the the first time since Swimming Pool ten years ago (with Young And Beautiful), and another relatively recent Cannes adoptee, Paulo Sorrentino, attends with The Great Beauty. Meanwhile, a dark horse for the Palme D'Or would be Abdelatiff Kechiche, whose 2008 film Couscous won big at the French Oscars (the Césars) and whose Blue Is The Warmest Colour clocks in at a very important-seeming 187 minutes.
Asian cinema is very ably represented by Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda (Like Father Like Son) and China's JiaZhangke (A Touch Of Sin), both fixtures on the festival circuit. However, it will be interesting to see whether TakeshiMiike's Straw Shield is the wild card it seems to be (like Refn's Drive, two years ago). Miike popped up last time with one of his bonkers anime knock-offs in the Midnight Screenings section, and before that in Competition with the more traditional period movie Death Of A Samurai. Straw Shield, however, could see the Japanese maverick in crossover mode, telling the Ransom-like story of a hitman who enters a witness protection scheme when a bounty is placed on his head. If Miike reigns in the violence, it could find favour with Steven Spielberg's jury.
Over in Un Certain Regard, usually a place for discovery, we find Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring in the opening slot, a move seen by some as a demotion, although plenty of arguably bigger names have premiered here in the last few years (Gus Van Sant, Bruno Dumont, Manoel De Oliveira). It's more surprising that Claire Denis is here, with her LesSalauds languishing next to yet another film by the relentless JamesFranco, As I Lay Dying, and if this is part of a longterm attempt to reinvigorate UCR, it may have backfired. It's hard to know what to make of the rest, sight unseen, although Fruitvale Station, previously just Fruitvale, will be bringing with it a head of awards-season steam, having won the Grand Prize at Sundance and been picked up by Harvey Weinstein.
Which only leaves us with the various remaining strands, and, no, I don't know the difference between Out Of Competition and Special Screenings. In the former, the pairing of JC Chandor's All Is Lost and Guillaume Canet's Blood Ties could provide classy, if more mainstream entertainment (and I hated both their last movies), and in the latter we have the frankly strange-sounding Seduced And Abandoned, a 1964 kidnap comedy by James Toback, alongside sports movies featuring the unlikely likes of Roman Polanski (again), in the Jackie Stewart racing doc Weekend Of AChampion, and Stephen Frears, with the HBO drama Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight. Ignoring the Jerry Lewis tribute, as any non-French person in their right minds will, my only gripe this year is that the Midnight Screenings section is as dull as always; only two films: one of them is a Johnnie To movie (Blind Detective), the other an Indian cop thriller (Monsoon Shootout). Maybe some more interesting genre titles – Ben Wheatley's A Field In England, Alejandro Jodorowsky's La Danza De La Realidad or (some hope!) Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer – will turn up in Directors' Fortnight or Critics Week.