May 27, 2020
The Cannes Film Festival has been debuting new films since 1946. Each year there is an astonishing array of international films from venerated filmmakers and exciting debuts from new ones.
Although Cannes has been canceled this year, you can stream your own festival at home via an array of online for pay streaming services. Here is a short-list across all genres that would be especially entertaining and enlightening.
All About Eve 1950 (streaming sources)
Joseph Mankiewicz’s iconic film is about Margo Channing, a self-centered Broadway star. It is acerbic, funny, and tender. Played by Bette Davis, in one of her signature roles, she confronts the issue of a woman aging, when undermined by a conniving younger actress (Anne Baxter). It has some of the most quotable lines in movie history. Watch for a brief scene with a very young Marilyn Monroe. “Fasten your seatbelts, it is going to be a bumpy night.”
La Dolce Vita 1960 (streaming sources) Available free on YouTube.
Many consider this to be Fellini’s best film. It portrays the search for the “sweet life” over seven days in Rome. Marcello Mastroainni is the central figure, but Anita Ekberg dancing in the Trevi Fountain is the image that has become synonymous with this film – and maybe all of Italy in the 1960s.
A Man and a Woman 1961 (streaming sources)
One of the biggest Foreign Film hits in the U.S., this film is simply out and out romantic. Anouk Aimee as a script girl and Jean-Louis Trintignant as a racecar driver have a passionate affair. Francis Lai sets the story to a gorgeous score.
The Leopard 1963 (streaming sources) Available free on YouTube.
Luchino Visconti’s sumptuous visual retelling of the landmark novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lempedusais unforgettable. Burt Lancaster plays the eponymous “leopard,” and through his eyes we see the waning days of the Sicilian aristocracy. Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale are gorgeous in their breathtaking roles as young lovers.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg 1964 (streaming sources)
This is a delightful and colorful musical by Jacques Demy. Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo sing their way through Michel Legrand’s lovely score. Many great vocalists have covered its hit that became a classic, “I Will Wait for You.”
Modesty Blaise 1966 (streaming sources) Available free on YouTube.
For pure escapist entertainment, Modesty Blaise is one of a long line of funny and ironic spy movies spawned by the James Bond series. The thing that sets it apart is that it’s made by an A-list director with A-list stars. Joseph Losey directs, and Monica Vitti, famous for serous Michelangelo Antonioni films, stars with heartthrob Terrence Stamp and dashing Dirk Bogarde. The eye-popping (and bustier popping) Sixties fashions alone make this worth watching.
M*A*S*H 1970 (streaming sources)
If you only know this from the TV series, watch the film. Robert Altman shocked the world with this anarchically funny war comedy. It is set during the Korean War – a stand-in for Vietnam, which was still raging at the time. Altman didn’t shy away from the brutality of war and casualties, but he showed how people cope with humor and whatever it takes. The film features career-making performances from Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman, and many others. The irony is that M*A*S*H was in contention with Patton for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. While the jury at Cannes chose M*A*S*H, the old guard at the Motion Picture Academy chose Patton.
The Go-Between 1971 (streaming sources)
Joseph Losey directed this delicate memory piece by screenwriter Harold Pinter. It’s the story of a boy who visits his friend for the summer. He becomes infatuated with his sister, Marian and the go-between between her (Julie Christie), and her secret lover (Alan Bates), a tenant famer. For her supporting performance, Margaret Leighton would later be nominated for an Oscar.
The Conversation 1974 (streaming sources)
Francis Ford Coppola made this tight, paranoid thriller between the first two Godfather movies. Gene Hackman is a detective who is out to prove that Harrison Ford plans to murder his wife. It’s a haunting, intelligent film depicting isolation and paranoia that seems more relevant today than ever.
Sex, Lies, and Videotape 1989 (streaming sources)
Steven Soderbergh’s indelible first film changes the game about obsession, sexuality, and humor. Peter Gallagher, Andie MacDowell, and Laura San Giacomo, are each drawn into the world of sex, lies, and videotape by James Spader. Since this directorial debut, Soderbergh has had a long and varied career in TV and film, winning many Emmys and Oscars.
The Piano 1993 (streaming sources)
Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin would later win Oscars for their roles as mother and daughter in this story of a lonely, unhappily married mute pianist. The film’s writer/director, Jane Campion is the only woman to win the Palme-d’Or to this day. She won the Oscar for her screenplay.
The White Ribbon 2009 (streaming sources)
Every frame of this atmospheric black and white film by Michael Haneke could be a stand-alone piece of German Expressionist art. Set in 1914 in a small village, and focusing mostly on its children, the film makes you understand how Fascism can rise. It portends the mood of the country before the rise of Hitler. Haneke’s work is fascinating and frightening, especially in our current era.
These are just a few of the extraordinary films featured at Cannes through the years. For other more comprehensive recommendations, check out these articles in The Guardian and The New Yorker.
Though you might not get to watch the stars walk the red carpet, you can experience why every year the Cannes Film Festival is a bastion for the best of international filmmaking.