Cannes Preview 2011

The 64th Cannes Film Festival kicks off May 11 with the premiere of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, featuring France's first lady, Carla Bruni. From Terrence Malick's ethereal Brad Pitt-starrer to the controversial Lars von Trier's take on Armageddon, see what films will light up the Croisette.

Twentieth Century Fox

Twentieth Century Fox

The Tree of Life

This bildungsroman from acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick ( Badlands, Days of Heaven) traces the evolution of an 11-year-old Texas boy torn between the contrasting worldviews of his two parents, played by Brad Pitt and much-heralded newcomer, Jessica Chastain. The child then grows up to become a lost adult (played by Sean Penn) who must rediscover the meaning of life. The Tree of Life was supposed to premiere at last year's Cannes festival, but Malick failed to finish the film in time. Nonetheless, the visually sumptuous trailer for the director's spiritual odyssey is so bracingly poetic that it literally caused viewers to weep, and persistent rumors that the film will feature grand imagery of the cosmos, as well as dinosaurs, have led some to dub it Malick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Drive

Based on the 2005 book of the same name by James Sallis, this impressionistic action film from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn ( Bronson) centers on a Hollywood stunt man, played by Ryan Gosling, who moonlights as a top-notch getaway driver for L.A. criminals. He soon discovers, however, that a contract has been put out on his life after a botched heist. Gosling is an indie fixture and one of the finest, most intense actors of his generation, so seeing him in his first action film is a thrilling prospect. Add An Education Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan and Mad Men's Christina Hendricks to the mix, as well as Albert Brooks playing against type as a violent gangster, and this could be one wild ride.

This Must Be the Place

After screening Il Divo at the 2008 Cannes festival, jury president Sean Penn approached the film's director, Paolo Sorrentino, about working with him. The result is This Must Be the Place, starring Penn as Cheyenne, a wealthy former rocker who steps out of retirement to track down a former SS officer who tormented his recently deceased father at Auschwitz. The $28 million-budgeted film, named after a Talking Heads song, also stars Frances McDormand and Harry Dean Stanton. When set pictures surfaced online of a wigged-out, heavily made up Penn looking like Robert Smith of The Cure, it only augmented interest in the bizarrely plotted film. Plus, let's be real: Sean Penn in a Holocaust-themed film has Oscar bait written all over it.

Melancholia

Controversial Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier's ( Breaking the Waves) Cannes entry Antichrist was the talk of the 2009 festival. While actress Charlotte Gainsbourg won the fest's Best Actress award, critics were heavily divided over the film's exploration of misogyny, as well as its graphic violence, including two scenes of genital mutilation. Von Trier's latest film is Melancholia, and it opens with the destruction of the earth, before going back in time to tell the story of two sisters, Justine ( Kisten Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg) who are drifting apart from one another. After Justine gets married to Michael, played by True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård, she becomes depressed, and is oddly calm when news surfaces that Earth is being threatened by a collision with a new planet that has emerged from behind the sun, while Claire becomes overtaken by fear. The film also stars Kiefer Sutherland and John Hurt.

Sony Pictures Classics

Restless

Marking the film-acting debut of Henry Hopper, the son of the late Dennis Hopper, the film stars Hopper as an eccentric boy who enjoys attending funerals and who falls in love with Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska), a terminally ill teenage girl. During their burgeoning relationship, the young lovers' obsession with mortality leads them to a series of strange encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from World War II. The film's director, Gus Van Sant ( Good Will Hunting), is no stranger to Cannes—his 2003 film Elephant, about a Columbine-like high school shooting, won the festival's highest prize, the Palme d'Or. Restless not only will be Van Sant's first film since 2008's Milk, which garnered eight Oscar nominations, but also stars the talented Wasikowska, who is on an absolute roll with the critically-acclaimed films The Kids Are All Right and Jane Eyre.

Ishimei

You never know what you're going to get from controversial Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, whose films range from gleefully violent and bizarre to family-friendly. A favorite of Quentin Tarantino, Miike makes films that regularly incorporate scenes of grotesque, cartoonish violence, and sexual perversity. The 1999 horror film Audition, about a widower who "auditions" new women to be his wife, is largely considered Miike's masterpiece, and his last film, the samurai epic 13 Assassins, earned critical raves, with the Los Angeles Times writing, "A master director with great style and panache, Miike's latest, 13 Assassins, is a classic samurai movie, right up there among the finest in the genre." Ishimei ( Hari-Kiri: Death of a Samurai), is a 3D remake of Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 samurai classic, Harakiri, and, strangely enough, marks Miike's first entry in the main competition at Cannes.

We Need to Talk About Kevin


Adapted from author Lionel Shriver's 2003 novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a story seen through the eyes of Eva ( Tilda Swinton), a mother who is struggling to come to terms with her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller), after he massacres several students and teachers at his high school. John C. Reilly plays Kevin's oblivious father, Franklin. This is heavy stuff, but Cannes has a good track record for school-shooting films, with the aforementioned Gus Van Sant entry Elephant winning the Palme d'Or in 2003, and the film's director, Lynne Ramsay, is a unique talent, whose first two feature films—1999's Ratcatcher and 2002's Morvern Callar—also premiered at Cannes, where they were well-received. She was named no. 12 on The Guardian's list of 'The World's 40 Best Directors,' and none other than Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, whose mesmerizing score for There Will Be Blood was nominated for a Grammy, will be scoring Ramsay's film.

Sony Pictures Classics

The Skin I Inhabit

The latest from acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, The Skin I Inhabit marks the first time the auteur has worked with actor Antonio Banderas since the controversial 1990 dark comedy Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, about a psychiatric patient who kidnaps an actress to make her fall in love with him. The new film, marking a rare foray into horror-thriller territory for Almodóvar, tells the story of a surgeon (Banderas) who is hoping to create a new skin that could save his wife, who died years ago in a car accident. The doctor is ultimately forced to dabble in human transgenesis in order to achieve his goal. Almodóvar is a Cannes regular, having won awards there for All About My Mother and Volver, and premiering every one of his films there since 2004's Bad Education.

Christine Plenus

Le gamin au vélo (The Kid with a Bike)

Though not incredibly well known outside of the Cannes cinephilic community, Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are two of the most celebrated filmmakers in Cannes Film Festival history. Known for gritty, naturalistic depictions of lower-class Belgian life, ever since their film Rosetta won the Palme d'Or in 1999, they have seen all their films play in the main competition at the fest and win a major award. Their 2005 film, L'Enfant ( The Child), earned them their second Palme d'Or, putting them in a tiny circle of six filmmakers able to accomplish such a feat. Their latest film, Le gamin au vélo (The Kid with a Bike), is a fairytale story of an 11-year-old boy who is saved by a woman when his abusive father abandons him. It's an oddly upbeat story for the Dardenne's, who shot the film during the summer—a Brothers Dardenne first—and will feature a musical score, which is a rarity in their oeuvre.

Sony Pictures Classics

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen, whose films have been very hit ( Vicky Cristina Barcelona) or miss (the awful Scoop) in recent years, will hope that his latest film, Midnight in Paris, avoids the Cannes opening-night curse (see: Blindness, Robin Hood, etc.). The film is about a young engaged couple, played by Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, who travel to Paris on business only to be pulled apart by the mysterious possibilities the City of Lights offers. The film boasts a stellar supporting cast, including Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, and the French first lady herself, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Hopefully it will fare better than Allen's entry at last year's Cannes, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, which received a mixed reception and earned just over $3 million at the domestic box office.