5 must-see films from the 2014 Cannes Film Festival

Festival de Cannes/Courtesy

If your Netflix queue has been in a bit of a summer slump, don’t fear! The prizewinners of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival were announced last week, which means there is a treasure trove of soon-to-be-released films from around the world awaiting you. Here are five of those films to watch out for.

1. “Foxcatcher” (Winner, Award for Best Director)

“Foxcatcher” is a film directed by Bennett Miller that features a star-studded, if somewhat unsurprising, cast. Based on true events, the film recounts the tragedy that befalls champion wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) as a result of their relationship with eccentric millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell). Carell is nearly unrecognizable as du Pont, which is perhaps his darkest role to date. Carell is joined by Vanessa Redgrave, who plays his mother, Jean. Tatum and Ruffalo take on the roles of brothers Mark and Dave, respectively. Finally, Sienna Miller rounds out the cast as Dave’s wife, Nancy. Known for the films “Capote” (2005) and “Moneyball” (2011), Miller’s directorial approach is notoriously research-oriented. His preparation for “Foxcatcher” included several years of research, during which he traveled across the country to seek out materials, conduct interviews and gather video footage of the Schultz brothers and du Pont.

“Foxcatcher” might be the culmination of years of research, but Cannes certainly didn’t see the last of it. The film is already at the center of some serious 2015 Oscar buzz, with Indiewire positioning it as a frontrunner for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

Watch the trailer here.

2. “Mommy” (Winner, Jury Prize)

In 2009, director Xavier Dolan rose to prominence with the semi-autobiographical feature film “I Killed My Mother.” Dolan was only 20 years old when he wrote, directed and starred in the film, which won three awards at Cannes. “Mommy” is Dolan’s fifth feature film in as many years. Returning to his debut subject matter, Dolan explores the intricacies and pitfalls of the mother-son bond once more, this time with Anne Dorval as the titular mother, Diane “Die” Despres, and Antoine-Olivier Polin as her 15-year-old son, Steve. Die, who is recently widowed, struggles to control Antoine’s behavior, but the duo finds a tentative balance when they forge a relationship with Kyla (Suzanne Clement), a high school teacher on sabbatical who moves in next door.

While it is tempting to compare “Mommy” to “I Killed My Mother,” Dolan himself insists that the parallels between the two films are superficial. He describes the difference between the two as such: “Back in the days of ‘I Killed My Mother,’ I felt like I wanted to punish my mom. Only five years have passed ever since, and I believe that, through ‘Mommy,’ I’m now seeking her revenge.”

Watch an excerpt from the film here.

3. “Skunk” (Winner, Cinefondation 1st Prize)

The Cinefondation Prize was created in 1998 to honor the work of student filmmakers from around the world. From the thousands of submissions that are received each year, between 15 and 20 short to medium-length films are selected to compete. The first prize winner is honored with a screening at the Cannes Film Festival. This year, that honor went to Annie Silverstein, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, for her short film “Skunk.” Prior to enrolling in the graduate program at the University of Texas, Silverstein spent 10 years as a youth educator and social worker in rural Washington; her films often focus on the lives of children and adolescents, like “March Point” (2008) and “Spark” (2012), which won the 2012 SXSW Jury Prize for Best Texas Short Film. “Skunk” tells the story of 14-year-old Leila (Jenivieve Nugent), who lives in a desolate Texas subdivision with her mother and rescue dogs. When Leila’s pitbull is stolen by Marco (Kiowa Tucker), a friend and aspiring dogfighter, she risks everything to confront Marco and save her beloved pet.

Learn more about “Skunk” on the film’s Kickstarter page.

4. “Winter Sleep” (Winner, Palme d’Or)

“Winter Sleep”, winner of the illustrious Palme d’Or, is the work of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. While “Winter Sleep” may not have caused as much of a frenzy as 2013 winner “Blue is the Warmest Color,” its accomplishments should not be understated. Ceylan himself is no stranger to the winning circuit at Cannes, having secured the Grand Prix in 2011 for “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and the 2008 award for Best Director for “Three Monkeys.” “Winter Sleep” is the first Turkish film to win the Palme d’Or since 1982, when Serif Goren and Yilmaz Guney’s “The Way” took home the top honor. At just over three and a half hours long, the film’s length is noteworthy but not unheard of. Set during wintertime in central Turkey, the film follows Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), an aging former actor who now runs a hotel with his young wife, Nihal (Melisa Sozen). In writing and directing the film, Ceylan was inspired by the short stories of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, whose work often advances existential themes through expertly crafted dialogue between characters. In a truly Chekhovian tale, the discord between Aydin, Nihal and Aydin’s sister Necla (Demet Akbag) deepens as the winter wages on.

Watch the trailer here.

5. “Party Girl” (Winner, Camera d’Or and Ensemble Prize)

“Party Girl” is the work of writer-director trio Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis. Following loosely in the cinema verite tradition — a form of documentary filmmaking in which real-life situations are staged or provoked and then recorded by filmmakers — “Party Girl” is a semi-fictionalized portrait of Angelique Litzenburger. Angelique is a 60-year-old bar hostess whose fondness of parties and suitors has not diminished with age. The events of the film are staged but true to life; the filmmakers were inspired by Angelique’s recent wedding, and they use the film to explore the relationship between Angelique and Michel, a regular customer who eventually asks to marry her. With one exception, the cast of “Party Girl” is composed of nonprofessional actors. The directors encouraged the cast to improvise dialogue, informing them of a scene’s sequence, context and key conflicts before allowing them to proceed without lines or a script. The result is a film that aims “never to constrain reality, but to remain open to what it had to offer.”