After last year’s Cannes Film Festival was reduced to a press conference announcing the works they would’ve screened, they’re back in full swing for 2021. Forgoing the virtual aspects embraced by many festivals, Cannes kicks off this Tuesday and we’ll be on the ground to cover.

Ahead of the festivities we’ve rounded up what we’re most looking forward to—and while we’re sure many surprises await, per every year, one will find twenty films that should already be on your radar. Check out our picks below and be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest updates from the festival.

20. The Year of the Everlasting Storm (Various)

It’s only fitting to kick off with a film that looks to encapsulate our tumultuous year. Featuring contributions from Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who appears a bit later down as well), David Lowery, Jafar Panahi, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayor, Anthony Chen, and Malik Vitthal, this NEON-backed project is said to “chronicle this unprecedented moment in time, and is a true love letter to the power of cinema and its storytellers.” While it won’t be the first pandemic-shot anthology, it has the makings of the finest. – Jordan R.

19. Vortex (Gaspar Noé)

“Life is a short party that will soon be forgotten,” gloomily proclaims the plot precis for the French-Argentinian maestro’s latest. Or should we not be so quick to expect gloom—we are promised a party, something Noé has proved a master of devising in his last (and maybe best) one, Climax. This apparently deals with an elderly couple in throes of dementia, mixing Eustache and giallo in style and casting: director Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun play the ailing pair. – David K.

18. Paris, 13th District (Jacques Audiard)

Jacques Audiard: good filmmaker, maybe easy to take for granted, and recently turning in some of his strongest work yet with 2015 Palme D’or winner Dheepan and The Sisters Brothers. Perhaps taking after the spirit of Rohmer, at 69 years of age (don’t smirk), he will survey young Parisians of the eponymous district in intertwining queer romances. Cèline Sciamma co-scripts; will her presence come across strong enough to suggest dual auteur status with Audiard? – David K.

17. A Hero (Asghar Farhadi)

While Asghar Farhadi’s recent work hasn’t lived up to the streak of Fireworks Wednesday, About Elly, and A Separation, the Iranian filmmaker is once again in Cannes, in competition, to premiere his latest work. Outside a brief synopsis––”Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don’t go as planned…”––not much else is known about the film, but we’re hoping it’s a return to form after the mostly forgotten Everybody Knows. – Jordan R.

16. Titane (Julia Ducournau)

Following her debut theatrical feature Raw––which depicted a vegetarian’s first week at veterinary school, where they soon develop a taste for meat of the human variety––director Julia Ducournau is back with the mysterious thriller Titane. With a trailer that enticed through no shortage of striking imagery, yet revealing almost no story, this project––starring Natalie Boyer and Vincent Lindon––could very well be one of the most divisive in the Cannes lineup, only fueling our anticipation more. – Jordan R.

15. Ahed’s Knee (Nadav Lapid)

After his bracing last feature Synonyms captured the immigrant experience with a fierce immediacy, Nadav Lapid returns with his follow-up. Ahed’s Knee, playing in competition, follows an Israeli filmmaker who ventures to a remote desert village to present one of his works. After meeting Yahalom, an officer for the Ministry of Culture, he “finds himself fighting two losing battles: one against the death of freedom in his country, the other against the death of his mother.” While little else is known about the project, Lapid has formed quite a sharp eye this past decade; we await what he has in store here. – Jordan R.

14. The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes)

Todd Haynes’ exploration and knowledge of music has been evident in his narrative features, particularly I’m Not There and Velvet Goldmine. As one of the defining artists of his time, he shows a great understanding and appreciation of classic rock, making him arguably the perfect person to make a documentary on the Velvet Underground. If anyone can explore Lou Reed and his legendary band in the most attentive and profound ways, it is Haynes. – Logan K.

13. France (Bruno Dumont)

You can never pin Bruno Dumont down. His shift from austere arthouse titles to broad comedy came as a shock when Li’l Quinquin premiered in 2014, and just as he settled into a groove with films like Slack Bay, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, and Quinquin sequel Coincoin and the Extra Humans, he surprised us again with the graceful Joan of Arc (a tonally divergent sequel to Jeannette). But the man doesn’t seem to stop working, as last fall he wrapped shooting on a new film that sounds like yet another change of pace. This time, Léa Seydoux stars as a TV celebrity and journalist whose life spirals out of control after a series of events. – C.J. P.

12. The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier)

Joachim Trier will close his unofficial “Oslo trilogy” (started by Reprise and Oslo August 31st) with The Worst Person in the World. This time, Trier brings an astonishing skill for immersing us in characters’ subjectivity to this melancholic comedy about a woman (Renate Resinve) and her relationships with two men (Herbert Nordrum and frequent Trier collaborator Anders Danielsen Lie). The director’s delightful behind-the-scenes Instagram snaps should tide you over until the premiere. – Orla S.

11. Red Rocket (Sean Baker)

After debuting The Florida Project as part of Directors’ Fortnight in 2017, Sean Baker is now headed to Cannes competition with his follow-up Red Rocket. Described as “audacious, darkly funny, raw, and humane” by the festival’s team, it follows Scary Movie star Simon Rex as a “suitcase pimp” who returns to his Texas hometown after hitting rock bottom in Los Angeles. Baker repeatedly turns his camera on less-palatable parts of American life, and we look forward to his latest drama. – Jordan R.

10. Deception (Arnaud Desplechin)

In 2015 Arnaud Desplechin told me about ambitions to adapt Philip Roth’s Deception, a dialogue-saturated novel of marital infidelity about which the author’s obsessives (hello) rarely give much thought. But his slim, odd story struck a major chord with the great French director—”Perhaps it’s a book that I will never be able to adapt for the screen, and I know I will regret it for the rest of my days” is about as serious as it gets. Reason enough to celebrate that he got it done; knowing he’s finally done so with Léa Seydoux and Denis Podalydès in tow elevates Deception from must-see to… well, here we are, and I’d argue #10 is at least eight spots too low. If Roth has not typically been the most fertile page-to-screen material, Desplechin’s career-long mastery of person-to-person interplay should quell doubts. At the very least I hope it was worth his wait. – Nick N.

9. In Front of Your Face (Hong Sangsoo)

As last year’s Berlinale premiere The Woman Who Ran arrives in the U.S. soon—followed by his next film Introduction at the German festival earlier this year—Hong Sangsoo will now premiere another new feature at the Cannes Film Festival. In Front of Your Face, which has an 85-minute runtime, follows a story of sisters and, as expected for Hong, a director’s new film project. Amassing a body of work like few others, we can’t wait to see another slice of the South Korean master’s oeuvre. – Jordan R.

8. The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson)

What does Wes Anderson have left to prove? Maybe he has something left to achieve, namely: recognition from the Academy, who are slowly beginning to give his work just rewards (though he’s yet to nab an animation statue over Pixar). But this is immaterial, in what will be a welcome return to live-action, in a subject (American expat journos in France) that may temper his whimsy or else give it new strength. – David K.

7. The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg)

Joanna Hogg’s unlikely sequel to her critically acclaimed The Souvenir is on the way. Starting right where the first part ended, her follow-up will explore the emotional aftermath of Julie’s (Honor Swinton Byrne) tumultuous relationship as she explores her creativity as a film student—hopefully producing wrinkles unique from the first film. Along with “series” newcomers Charlie Heaton, Harris Dickinson, and Joe Alwyn, it should be exciting to observe Swinton’s growth as a performer in the brief time that’s passed. – Erik N.

6. Benedetta (Paul Verhoeven)

Following Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s next film Benedetta will tell the story of a 17th-century nun who suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions, developing a romantic affair with a fellow nun assigned to help her. Extreme sexual aspects led writer Gerard Soeteman to distance himself from the project, based on a book by Judith C. Brown; if that doesn’t increase your anticipation, I don’t know what will. Benedetta is one of many titles delayed by the pandemic and we’re excited for it to finally be unveiled. – Jordan R.

5. After Yang (kogonada)

kogonada has followed his tender, formally striking Columbus with After Yang, an A24-backed sci-fi drama starring Colin Farrell and Haley Lu Richardson. An adaptation of Alexander Weinstein’s short story Saying Goodbye to Yang, it follows a father and daughter as they try saving the life of their robotic family member. We can’t imagine a more well-suited project for kogonada, who hopefully retains his level of intimacy on a slightly less-human scale. – Jordan R.

4. Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Løve)

Mia Hansen-Løve is one of our great filmmakers. To readers of the Film Stage this comment comes as little surprise or, I’d think, room for provocation, but the time since Maya—an admirable effort nevertheless on the bottom rung of her filmography—has perhaps dulled recollection of her equal powers as dramatist and stylist. The first trailer for Bergman Island, a film we’ve anticipated for literal years, does quite a bit to animate: every shot is functionally perfect, her typically astounding sense of atmosphere ringing through them. The cast? No complaints. Those potentially autobiographical elements? We’ll tread lightly, but: of course. And with IFC handling distribution, expect to see this one stateside before long. – Nick N.

3. Drive My Car (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi)

Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, perhaps the most exciting new auteur to emerge from the festival scene, generously returns half a year after the delightful Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy with this epic adaptation of a Murakami short story. 40 pages of text stretched to a three-hour running time, sure to be beautifully rendered through his dextrous plotting and sensitive direction of actors. The story is pro forma Murakami—vanishing women, ’60s rock namedrops and the like—so it’s worth avoiding to fully take in Hamaguchi’s rendering. – David K.

2. Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Two names: Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilda Swinton. There’s nothing more to say, no further arguing necessary to explain why Memoria is one of our most-anticipated films. This particular collaboration has been years in the making, with the two almost working together shortly after Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives won the Palme d’Or in 2010; a decade later it’s finally happening. Plot details are sparse, but this will be a departure for Apichatpong, who shot in Colombia and largely in English, thus marking his first feature outside his home country of Thailand. NEON’s distribution pretty much guarantees Memoria will be Apichatpong’s biggest release to date. (Some extra-good news: after being unable to work on Cemetery of Splendour, regular cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is back.) – C.J. P.

1. Annette (Leos Carax)

First our most-anticipated film of 2020, then 2021—how could this run any other way? What we’ve seen and heard (and heard again) of Leos Carax’s Annette only boosts faith further; knowing it’s but days from premiere puts excitement, frankly, at fever pitch. And we’re getting a new Sparks album from it; let’s not even entertain the idea another Cannes selection—great as they may be—will best that. – Nick N.

Honorable Mentions

Sticking to 20 features means many anticipated projects just missed the cut. We are quite curious about Ari Folman’s long-in-development animation Where Is Anne Frank, which features music from Karen O and MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser; Andrea Arnold’s documentary Cow; another Seydoux-starrer, The Story of My Wife; Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava; the Franz Rogowski-led Great Freedom; a new Val Kilmer documentary; and Miguel Gomes’ long-awaited return, The Tsugua Diaries.

Nanni Moretti arrives with Tre Piani and Justin Kurzel heads into competition with the sure-to-be controversial Nitram. Kirill Serebrennikov’s Petrov’s Flu and Jonas Carpignano’s A Chiara have our attention—as does Futura, a collaboration between Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi and Alice Rohrwacher. Joachim Trier collaborator Eskil Vogt premieres his new film The Innocents, while Kornél Mundruczó quickly follows Pieces of a Woman with Evolution.

Justin Chon teams with Alicia Vikander for Blue Bayou and Song Kang-ho returns to the festival with the South Korean disaster thriller Emergency Declaration. Lastly, Oliver Stone doesn’t have plans to make any narrative features soon, but he’ll jump back down a political rabbit hole with JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass.

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