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Lollapalooza (Chicago, IL – August 6, 2010)

This review isn’t about the business side of things. It’s about the music.



Lollapalooza (Chicago, IL - August 6, 2010)
Photo: Merge Records

It’s hard to fathom that the music festival once synonymous with the scraggly, cynical alt-rock of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Rage Against the Machine welcomed Lady Gaga to its main stage a few nights ago. It’s also hard to imagine that Lollapalooza itself has made a full recovery and has found itself back on the throne of American music festivals, and I have to think those two developments are not mutually exclusive. A massive 240,000 people made it out to Chicago’s Grant Park this year, and judging by the band shirts I saw, Gaga and Green Day were the biggest draws (Soundgarden, unsurprisingly, less so). But there’s nothing wrong with that; the world needs a fest that has the ambition and cash to get undisputed superstars to play something other than a stadium. You end up uniting the indie-centric with kids who just simply want to see their favorite bands play and aren’t afraid to fork out a few hundred dollars to do it. But this review isn’t about the business side of things. It’s about the music. I had a chance to catch These United States, the New Pornographers, Hot Chip, Jamie Lidell, Grizzly Bear, and Metric, but it’s the following acts that made the biggest impressions, for better or worse.


It’s pretty rough when your band is scheduled to go on when it’s still technically morning. Brooklyn’s Javelin took the stage at 11:30 a.m. to a modest crowd, most of whom were biding time before the more buzzed-about Wavves. But as you could probably tell from their records, Javelin’s music is easy to sway to. They don’t take themselves too seriously, a lot of their music informed by the hipsterish, vaguely ironic nostalgia for 8-bit video games, Saturday-morning cartoons, and I imagine a fair amount of weed. However, they’re a lot more cheerful about the whole thing than most acts of that thread: There was a lot good-natured interplay between the two members, with the drummer essentially doing the running man the entire time he was on stage. A few of the songs sounded weird for weird’s sake, and Javelin’s music seems to be based on pure gimmick. I’m all for video game samples, but it’s something I expect from a YouTube remix or a “Weird Al” Yankovic song.


Growing up in San Diego, it’s been pretty surreal watching local boy Nathan Williams transform from some hipster skateboarder to scene hero to hotly debated blog topic to nationally regarded rock n’ roller. In its previous live incarnation, the awkward-looking dudes that make up Wavves banged out noise that somewhat resembled songs before mumbling a few thank you’s and wandering off stage. That’s not the case anymore: Williams looks really good playing a guitar now, with his moppy bedhead blowing in the wind, an indomitable arena-rock power stance, and a more developed angsty drawl. But that doesn’t help the fact that pretty much every Wavves song sounds similar when played live. The set seemed lumped together, a mishmash of slack-jawed “ooh-ooh” harmonies, buzzy guitars, and Black Flag-style drums. It also doesn’t help that the band has some of the most bizarre too-cool-for-school banter I’ve heard in a long time.

The Walkmen

The Walkmen could very well be one of the most underappreciated acts of the OC generation. Death Cab for Cutie, Bright Eyes, and Modest Mouse all made the transition into mainstream adoration on the back of that teen show, but despite being featured several times, the Walkmen has always wallowed in the indie chamber. And so, they were given an early afternoon set on a minor stage, which they absolutely dominated. What one doesn’t realize about the Walkmen until seeing them live is just how powerful Hamilton Leithauser’s voice is. He’s the only one on stage with a microphone, with no harmonies or reverb to back him up, and when he belts wavering, emotion-swollen songs like “New Year” or “The Rat,” he couldn’t sound any more natural. He demanded and earned the attention of the entire audience with very little periphery chatter during the slow bits or set breaks. He possesses the same magnetic quality of the National’s Matt Berninger, enchanting what could have become a wayward audience.

Fuck Buttons

This was a tough one. Fuck Buttons, Dirty Projectors, and Matt and Kim, all at the same time, all in completely separate parts of Grant Park. It was the sort of thing you circled when the schedule first came out, and spent the next three months figuring out exactly what to do. For me it simply came down to the fact that, though Dirty Projectors’s Bitte Orca might be the better record, Fuck Buttons’s Tarot Sport would make for a more visceral live experience. Fuck Buttons has a fairly unassuming stage show. It’s essentially two dudes standing on either end of a beer pong table with a labyrinth of electronics in front of them. One handles the bass; the other handles the drone. That modesty is completely eroded, however, when they actually start to play their music. As expected, elements like the synth drop on “Surf Solar,” the swooning clinks on “Olympians,” or pretty much the entirety of “Flight of the Feathered Serpent” were utterly mind-blowing and led to a lot of daytime dancing. It’s easy to give Fuck Buttons shit for playing drones for people who don’t like drones. The band’s live show does have a few experimental brushes, but most of those are buildup for bigger slabs of pure, invigorating pop. I don’t think they’re watering down difficult music for the masses; that’s far too cynical. Fuck Buttons has made it so everyone, not just John Zorn disciples or general weirdos, can experience the natural beauty of drones. Hats off.

The Strokes

It’s funny how the Lollapalooza organizers put Lady Gaga and the Strokes on at the same time. In terms of performance, they couldn’t be more different. On one hand, you have Gaga’s massive, bombastic, sometimes awesome, sometimes hopelessly melodramatic performance-playhouse spectacle: costume changes, rubber monsters, dodgy symbolism, and of course, explosions. On the other hand, you have the Strokes, whose Julian Casablancas muttered, “Fireworks, shit,” when he saw the giant display exploding above Gaga’s stage. There’s absolutely nothing scripted about the Strokes; they just want you to open your ears and listen to their songs, and if you don’t want to, that’s okay too, man. The Strokes are inherently unplanned: their music seems to lazily slide out of their instruments; every rasp, yell, or talk that Julian lets loose sounds spur-of-the-moment; and the guitar solo on “The Modern Age” sounded more spirited than ever before. They’re so goddamn cool, but without ever trying to be cool. It’s almost irritating. Naturally, the crowd at Lollapalooza welcomed the former It Band with open arms. Everyone is happy the Strokes are back, even the Strokes themselves.

The Morning Benders

The Morning Benders was one of the most surprisingly shafted groups in the lineup. Given the buzz surrounding Big Echo, as well as their mtvU spots, you’d think they’d demand a later slot than a 12-o’clock, 30-minute set on the Bloggie stage. That point was reiterated when almost the entire field was occupied by early-risers making a specific effort to catch the band. The Morning Benders certainly seemed grateful, understanding the concerted effort their fans took to get there that early, and like the crowd-pleasers they are, their set was composed completely of material people know. Nothing off of earlier efforts Talking Through Tin Cans or The Bedroom Covers. Every song they played came off of the strong Big Echo. The set sagged in the middle due to a few slower cuts, but the audience was plenty enamored to stick it out, and it all came to a head with the kaleidoscopic, sample-heavy “Excuses,” which quickly turned into a full sing-along. It was a summer set at its finest.

The xx

I’ve seen the xx three times now. Because of that, I’m probably a little more prone to becoming fatigued by their shtick than the casual fan. The band has been touring the same 40-minute record and pair of covers for about eight months now, and I’m as surprised as anyone that they still seem enthusiastic about the whole thing—or at least they’re good at faking it. When Romy Madley Croft started slamming down on a cymbal (as he always does) during closer “Infinity,” he still looks genuinely enveloped by the song despite repeating it night after night. The band incorporates their iconography into their act in a meaningful way. There’s something rather striking about three pasty, goth-lite, barely-out-of-college kids dressed in all black, with a huge monolithic “X” looming over them. The visuals have a cold, majestic effect, especially when it’s juxtaposed with atmospheric cuts like “Crystalised” and “Intro.” They seem to recognize the power that their minimal, monochromatic cover design has, and it’s striking even in the mid-afternoon August heat. As they proved with their Coachella appearance earlier this year, the band is gifted enough to overcome even the brightest of environments.

Cut Copy

This was the act I geeked out about when the lineup was announced, the one I swore to attend even if it meant abandoning Spoon early to snag a good spot, and judging by a few conversations I had with the other people in the first few rows, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Cut Copy doesn’t often get out to the U.S., which isn’t surprising for an Australian band, so, naturally, the crowd went absolutely apeshit when the sharply dressed, sharply synchronized foursome kicked off their set (with the single “Lights and Music”). The audience was made up entirely of diehard Cut Copy fans; hell, when the band rolled out the brand-spankin’-new single “Where I’m Going,” people repeated the hook like it was a heavily fetishized B-side. Cut Copy’s was easily the most euphoric and entertaining show of the weekend.


Audiences still don’t really know who Phoenix is yet. They’re the “1901” band more than anything else. Even the band knew that they probably weren’t big enough to be headlining a night at Lollapalooza. “This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for!” said an overwhelmed Thomas Mars after a couple of songs, and it was true, at least for a while. The deeper the band got into their set, the more the audience began to dwindle. There was even a significant exit after the first song, the immensely popular “Lisztomania.” The audience treated older, classic jams like “Long Distance Call” and “If I Ever Feel Better” like unfamiliar tracks from an upcoming record, and some people simply talked all the way through Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’s quieter cuts. Longtime Phoenix fans were certainly pleased with the dedication the band had to their older material, but it just seemed like a weird end to day two—because of the inattentive audience, not the band.


There was a time when a band like Yeasayer really wouldn’t have been welcomed into the indie realm. They’re just so cartoonishly weird, and so unabashedly into what they’re doing. They’d be more at home opening for the Grateful Dead. But things have changed, and as the indie populace has grown more and more accepting of the formerly blacklisted subgenre of psychedelia, Yeasayer is now a bona fide champion of the indie scene. Watching Chris Keating writhe around on stage like he was having a bad acid trip was easily one of the festival’s more odd moments. The whole head-tripping spectacle actually went really well with the heat and humidity of the afternoon. The band’s throbbing psych-rock sort of merged with the already surrealistic environment of the pastoral, weed-blemished stage, and they thankfully avoided the missteps on their latest album, Odd Blood, and performed only the most live-friendliest of cuts.

Frightened Rabbit

The well-bearded Scottish quintet sounded a thousand times thankful and vaguely intimidated by the massive American crowd that had gathered to greet them. The band played a solid mix of material from both The Midnight Organ Fight and The Winter of Mixed Drinks, highlights being the stomping, triumphant “Living in Colour” and the mystical, heart-wrenching ballad “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms.” Frightened Rabbit is at their apex when they’re playing songs about girls, and Scott Hutchinson’s strangled howl is even more resonating when heard live. If this is what emo’s final evolution sounds like, then I’m more than okay with that.

Arcade Fire

Yes, Arcade Fire was the best band of the weekend (Cut Copy and the Strokes took second and third place, respectively), and yes, the band is plenty big enough to fill a venue of any size. There were some questions from a handful of music journalists about whether Arcade Fire would be able to handle a crowd that literally stretched to the stage on the opposite side of the field, but those were quickly put to rest by big moments like “Neighborhood #1,” “Intervention,” “Neighborhood #3,” “Rebellion (Lies),” and “Wake Up.” Arcade Fire’s songs transcend any questions of popularity and simply trail off into the sky along with the hearts and minds of everybody watching. Predictably, the slower moments came with the newer tracks: “Rococo” and “Sprawl II” don’t have the same immediate gratification, but neither does The Suburbs as a whole. But that didn’t matter, as in the heat of the moment, the band really did become the young, beautiful, and stupidly ambitious teenagers they sing so much about, banging on their instruments as loud as they could and getting wild in the purest of ways—through music.

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Interview: Mary Kay Place on the Emotional Journey of Kent Jones’s Diane

The actress speaks at length about the little pieces of herself that she sees in her character.



Mary Kay Place
Photo: IFC Films

Diane, the eponymous character of film critic, programmer, and documentarian
Kent Jones’s narrative directorial debut, provides Mary Kay Place with a rare leading role that the character actress inhabits with customary nuance. Diane is a woman grappling with countless burdens, none bigger than her struggle to bridge the gap between herself and her son, Brian (Jake Lacy), who’s battling addiction. Place is in every scene of the film, and she’s mesmerizing in each one, for showing how Diane’s routines, from volunteering at a soup kitchen to caring for a dying cousin, takes some kind of toll on her mind.

Place has delivered many memorable performances throughout her long career, most notably in The Big Chill and Manny & Lo. She became reliable for playing folksy, no-nonsense women—often mothers—who’re predisposed to putting others first and leading from the heart. Maybe that’s why Diane felt like a perfect fit for the actress. Throughout Jones’s film, Diane drops by houses and hospital rooms, looking to stay “only but for a minute.” But her business masks a deeper pain and loneliness, and the film allows Kay to bring to the surface certain rhythms that she hasn’t often been allowed to channel in her previous work.

In a recent conversation with Place about Diane, the actress spoke to me at length about the little pieces of herself that she sees in her character, how she expresses her own anger, and why she considers herself a “kitchen dancer.”

Diane is selfless, lonely, ashamed, tough. Do you see yourself in her?

Yes, because she lives in a small community, and my parents came from small towns in Texas, and because I went to these towns my whole life to visit my grandparents with my family. The casserole exchange, and the experiences that take place in small communities—they resonated with me. Many of us in our families have addiction issues; we can all relate to that aspect of Diane. And many of us have said things we regret or feel ashamed about and hold on to, though maybe not for as long as Diane does. As members of her family pass away, that family loss is an initiation into a new dimension of your life. I could relate to that as well. She takes a turn into a deeper exploration of her own needs and wants because she has time to reflect.

Diane’s well-meaning is an attempt to compensate for her failures. Why do you think Diane is the way she is, so hard on herself?

Because some people just are. She’s a sensitive person. She busies herself with lists to distract her from thinking about the things she carries around as a burden. But as the film moves on, she has more time for reflection and goes through a transformation in small, tiny ways.

Much of your performance as Diane is internal. Can you describe your process in playing those moments?

It flowed naturally because of the script. There was an inner dialogue going on and that was reflected on my face. I was aware of subtext. Even though it wasn’t written, my imagination found the rhythm and flow that occurred. Once you get into shooting, being in every scene helped that development. There was an inner and outer dialogue. We go through this whole time period and as she has more time alone and once her son gets sober—that’s a huge weight off her shoulders—she doesn’t know what to do with herself.

Diane’s relationship with her son is interesting. He lies to her, he bullies her, and at times she stands up to him. She’s no-nonsense in dealing with him. I’m curious to know your personal thoughts about this dynamic of their relationship?

She’s definitely codependent and enabling her son by doing his laundry. She doesn’t know how to let go. Maybe she’s never been to an Al-Anon meeting—or has and rejected it. So, they have this dynamic, and they feed off each other. They’re hooked in. She’s not able to break free of it.

How do you personally cope with the ups and downs of life?

Well, I do centering prayer, and mindful meditation, exercise. I think the prayer and meditation have always been important coping mechanisms.

There’s a scene in a bar where Diane goes drinking, puts on the jukebox and dances. It made me remember your dancing in the kitchen to “Handyman” in Smooth Talk.

I’m a big kitchen dancer—with other people or by myself. I have all kinds of playlists and I love to dance. I really wanted to do that bar scene. I picked the song—Leon Russell’s “Out in the Woods”—because it’s fun to dance to, and the lyrics were appropriate for Diane. Kent was game for that. It showed another side of Diane that we hadn’t seen. It was from when she was at a simpler time in her life and didn’t have shameful thoughts and was just out having fun.

We see what makes Diane come undone. So I guess I’m also curious to know what makes you lose your temper or patience?

I come from a family that doesn’t hold things in. We let the freak flag fly and then it’s totally over and done with. Explosions and then we’re through! I lose patience with people being oblivious to the feeling of others, and I have no tolerance for meanness. None. I might lash out, depend on the circumstances—and I can if called upon—but I generally don’t.

Diane appears to be a creature of habit, living a life that consists of routine. Are you in that mold, or more peripatetic or free-spirited?

I’m “both/and” instead of “either/or.” I get real orderly and then I get real spontaneous and have to start all over again. Diane’s driving connects the scenes and shows that monotony that she experiences. Oh my God, we’re back in that car again driving to someone’s house! It’s not a walking community. And it’s a different rhythm driving on country roads than in L.A.

We also see how patient Diane can be. Where do you think she gets that quality, and do you share it?

Sometimes she’s not patient. I strive to be more patient. I can be patient and sometimes I can be very impatient. Once again, it’s a “both/and” kind of thing.

Your career has been as an in-demand character actress. This is a rare leading role for you. Watching Diane, I kept thinking: “It’s long overdue that you were the star!”

Thank you for saying it’s long overdue. I enjoy every minute of it, but I love ensemble work. It’s interesting to find a rhythm and exchange words and movement with other people. It’s fun. It’s been interesting to have this leading part, but I love the other work as well.

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Interview: Jia Zhang-ke on Ash Is Purest White and the Evolution of China

Jia discusses what he likes about digital video and how Zhao Tao helped bring her role to life.



Jia Zhang-ke
Photo: Cohen Media Group

Unshowy yet unshakably self-assured, sincere but with glimpses of a sly sense of humor, and unhesitatingly frank even about touchy topics like the Chinese government’s censorship of his work, Jia Zhang-ke comes off in person just as a fan of his films might expect. Ever since his 1997 feature debut, The Pickpocket, and 2000’s Platform, in which young people struggle to adapt to China’s increasing Westernization, Jia has been creating a kind of unofficial history of his homeland, quietly defying his government’s determination to erase its tracks as it barrels along by doing things like rewiring the economy, rewriting the social contract, and depopulating whole cities and erecting new ones in a matter of months.

Jia’s films operate in metaphorical deep focus, surfacing the ways that these sweeping societal changes affect individual lives and relationships by zeroing in on sensitively detailed portrayals of two lovers, or of a group or pair of friends, while just as clearly portraying the socioeconomic backdrops to their stories. And often at the center of his films is Zhao Tao, his wife and longtime muse. In Jia’s latest, Ash Is Purest White, Zhao reprises the role she played in 2002’s Unknown Pleasures: Qiao Qiao, a strong-willed woman from Jia’s hometown of Fenyang, this time over a span of 17 years that starts when she’s the young lover of a gangster and ends with her in charge of the gambling den he once ran.

In a conversation before Ash Is Purest White’s debut at the New York Film Festival, Jia explained what he likes about digital video, how Zhao Tao helped bring her role to life, and how he deals with his government’s suppression of his work.

The music in your films is always an important part of the story. Can you talk about how you picked the songs for this one, starting with “Y.M.C.A.”?

Since I wanted to set the story starting in 2001, I wanted to find a piece of music that can trigger that particular era very authentically. And back in the day, in 2001, the younger generation, they didn’t have a lot of sources of entertainment. They might have had a disco club and karaoke, and that was about it. Two songs very popular at that time were “Y.M.C.A.” and “Go West” [the Pet Shop Boys song that was a motif in Jia’s Mountains May Depart].

The reason that we liked “Y.M.C.A.” was not because we understood the lyrics or understood who sang them or who was involved in the production. We had no idea what they were singing about. But we did enjoy the rhythm, the melody, and the beat, which is matching the heartbeat of the young people. It really got you going and brought up the energy of the room.

Another song that is particularly important in the film—you hear it again and again—is “Drunk for Life” by Sally Yeh, a Cantonese pop singer. This is a song I listened to when I was in junior high. At the time, young people tended to hang out in the video arcade, and this was one of the songs heard there. It was also a theme song for John Woo’s The Killer. That film, in the triad genre, is very similar to the John Woo motif that I want to evoke in this film.

The third song in this film is “How Much Love Can Be Repeated?” This sequence was actually shot 12 years ago in Three Gorges, when I made Still Life. I think the reason why I wanted to use it was that it could create this interesting contrast between what was happening on stage and Zhao’s character off stage, when you see her reaction watching this performance. Mind you, the on-stage part was shot 12 years ago, but Zhao’s part was shot last year. Hopefully, you cannot tell that these two footages were from two different times and spaces.

Was any of the other Three Gorges footage shot for Still Life, or shot when you were making that film? I know you shot a lot of documentary footage there at the time.

Only that particular clip was shot 12 years ago. The rest, we went back to the same location and tried to capture what we did in Still Life. But, unlike in other parts of the film, where we tend to use digital video, for the Three Gorges part we use film stock. That’s why it gives you a sense of nostalgia, evoking what happened in the past.

You’ve worked in digital video for a long time, partly because it allowed you to bypass processing labs, which would not have developed your films because they weren’t government-approved. Digital video also made it much easier for your films to be copied and disseminated in China when they weren’t being played in theaters. Are there also things that you prefer artistically about using digital video, especially now that it can do so much more than it could early on?

Starting in 2001, using DV to shoot Unknown Pleasures, I didn’t think of it just for practical purposes. DV as a medium has its own aesthetics that I can really explore and develop. Using DV you can create a close proximity between the camera and the actors and actresses, a kind of intimacy that cannot be done through the traditional camera.

The other thing is, things that happen unexpectedly can be easily captured with DV cameras. With cameras that use film stock, things are usually highly scripted in a contained, particular environment. With DV you tend to have a lot of spontaneity and a lot of impromptu happenstances that can be easily captured.

It’s so important for people to share their stories and learn from history. To me, one of the most important forms of disruption in China since Mao is the way people have been barred from telling their stories, or made to alter what they say to fit some official narrative. So you’re performing an important service by writing history with your films, recording the story of the present and the recent past for the people of tomorrow.

I think that’s also why I rely a lot on DV. I joke that only the pace of the evolution of DV equipment can keep up with the pace of the development of China. For me, this film is very much about how, in this time span of 17 years, human connections and human emotions—the interpersonal relationships between people—evolves and changes as a result of all that. On the surface, you can see very clearly the changes pre-internet era and post-internet era, [things like how] in the past you had slow trains and now you have high-speed trains. But that is on the surface level. What I’m interested in exploring is what happened in terms of the inner world of those people in this particular historical context, how their relationships evolved or dissolved and the reasons for the dissolutions and the evolutions of their relationships.

You’ve said you like working with your wife partly because she becomes a kind of second author of your screenplays, adding detail to what you have written. Can you give an example of what she brought to this movie?

When she was in the cabin of the boat and the lady in black [a cabinmate] came in, she just, almost as a kneejerk reaction, stood up, suddenly and immediately. She was trying to capture what it would be like for someone who has been in prison for five years, how she would have reacted to a security guard entering the jail cell and how she would react the same way when this lady in black entered her cabin.

I see her training as a dancer a lot in the physicality of her acting.

Yes. Another example would be the water bottle in this film. It was used to evoke this same character in Still Life, and she carried that water bottle there too. It makes sense because of the weather; it was very hot so she would need to drink. But the water bottle also came in handy to enhance the mood I was trying to create. Zhao Tao took this on and really went for it. She used it as a weapon, she used it as a way to stop the door from closing,

And to avoid holding hands with the man she met on the train.

Exactly. She was using this bottle as a kind of third character in the film, thinking about how this can be expanded and explored.

Your work has faced such strong resistance from the Chinese government. What is the government’s response to your films these days, and how does that affect how you work or how your films are seen?

I make films based on my own ecology, my own tempo and rhythm. I don’t really think too much about whether or not the film can be shown in China. Of course, I would love if my film could be shown in China, but that’s not the only reason why I make films. The most important thing for me is to understand that that’s not the end goal, so I don’t need to somehow sacrifice and change the way I make films in order to be shown in China.

I will make the film I want to make, and if it can be shown in China, great. If not, so be it. That’s the way I interact with this particular censorship system. But I have to say that the situation has improved in terms of the communication channels. Those have opened up a lot more, so after I finish the film, I will do my best as a director to communicate to the censor bureau why this film should be shown in China. That I am willing to do. But I will not compromise the quality or any subject matter.

Translation by Vincent Cheng

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Every Cannes Palme d’Or Winner of the 2000s Ranked

There’s a certain formula that often defines the recipients of Cannes’s most prestigious prize.



Every Cannes Palme d’Or Winner of the 2000s Ranked
Photo: Wild Bunch

There’s a certain formula that often defines the recipients of the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious top prize, the Palme d’Or. These films, in recent years especially, tend to have a sense of importance about them (Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11), frequently due to their sociopolitical awareness of the world (Laurent Cantet’s The Class), or of specific societal ills (Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). Very occasionally, the Palme d’Or goes to a bold, experimental, and divisive vision from a well-liked auteur (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), but more often it’s awarded to a film in the lineup that the most people on the Cannes jury can probably agree is good (Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake). And in less than three months, we’ll see if Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s jury will follow any sort of predictable formula when it announces its winners.

You’ll find us on the Croisette this May, covering most of the titles in Cannes’s competition slate. Until then, enjoy our ranking of the Palme d’Or winner from the 2000s. Sam C. Mac

Editor’s Note: This entry was originally published on May 1, 2018.

The Son’s Room

19. The Son’s Room (2001)

Halfway through The Son’s Room, director Nanni Moretti shifts the rhetoric of his narrative away from an exaggerated view of happy domesticity and into a realm of weepy melodrama. Psychiatrist Giovanni (Moretti) is a perfect father and husband: he helps his daughter with her Latin homework (perducto means “without hardship you will be guided”—wink, wink); allows her boyfriend to exalt grass (when high, the boy says he’s “looking at the universe”); and initiates group lip-synching during the family’s car trips. Nicola Piovani’s score grotesquely heightens the joy behind every smile, meaning disaster is inevitable. As Moretti delves deeper into Giovanni’s work, focus is shifted away from the family arena. Though the film blooms when Paola (Laura Morante) and the family seek deliverance from their pain by connecting with a girl their deceased son, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice), met at summer camp, Paola remains a cipher throughout. Cue Brian Eno’s “By This River,” which blares from a car radio as the family stands near the sea that killed their Andrea: “Here we are stuck by this river/You and I underneath a sky/That’s ever falling down, down, down.” In this one stoic moment, not only does the family seemingly escape their grief but also the Rob Reiner soap opera Moretti trapped them in. Ed Gonzalez

Fahrenheit 911

18. Fahrenheit 911 (2004)

A mediocre director but a master PR man, Michael Moore is the father of the Happy Meal documentary: big fonts, quick-fire montages, celebrity cameos, causing elaborate scenes. Fahrenheit 9/11 is no less an attention-grabbing stunt than his Bowling for Columbine, but what a scene it is. At the time of its release, Moore’s compilation of the Bush I administration’s bamboozling of the American public in the wake of 9/11. More than 10 years after its release, though, what lingers most about the film is Moore’s self-aggrandizement and forced sanctimoniousness (he rah-rahs from the sidelines when an interviewee says something he agrees with, and you sometimes get a sense that he wouldn’t call a dying man an ambulance if it meant getting the money shot of the guy croaking). At least it’s some kind of mercy that he spends very little time on screen. Gonzalez


17. Amour (2012)

There’s a deceptiveness lurking deep within Amour, an insincerity that colors the drama, recasting it as a ploy. Whereas across earlier films Michael Haneke’s predilection for deceit served a high-minded, if still somewhat suspect, intellectual purpose (an interrogation of privilege and meaning in Caché, the deconstruction of genre in both versions of Funny Games, and so on), here his disingenuous approach is not only unwarranted, but is actually at odds with the tone and tenor of the drama. This suggests two possibilities: Either Haneke has attempted to shear his sensibility of trickery and failed to do so convincingly, or he has made an experiment in manipulation and feigned empathy so exacting and oblique that nobody has understood its real purpose (I wouldn’t put the latter past him). Either way, Amour intends to dupe us, to feed on our own pain and suffering. Moved to tears or scared to death, we’d all lose our dignity in the end. Calum Marsh

I, Daniel Blake

16. I, Daniel Blake (2016)

English stand-up comedian Dave Johns brings the sort of spontaneous energy to his eponymous character that’s consistently made Loach’s films worth keeping up with. But Blake’s storyline veers from its emotionally grounded setup and into grandstanding displays like the Michael Moore-worthy stunt from which I, Daniel Blake takes its title. Both principal actors have a strong enough sense of their characters, even as they’re pulled into increasingly harrowing places, to make the film a more successful one than Loach’s last few, but it’s still schematic and predictable, and it aggressively stacks the deck against Blake and Kattie (Hayley Squires) in a way that makes it more effective as social activism, and less so as drama. The Loach of two or three decades ago, who made intimate, naturalistic films about the working class, like 1969’s Kes and 1994’s Ladybird Ladybird, is distinctly different from the Loach of today—and the soapbox-prone I, Daniel Blake reaffirms how unlikely it is for that to change. Mac

The Class

15. The Class (2008)

When a plot finally emerges, it’s all about the quandaries of privileging principle (and principal) or empiricism, duty or personal preference, questions that have been implicit all along, even in kids’ protests that they’re always being picked on or favored. As a clever late twist suggests, the interactions themselves are almost all riffs on Socratic debates—usually, the teacher seems to be asking students to verify their claims so he can give himself time to rebut—and as director Laurent Cantet said at The Class’s New York Film Festival press conference, the school’s a place “where democracy is at stake.” Instead of the usual righteous monologues, this is a film of dialogue and dialogues, in which the bickering teachers’ conferences begin to echo the kids’ troublemaking and skepticism but for the adults’ pretense of understanding and decorum (everyone, in any case, has their reason and handily states it in close-up). It would make a perfect, though not particularly good, double feature with Frederick Wiseman’s documentary State Legislature or Advise and Consent. David Phelps

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