Film

Cannes 2016: The Verdict of 'The Nine-Headed Beast' (and the Verdict on the Verdict)

Palme d'Or winner, I, Daniel Blake

Cannes 2016 was distinguished by a range of strong films, but the decisions of this year’s Competition jury felt more politically than artistically motivated.

Summing up last year’s Festival de Cannes. I quoted the Un Certain Regard Jury president Isabella Rossellini’s comment that the experience of the festival felt like taking “a flight over our planet” that “any anthropologist” would envy. Rossellini’s description holds good for this year too, since the global scope of Cannes remains one of its principal attractions, subverting the knee-jerk kvetching about diversity that’s now pretty much de rigueur at any cultural event.

While Cannes 2016 boasted its share of duds and disappointments (including Sean Penn’s thoroughly face-Palmed The Last Face), the overall feeling was that the festival offered one of the strongest line-ups of recent years. (“Ah, but think of last year!” one nostalgically-inclined critic said to me on the final day. “Mountains May Depart! Our Little Sister! Son of Saul! Carol! Now, those were good movies!”)

For me, the finest films at this year’s festival were as follows: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s quietly searing doc Hissein Habré: A Chadian Tragedy, Jim Jarmusch’s perfectly pitched poem of a movie Paterson, Alain Guiraudie’s superbly confounding Staying Vertical, Hirokazu Kore-eda beautifully tender After The Storm, Spielberg’s supremely loveable The BFG, Park Chan-wook’s dazzling The Handmaiden, Pablo Larrain’s stylish, surprising Neruda, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s exhilarating Aquarius, and Juho Kuosmanen’s delightful The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, with a bonus point to Jeff Nichols’ flawed but perceptive and admirably low-key Loving.

These films spanned so many countries and cultures, perspectives and languages (including "Gobblefunk") that they sum up, collectively, what remains so great about Cannes: namely, it’s reminder that film is an international medium: a fact that can be too easily forgotten due to continued US dominance of the marketplace. As Bilge Ebiri noted at The Village Voice: “It’s touching to see such hubbub over things like three-hour Romanian art films, and to see a new Alain Guiraudie movie on the massive screen of the Grand Theatre Lumiere.”

That being said, the uneasy sense that far too many of the Competition films this year were by established Cannes pet auteurs, who were guaranteed a place at the festival regardless of quality, was reflected in the decisions of the George Miller-headed Jury, with the Palme d’or going to Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, the Grand Prix to Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End of the World, and the Jury Prize to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey.

Mediocre or muddled efforts all, the award of the top prize to Loach looked particularly like a politically rather than an artistically motivated choice: the result of a privileged Jury clearly demonstrating their sympathy for “the poor”. Strong to start (as a black comedy about bureaucracy) but let down by its sentimental and schematic second half, Loach’s movie may have its heart in the right place but it’s far from the director’s finest work. Still, for all its shortcomings, I’d rather see I, Daniel Blake take the Palme than Maren Ade’s bizarrely adored father/daughter “comedy” Toni Erdmann, which many thought to be a shoo-in for the top prize, but which -- thankfully -- went away empty-handed.

There were surprises in the directing and acting categories, too, particularly the win for Olivier Assayas (who shared the former prize with Cristian Mungiu for Graduation) for his enjoyable but divisive Personal Shopper, and the Best Actress prize going to Jaclyn Jose in Brillante Mendoza’s Ma Rosa rather than to Sonia Braga for her stunning display as the vibrant widow in Aquarius.

While it’s all too easy to complain about favorite films and performances getting overlooked, the fact remains that the competitive element in these events is generally a farce, and responses to the same films differ so much that it’s hard to see how the Jury ever reaches any kind of consensus. Moreover, in the case of Cannes it feels like the Jury -- which Miller likened (affectionately, one hopes) to a “nine-headed beast” -- are being further compromised by their inability to award a film in more than one category.

For me, the antidote to the Cannes hype and hustle came in the shape of the last film I saw at the festival: Kuosmanen’s The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, which was the winner of the Un Certain Regard prize. A black-and-white Finnish boxing film, that, in its gentleness and wry humor, soon establishes itself as the anti-Raging Bull. The film’s focus on a fighter (Jarkko Lahti) who’s more concerned with love than the limelight made the movie feel more subversive than any of the brasher, more overtly “political” efforts presented at Cannes this year. It’s to be hoped that the Festival will continue to open up to more fresh voices and visions such as Kuosmanen’s, rather than falling back on favorite, established names, when it reaches its milestone 70th year in 2017.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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