Every Tuesday I find myself whispering that old Beckett adage into the morning air: I can’t go on / I’ll go on. No matter how thrilling the day’s prospects, as I settle into the week’s work, that beginning of the week existential stomach ache always begins gnawing away at my insides. But breathe, just breathe, the hours will pass themselves and soon it will all be easier and the weekend will come again—one that’s rife with fantastic films playing in theaters all around the city. But in the meantime, look forward to the evening, when a wealth of wonderful films will be at your fingertips.
With so many great movies streaming online, the nightly decision of what to watch can prove a difficult task. So to help, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Cannes-winning actresses and the films that won them the coveted honor. Cate Blanchett will most likely take home Best Actress award (Prix d’interprétation féminine) this year for her performance in Todd Haynes’ Carol, but while more premieres are still to come, let’s take a look back on some past favorite. From the incredible Jill Clayburgh and Shelley Duvall to Julianne Moore and Juliette Binoche, peruse our list and enjoy.
Shelley Duvall, 3 WOMEN (dir. Robert Altman)
In a dusty, underpopulated California resort town, a naive southern waif, Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), idolizes and befriends her fellow nurse, the would-be sophisticate and “thoroughly modern” Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall). When Millie takes Pinky in as her roommate, Pinky’s hero worship evolves into something far stranger and more sinister than either could have anticipated. Featuring brilliant performances from Spacek and Duvall, this dreamlike masterpiece from Robert Altman careens from the humorous to the chilling to the surreal, resulting in one of the most unusual and compelling films of the 1970s. (x)
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Jill Clayburgh, AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (dir. Paul Mazursky)
“Great thought, care, and love must have gone into the writing of An Unmarried Woman, which Mazursky says evolved gradually in his imagination as he began to observe the divorced women in his and his wife’s own circle of friends. But great courage went into the acting, too: Jill Clayburgh takes chances here, and never seems concerned about protecting herself, and reveals as much in a character as anyone has since some of Liv Ullmann’s work for Ingmar Bergman. The luminosity I found in her performance was all the more joyful because, frankly, I hadn’t taken her very seriously before. Gable and Lombard was a turgid mess, and Silver Streak and Semi-Tough weren’t structured to demand revelation or subtlety. Friends said Clayburgh was good in Hustling, made for TV, but I missed it.
Now, suddenly, here she is, creating one of the great recent performances. It’s a lesson for the critics on the dangers of assessing performance in a movie, a medium in which the actors may be more at the mercy of the other craftsmen than we can easily see. Mazursky tested Clayburgh before, he says, for Blume in Love and Next Stop, Greenwich Village. He always thought she had something. This time he decided to go with his intuition, and he was spectacularly right.” (x)
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Irene Jacob, THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (dir. Krzysztof Kieślowski)
Krzysztof Kieślowski’s international breakthrough remains one of his most beloved films, a ravishing, mysterious rumination on identity, love, and human intuition. Irène Jacob is incandescent as both Weronika, a Polish choir soprano, and her double, Véronique, a French music teacher. Though unknown to each other, the two women share an enigmatic, emotional bond, which Kieślowski details in gorgeous reflections, colors, and movements. Aided by Slawomir Idziak’s shimmering cinematography and Zbigniew Preisner’s haunting, operatic score, Kieślowski creates one of cinema’s most purely metaphysical works. The Double Life of Véronique is an unforgettable symphony of feeling. (x)
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Bjork, DANCER IN THE DARK (dir. Lars von Trier)
And once again Mr. von Trier’s methods elicit a performance from his lead actress that deserves to be called miraculous. Like Emily Watson in ”Breaking the Waves,” Bjork, in her movie debut, seems to be inventing a new style of film acting, if not an entirely new kind of human being. Her eyes are obscured behind thick glasses and the high cliffs of her cheekbones, but Selma’s capacity for feeling — for joy as well as agony and terror — overwhelms her mousiness….When she hears a song she likes, her tongue darts out between her teeth, and her anxiety registers in her hands and in the tendons of her neck….Like Ms. Watson’s Bess McNeal in ”Breaking the Waves,” Selma is sacrificed on the altar of intellectual bad faith. The earlier film was about the collision between repressive religious orthodoxy and pagan sexual spiritualism, and this one posits an equally schematic conflict between the liberating power of pure imagination and the intractable authority of the market and the state. (x)
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Maggie Cheung, CLEAN (dir. Olivier Assayas)
In “Clean,” Maggie Cheung plays Emily, the wife of a cult rock star who dies of a heroin overdose shortly after the film begins. An addict herself, Emily serves a prison term for supplying the fatal heroin. Mr. Assayas’s movie follows her after her release, as she weans herself off drugs, moves to Paris, and tries to re-establish a relationship with her young son, played by James Dennis, and earn the trust of her father-in-law, played by Nick Nolte.
Ms. Cheung’s performance won her the best actress award at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. It speaks to the state of foreign-film distribution in this country that it has taken “Clean” three years to open here. And it speaks to the strength of the collaboration between Ms. Cheung and Mr. Assayas that they reunited for this film: The two were married following the making of the 1994 “Irma Vep” but divorced a few years later. (x)
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Charlotte Gainsbourg, ANTICHRIST (dir. Lars von Trier)
Lars von Trier shook up the film world when he premiered Antichrist at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. In this graphic psychodrama, a grief-stricken man and woman—a searing Willem Dafoe and Cannes best actress winner Charlotte Gainsbourg—retreat to their cabin deep in the woods after the accidental death of their infant son, only to find terror and violence at the hands of nature and, ultimately, each other. But this most confrontational work yet from one of contemporary cinema’s most controversial artists is no mere provocation. It is a visually sublime, emotionally ravaging journey to the darkest corners of the possessed human mind; a disturbing battle of the sexes that pits rational psychology against age-old superstition; and a profoundly effective horror film. (x)
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Kirsten Dunst, MELANCHOLIA (dir. Lars von Trier)
“Dunst’s performance has been much admired and was indeed a prizewinner at Cannes. Her descent into an almost zombie-like catatonic depression is forceful and very sincere, but it is impossible not to remember that the stunned, glassy-eyed look is something Von Trier has elicited from other leading ladies, including Björk and Nicole Kidman: a Meg-Ryan-on-Parky look. For my money, Gainsbourg gives a far more interesting performance.
Melancholia is an absurd film in many ways, and yet it would be obtuse not to acknowledge those lightning bolts of visual inspiration. When Justine goes out into the fields to look at the awesome blue planet, and then takes her clothes off to bathe in its light – that really is powerfully erotic and strange. In some ways, for all its silliness and self-consciousness, this is the happiest experience I’ve had with Von Trier for some time.” (x)
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Julianne Moore, MAPS TO THE STARS (dir. David Cronenberg)
Starring a dynamic cast of Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusak, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, and Sarah Gadon, the film centers on the Weiss family—a seedy Hollywood household filled with secrets. As a crude and formerly drug-addicted 13-year-old, Bird plays Benjie, a child-star whose disaffected attitude and violent behavior are sabotaging his young life, while his mother Cristina (Williams) attempts to maintain her sanity and his spiraling career. Husband and father, Stafford (Cusak), is a sleazy and narcissistic TV self-help guru to the stars. But when the final member of the family—a mentally ill young woman, Agatha (Wasikowska), physically scarred by a fire—arrives back in Hollywood, their already hazardous lives are thrown in disarray.
After forming a friendship with a young limo driver, embodied by Robert Pattinson as if he stepped right off the step of Cosmopolis, Agatha begins working for aging actress Havana Segrand. Played by Julianne Moore in one of her finest roles, we see a beaten-down, emotionally raw, and wonderfully uncensored women—who could easily be a long-lost older sister to The Canyon’s Lindsay Lohan—destroyed by her vanity and the still-present pain caused by her deceased movie star mother. Searching for redemption and escape from this hollow earthly existence, Agatha inserts herself into everyone’s life, determined to get what she wants at any cost.
Shot with chilly Cronenberg remove and his wonderful affinity with tantalizing our psyche, Maps to the Stars transcends its satirical beginnings to explore the evocative ways in which we become trapped in the past and our own cycles of destruction. With Wagner’s wild and wonderfully messy touch, we’re given an unflinching and immersive look at the horrors of everyday Hollywood.
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Juliette Binoche, CERTIFIED COPY (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)
The great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami travels to Tuscany for a luminous and provocative romance in which nothing is as it appears. What seems at first to be a straightforward tale of two people—played by Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche and opera singer William Shimell—getting to know each other over the course of an afternoon gradually reveals itself as something richer, stranger, and trickier: a mind-bending reflection on authenticity, in art as well as in relationships. Both cerebrally and emotionally engaging, Certified Copyreminds us that love itself is an enigma. (x)
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Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Chus Lampreave, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, VOLVER (dir. Pedro Almodovar)
What a distinctive filmmaker Almodovar has become. He is greatly influenced, we are assured, by Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s (especially if that decade had been franker about its secret desires). But he is equally turned on, I think, by the 1950s palette of bright basic colors and cheerful optimism that goes without saying. Here the dominant color is red — for blood, passion and Pedro.
In this connection, some mention might be made of Cruz’s cleavage, including one startling shot also incorporating the murder weapon. It seemed impossible not to mention that shot in an interview at Cannes Film Festival (where the film won honors for best script and ensemble cast). Almodovar nodded happily. “Yes, I am a gay man,” he said, “but I love breasts.”
What is most unexpected about “Volver” is that it’s not really about murder or the afterlife, but simply incorporates those awkward developments into the problems of daily living. His characters approach their dilemmas not with metaphysics but with common sense. A dead woman turns up as a ghost and is immediately absorbed into her family’s ongoing problems: So what took her so long?
It is refreshing to see Cruz acting in the culture and language that is her own. As it did with Sophia Loren in the 1950s, Hollywood has tried to force Cruz into a series of show-biz categories, when she is obviously most at home playing a woman like the ones she knew, grew up with, could have become.
For Almodovar, too, “Volver” is like a homecoming. Whenever we are most at ease, we fall most easily and gracefully into our native idioms. Certainly as a young gay man in Franco’s Spain, he didn’t feel at home, but he felt displaced in a familiar way, and now he feels nostalgia for the women who accepted him as easily as if, well, he had been a ghost. (x)