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11 exciting films playing this year's Cannes Film Festival

The best and the brightest (and sometimes the oddest) come to Cannes this year.
The AssassinCarolMon RoiSea of TreesTale of Tales

From a movie about the lonelyhearted turning into animals to an action film from a legendarily snail-paced filmmaker to a sex epic to multiple iterations of John C. Reilly, this year’s Cannes Film Festival, starting Wednesday, proves, again, that prestige doesn’t mean pomposity. Here are 11 we’re most goosed to see (one day, probably other film festivals). And, as we must always remind you, it’s pronounced “Can” not “Khan.”

‘The Assassin’
It’s hard to believe Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien hasn’t made a feature since 2008’s “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” and even harder to believe it’s a martial arts movie featuring one of his regular actors, Shu Qi. Still, we’re betting it’s more Hou than King Hu, with plenty of chances for his signature long takes, choking mood and plays with how we process memory. Or it may just be Shu Qi hurting people, which would be cool too.

‘Carol’
Todd Haynes’ first theatrical feature in eight years — with the miniseries “Mildred Pierce” in between — takes the playful director back to the past, and back to another author of hard-boiled fiction. This time, instead of James M. Cain he’s doing Patricia Highsmith, and not one of her pulpy page-turners either, but a romance, between a 20-something department store clerk (Rooney Mara) and an older woman (Cate Blanchett). The source, “The Price of Salt,” is notable not only as lesbian fiction from the 1950s, but lesbian fiction from the 1950s that doesn’t end in tragedy, as most do.

‘Dheepan’
The thrillingly unpredictable French filmmaker Jacques Audiard makes another out-there segue, going from the mismatched semi-romantic drama of “Rust and Bone” into this look at a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who winds up just outside Paris working as a caretaker. Previously Audiard has made a remake of the ’70s classic “Fingers” (“The Beat My Heart Skipped”) and a polyglot prison epic (“A Prophet”), and we’re sure he’ll take this in an unusual direction.

‘The Lobster’
Our pick for our most anticipated Cannes film finds Yorgos Lanthimos, of the genius “Dogtooth,” heading outside Greece to round up a dreamy international cast — including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw and more — for another fit of high-concept absurdity. The hook here is a dystopian future in which people are given a small window to pair off; if they don’t, they are turned into animals and released into the wild. Yep! Lanthimos is a whiz not only with crazy premises but in how he shoots them; “Dogtooth” amps up the discomfort with shots that cut off heads or pack people into remote parts of the frame.

‘Louder Than Bombs’
The details on another English-language debut of a European talent — Danish wunderkind Joachim Trier — are fuzzy, but it’s been described as being a “Rashomon”-esque look at a dead war photographer (Isabelle Huppert) and her two sons, one of them played by Jesse Eisenberg. Trier (a distant relative of Lars Von) has previously made films about the miseries of being 20-something (“Reprise”) and the miseries of being 30-something (“Oslo, August 31”), so it should be interesting to see him straying slightly outside his comfort zone.

‘Love’
Apart from “The Human Centipede” maestro Tom Six, there are few filmmakers we’re scared of confessing our love for than Gaspar Noe (“Irreversible,” “Enter the Void”), a maximalist whose works mix punishment with hyper-transgression. So naturally he made a sex epic, albeit of a different breed from Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.” Here he spends three hours with a three-way couple, and of course it’s in 3-D. The poster is very NSFW, and so are the press stills.

‘Mon Roi’
If you know actress-turned-filmmaker Maiwenn, it’s likely as the blue tentacled opera diva from Luc Besson’s ‘The Fifth Element.” But she also directed a number of films, including 2011’s razor sharp “Polisse.” Details are sketchy, but it features an impressive French thespian cast, including Vincent Cassel, Louis Garrel, Islid Le Besco and Emmanuelle Bercot, who herself directed fellow Cannes ’15 player “Standing Tall,” the first film directed by a woman to ever open the fest.

‘Mountains May Depart’
Jia Zhangke has long been a thorn in the side of his native China, who have routinely censored and banned his hyper-critical, abstract films, many of them documentary hybrids. He turned a corner with “A Touch of Sin,” which was more accessible than his past works but no less scathing. We’re assuming the same applies to his eighth feature, which also boasts three stories, albeit all over time: one in the ’90s, one in the present and one in 2025.

‘Sea of Trees’
It’s actually been a long time — since 2008’s “Milk” — since Gus Van Sant has made anything worthwhile, and since 2007’s “Paranoid Park” that he made anything great. If nothing else, his latest should be beautiful, unfolding as it does in Japan’s “Suicide Forest,” where two men (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) run into each other while individually looking to take themselves out. Sounds dopey! But so have other previous, great Van Sants.

‘Tale of Tales’
John C. Reilly pops up again and in a second international production, this time opposite Salma Hayek as a king and queen in this battering ram of 17th century folk tales, told by “Gomorrah” filmmaker Matteo Garrone. Garrone has said the stories offer commentary on today’s world, and it should be interesting watching the semi-realist filmmaker doing a semi-pricey Euro fantasy, also featuring Vincent Cassel (again), Stacy Martin and Toby Jones.

‘Youth’
Speaking of Italian filmmakers, “The Great Beauty”’s Paolo Sorrentino is yet another filmmaker heading over to the English language, though he’s done that before, with 2011’s underrated “This Must Be the Place.” (That’s the one with Sean Penn looking very Robert Smith.) This one has Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel bumming around the Alps, acting like leering old men. (The poster has them ogling a naked lady.) Also along for the ride are Paul Dano, Jane Fonda and (also again) Rachel Weisz.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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