Playing the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival is a big deal for any film. It’s arguably the glitziest red carpet this side of the Oscars, and whether the film screening is part of the Competition or not, the honor of opening Cannes is one a director can hang his or her hat on for life.
This year, something interesting has happened. In selecting The Great Gatsby to open the festival, Cannes programmers have given away a bit of a prestige edge. The film opened worldwide last weekend, meaning all the beautiful people lined up to catch a glimpse are either behind the rest of the film world or doing double duty on Baz Luhrmann’s tepidly received piece of cinematic pop art.
So Gatsby probably falls onto the “worst” side of what’s below, though most probably would (or at least should) argue Luhrmann’s film doesn’t touch some of the stinkers that’s have opened the festival in the past. I liked it, and plenty of others do, as well.
For more of the best and worst “Cannes openers,” read on…
2012: Moonrise Kingdom
Just last year, Wes Anderson’s delightful little comedy wowed the Croisette crowd on opening night. It went on to become one of the year’s biggest indie titles, and it earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
2011: Midnight in Paris
Talk about a no-brainer to take the Cannes red carpet. The festival loves Woody Allen, and this might have been his best received film in two decades. Like The Tree of Life and The Artist, its fellow Cannes brethren that year, it picked up Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations.
Only the second animated film to ever get a Best Picture nomination, Up also happens to be one of Pixar’s top three titles.
2007: My Blueberry Nights
Wong Kar-Wai’s English-language debut was rather tepidly received, and it made virtually no money despite a star-studded cast. Yet I maintain it’s a sumptuous gem of a film, and I gather its reputation among its target audience reflects that opinion.
2001: Moulin Rouge!
Baz Luhrmann is one of only a handful of directors (Woody Allen being among them, as well) who’ve opened Cannes on more than one occasion. His first go-around on the fest’s opening night happens to be his best movie. The starry-eyed Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman musical romance remains one of the last decade’s most original visions, and it earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination for its trouble.
1998: Primary Colors
Cannes loves American political movies (see also the surprising inclusion of Doug Liman’s Fair Game in the 2010 Competition and Michael Moore’s Palme d’Or for 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it nabbed Mike Nichols’ comedy/drama about a politician who’s an awful lot like Bill Clinton for its world premiere in 1998.
1994: The Hudsucker Proxy
One of the Coen Brothers’ more underrated efforts, it’s an old-fashioned screwball comedy and one of the few films on the list that played in Competition, in addition to opening the festival.
2010: Robin Hood
Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Ridley Scott. This would-be summer blockbuster had all the makings of a successful franchise flick and incredibly fun and glamorous world premiere event. The only thing missing was an acceptable movie. Oops.
Even before its offensively bad denoument, Fernando Meirelles’ quasi-post-apocalyptic “thriller” is pretty atrocious.
2006: The Da Vinci Code
One of the more infamous world premieres at Cannes over the years. Director Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s crazy best-selling novel earned jeers and laughs over more than just Tom Hanks’ awful hairstyle.
2003: Fanfan la tulipe
Just one of many enormous misfires in what’s regularly referred to as the worst Cannes ever. Shout if you’ve seen it…or even heard of it. *Deafening silence*.
2002: Hollywood Ending
One of Woody Allen’s most forgettable films of the past decade or so (that’s saying something), Hollywood Ending feels like a perfect fit for Cannes’ opening night. It also feels like a lame short-film concept stretched out to a seemingly unbearable 110 minutes.
1999: The Barber of Siberia
Never heard of it? There’s a good reason. Nikita Mikhalkov’s film never received an American release, and its one published review states: “Quite frankly, ‘The Barber of Siberia’ is perhaps the worst feature film created by any major current international filmmaker. The film is such a total mess that it presents a journalistic challenge to even conceive how to run an inventory its failings.” (Phil Hall, FilmThreat.com)
1992: Basic Instinct
While this memorable (for one reason and one reason only) Paul Verhoeven flick has a cult of followers, it’s impossibly dumb and was incredibly unworthy of a Cannes premiere.