Judging the Cannes lineup before seeing any of the films is an annual exercise in studied speculation. Like handicapping horses in a race, you know a lot about what the filmmakers have done before and hardly anything about how they'll perform this time.
And if 2016's festival is any example, newcomers like Maren Ade can outrun veterans like Pedro Almodovar and the Dardenne brothers, only to lose by a nose to another Cannes veteran like Ken Loach, who picked up his second Palme d'Or in 2016.
In terms of trends, Cannes topper Thierry Fremaux has often repeated that he and his hardworking selection committee - who sifted through a record 1,930 features this year, only to pick 49 in the end - survey the annual cinematic landscape to pick and choose their favorite titles, and so whatever trends arise in their Selection officielle (which is also the title of Fremaux's massive 600-page diary, published earlier this year), or official selection, have less to do with Cannes itself than with the state of movies today.
One trend, however, is pretty much a given each year: the number of familiar faces returning to competition.
This year will mark the 70th anniversary of the fest, and these familiar faces include at least half the directors whose films are among the 19 in the competition, including Michael Haneke (Happy End), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), Todd Haynes (Wonderstruck), Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here), Hong Sang-soo (The Day After) and Francois Ozon (L'Amant Double).
These are all also some of the most critically praised auteurs working today, so it's no surprise that Cannes wants to keep them in the family. The same goes for Sofia Coppola (The Beguiled) and Bong Joon-ho (Okja), though perhaps less so for Michel Hazanavicius, who came out of nowhere in 2011 with The Artist, which won the best actor honor at Cannes and then best picture at the Oscars, only to bomb big-time in the 2014 edition with The Search, which still hasn't seen a U.S. release. In Cannes, there's no such thing as a sure bet.
Fremaux always likes to toss a wildcard or two into his lineup. Last year, it was Ade's Toni Erdmann, which paid off well. The year before, it was Valerie Donzelli's Marguerite & Julien, which hardly finished the race. In 2017, that wildcard would be the Safdie brothers' Robert Pattinson starrer Big Time, which marks a huge step up to competition for the two New York-based directors, whose previous feature, Heaven Knows What, had its world premiere in the Venice Horizons sidebar. (Pattinson, however, has played in a few Cannes films before.)
Although Cannes has very rarely screened TV work in the past, giving an out-of-competition slot to Olivier Assayas' Carlos in 2010, organizers upped the ante this year with premieres of the first two episodes of David Lynch's new Twin Peaks, as well as the entire second season of Jane Campion's Top of the Lake (the first season of which unspooled at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, which has thus far kept the upper hand in terms of TV).
Adding to the non-film projects will be the first-ever virtual reality work to premiere in Cannes with Alejandro G. Inarritu's short movie Carne y Arena. Again, Cannes is not the first fest to show VR, but having an Oscar-winning director's VR film is a major coup.
During the lineup announcement, Fremaux mentioned that "love and war" could be seen as a theme running throughout many of the movies, as could be the refugee situation in Europe and elsewhere (Haneke's Happy End will definitely be talked about for the latter).
In general, there seems to be a political bent to this year's selection, which is probably because the state of the world calls for it right now, with movies reflecting troubled times. And let's not forget the upcoming French presidential elections, which are still entirely up in the air and will conclude just a week before Cannes kicks off. The results, whatever they are, are likely to haunt the festival in one way or another.
Politics are also evident in many of the non-competition titles that were chosen - titles that are often neglected during the festival by the media, which tends to concentrate solely on the competition pics - such as the Claude Lanzmann North Korea doc Napalm, the Vanessa Redgrave refugee doc Sea Sorrow, Raymond Depardon's 12 Jours, about the French criminal justice system, and the Al Gore follow-up An Inconvenient Sequel, which premiered earlier this year in Sundance. You can add to that Bong's environmentalist thriller Okja, which is one of two Netflix movies playing Cannes alongside Amazon's Wonderstruck and You Were Never Really Here - the latter of which promises to be the most violent film ever starring Joaquin Phoenix.
Speaking of stars, perhaps the biggest surprise in this year's lineup is the Nicole Kidman quadruple feature of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Top of the Lake, The Beguiled and John Cameron Mitchell's out-of-competition title How to Talk to Girls at Parties. Kidman famously opened the 2001 festival with Moulin Rouge!, which was the first year programmed by Fremaux, and returned to open it again in 2014 with the ill-fated Grace of Monaco. She's slipped off the radar as of late, although her impressive comeback on HBO's recent Big Little Lies shows that she's lost none of the talent that made her the queen of Cannes in the past. In that respect, here's to familiar faces!