The Best Movies of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, According to 31 Critics

At the end of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, some pundits expressed surprise that “Titane,” the adventurous body-horror riff on gender fluidity from filmmaker Julia Ducournau, won the Palme d’Or over more traditional entries in Competition. However, many critics who covered the festival this year wouldn’t have it any other way. “Titane” topped IndieWire’s annual critics survey of the best films of the festival, with 31 critics participating from around the world, and Ducournau also topped the category for Best Director.

The outcome marked the second time in a row that the winner of our critics survey synced up with the Palme d’Or result, following “Parasite” in 2019. (The festival’s 2020 edition was canceled due to the pandemic.) Both movies were historic wins: “Parasite” was the first Korean film to win the Palme — though not this survey — and “Titane” is only the second movie directed by a woman to land the prize after Jane Campion became the first for “The Piano.”

Ducournau’s film stars breakthrough actress Agathe Rouselle as an erotic dancer with a sexual attraction to cars, who goes on the lam after a killing spree and pretends to be the long-lost son of a lonely firefighter (Vincent Lindon). IndieWire’s David Ehrlich awarded the film with an “A-“ grade and called it “the work of a demented visionary in full command of her wild mind.” In an interview with IndieWire, Ducournau said she made the film in part to show that “femininity is so much more flexible and blurry than what people think it is.”

The movie is only the second for the French director, who first made an impact at Cannes with her 2017 debut “Raw,” which premiered at Critics Week. The festival’s official rules prohibit the jury from giving additional prizes to the Palme d’Or winner, so while Ducournau won best director in our survey, the jury gave it to Leos Carax for “Annette.”

The jury awarded “The Worst Person in the World” with its best actress prize for another breakout, Renate Reinsve. The final entry in director Joaquim Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy” stars Reinsve as a woman struggling to find her place in life as she drifts through a pair of ill-fated romances. Trier co-wrote the screenplay with his long-time collaborator Eskil Vogt, whose also directed the Cannes premiere “The Innocents,” which screened in the Un Certain Regard section.

Notably, “Titane” and “The Worst Person in the World” share the same U.S. distributor that released “Parasite” — Neon — though the company picked up the latter film after the start of the festival. It was recently added to the lineup of the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, while it remains to be seen where “Titane” will surface next.

With critics voting in the categories of Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, there were several runners-up, and more than one tie. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memoria,” which follows Tilda Swinton through Colombia as she tries to figure out the source of a mysterious sound, landed in second place for best film, while Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Haruki Murakami adaptation “Drive My Car” tied in third place with Joanna Hogg’s meta drama “The Souvenir Part II.” Weerasethakul also landed in second place for Best Director, while Wes Anderson came in third for his anthology film “The French Dispatch.”

The screenplay category saw a three-way tie for second place: Mia Hansen-Love’s similarly self-reflexive “Berman Island,” “Drive My Car,” and Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero.”

See the full results below. For more of IndieWire’s Cannes coverage, go here.

Best Film
1. “Titane,” Julia Ducournau
2. “Memoria,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul
(tie) 3. “Drive My Car,” Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
(tie) 3. “Souvenir Part II, The,” Joanna Hogg

Best Screenplay
1. “The Worst Person in the World”
(tie) 2. “Bergman Island”
(tie) 2. “Drive My Car”
(tie) 2. “A Hero”
3. “The Souvenir Part II”

Best Directed Film
1. “Titane,” Julia Ducournau
2. “Memoria,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul
3. “The French Dispatch,” Wes Anderson

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