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Cannes Film Fest: Grownups Lead Charge for Change 

Here are the most dramatic events at the world's top film fest — and 2018's 5 best movies

Five women holding hands on the red carpet at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

Marc Piasecki/WireImage/Getty Images

Actress Cate Blanchett led 82 women onto the red carpet at the Palais in a call for Hollywood gender parity.

The Cannes Film Festival that concluded last week is the world’s most prestigious and influential cinema event, and besides giving a first glimpse of some of the movies you’ll be arguing about all Oscar season, it reveals where the industry is going, with grownup talents leading the charge for reform. What a difference 10 years makes: In 2008, when some Cannes-ologists believe the festival peaked in glitz and glory, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt lit up the red carpet while she pushed Kung Fu Panda with Jack Black.

Now Pitt and Jolie, the prom king and queen of the festival during their 11-year partnership, are long kaput, and with them the frivolous vibe — not to mention Cannes’ now-banished toxic godfather, Harvey Weinstein.

And at Cannes in the era of #MeToo, what took the place of power couples, babies, cartoons and sexual predators? Lots of fiery, telegenic speaking truth to power by women and people of color.

The usual diamonds, dresses and yachts narrative got disrupted first by jury president Cate Blanchett, 49, when she led 82 women (representing the 82 female filmmakers whose works premiered at Cannes during its 71-year history, versus the 1,866 films directed by men) onto the famous red-carpeted steps of the Palais. Locking arms and facing the crowds, they called for gender parity in what was one of the most powerful moments of the festival.

The activism was contagious. Sixteen black actresses danced on the same steps to protest racism in the French film industry. Female stars — from Salma Hayek, 51, to Susan Sarandon, 71, and Geena Davis, 62 — emphasized how women in Hollywood have their work cut out for them. Sitting with Davis at a panel discussion, Sarandon recalled that many people predicted more films starring women would take off as a result of 1991’s Thelma & Louise. “That movie made a lot of money,” Sarandon said. “But it didn’t happen.” 

Brandishing brass-knuckle rings from Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee, 61, walked the red carpet for the premiere of his film BlacKkKlansman, his angry response to last year’s Charlottesville riot. BlacKkKlansman took the Grand Prix, coming in second only to the little talked about Japanese film Shoplifters, about a family of petty criminals in Tokyo, which won the Palme d’Or in an upset.

All in all, Cannes 2018 was a festival for woke grownups matched by a rich selection of films without a panda (or a Pitt) in sight.

Here are the festival’s five best films, which you should plan to see when they open in the U.S.

Spike Lee stands at a podium to speak

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

Spike Lee delivers a speech after he was awarded the Grand Prix on May 19 for the film 'BlacKkKlansman' during the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival.

BlacKkKlansman

A witty, timely thriller that you almost can’t believe is based on a true story. John David Washington, son of AARP Movies for Grownups Award winner Denzel Washington, stars as a rookie policeman who goes undercover in a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. It opens in the U.S. on Aug. 10, on the anniversary of the violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville.

Burning

Mystery and suspense blaze against a backdrop of obsessive love in a tale based on a New Yorker story by genius Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, 69, and set in super-consumerist modern South Korea, where non-Porsche owners feel incendiary rage. Director Lee Chang-dong, 63, once Korea’s culture minister, has earned 10 honors at the Cannes and Venice film festivals, and this could be his Oscar year.

Girls of the Sun

This inspired-by-headlines story of an all-female Yazidi-Kurdish army fighting ISIS psychopaths — after being imprisoned and raped by them — packs a powerful punch. ISIS members, who hold rape auctions in Iraq and Syria and prize 9-year-old victims, are terrified of being shot by a woman, because they believe that then they’ll never get into paradise. This fact-based tale may be tough to watch, but it is riveting.

Whitney

The second documentary in as many years about the doomed singer with the self-destructive spiral is the only one authorized by Whitney Houston’s family. The most startling new allegation in the film: Whitney’s family says she may have been molested as a child by her aunt, Dionne Warwick’s sister. 

Birds of Passage

If you like series like Netflix’s Narcos, watch out for this film, a deep dive into the world of Colombian drug dealing that pre-dates the era of Pablo Escobar and tells the (in part) true story of the role the indigenous and unwitting Wayuu people played in the development of the dirty trade. 

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