Star-powered parties and gripping cinema collide on the film fest's 60th anniversary

By Missy Schwartz
Updated June 01, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

On a sticky night during this year’s Cannes film festival, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Sharon Stone, and their fellow glitterati braved the twisty hills above the Croisette to attend amfAR’s annual AIDS benefit at the exclusive Moulin de Mougins restaurant. Not long after the charity auction began, Clooney sauntered on stage with his Ocean’s Thirteen cohorts, swiped the mic from emcee Stone, and addressed the crowd of sweaty swells.

”Up for bid, one air conditioner: $500,000.”

Leave it to Clooney to sum up the May 16-27 gathering, a 60th-anniversary celebration that served up a mélange of serious cinema, dizzying fun, and sweltering heat. The event embraced highbrow and low, from angsty fare (Control, a biopic about tragic Joy Division singer Ian Curtis) to splashy silliness (bonjour, Ocean’s Thirteen!). And the ultra-luxe Hótel du Cap — set against a gorgeous Mediterranean backdrop — boasted its most star-studded scene in years, with Damon, Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie causing flashbulb frenzies. Here’s a breakdown of the films and the festivities that helped Cannes celebrate the big 6-0 in suitably magnifique style.

Attendees were extra eager to duck into dark screening rooms, and it wasn’t just for the AC: This year’s crop of films turned out to be the strongest in recent memory. Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro presented The Orphanage, a Spanish ghost story that terrified audiences and enthralled critics. A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom’s docu-style drama starring Jolie as the widow of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was greeted warmly — to the relief of producer Brad Pitt. ”I felt a great responsibility,” he said of telling Pearl’s story. ”I’m proud of the end result.”

Audiences also embraced The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a French-language drama about late Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby that earned artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls) the best director trophy. But shockingly, Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men went home empty-handed, losing the Palme d’Or to Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. Still, the rapturous reaction to the Coens’ violent adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel was enough for star Javier Bardem: ”People receiving the movie so well at one of the most important festivals in the world — I don’t think it can get better.”

For all the excitement inside theaters, the marketplace remained relatively quiet, mainly because the hottest titles arrived with distribution intact. ”So many companies are producing their own movies,” noted Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker, who purchased the Israeli comedy The Band’s Visit. ”There are fewer good ones in the market.” That said, IFC bought 4 Months and Flight of the Red Balloon, while Columbia snagged crime drama We Own the Night for $11.5 million — a hefty sum considering it was booed after its first press screening. Meanwhile, The Weinstein Co. picked up Control for under half a million dollars. But it was the new Miramax that emerged as king of the Croisette, arriving with No Country and departing with Diving Bell, after laying down about $2.5 million. ”Diving Bell exceeded my expectations,” said president Daniel Battsek. ”We were thrilled to buy it.”

What is Cannes without decadent revelry? At first, things felt scandalously tame. (Or lame: Picture Jessica Simpson talking up her next film project, Major Movie Star, aboard the Budweiser yacht.) Then U2 rocked a surprise two-song set on the steps of the Palais des Festivals. A few nights later, Grindhouse‘s Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Rose McGowan reunited at a beachside bash, while Casino Royale‘s Daniel Craig and Eva Green joined the boys from HBO’s Entourage to toast New Line’s 40th birthday. The studio also unveiled footage from December’s The Golden Compass, and director Chris Weitz was clearly succumbing to the rush of the Riviera. ”Cannes — it’s a big ol’ bonanza of hyperactivity, excitement, and free cocktails,” he gushed. ”Who am I to quibble with that?” — Additonal reporting by Daniel Fierman