Heelgate and Gaspar Noé's dirty movie grabbed all the headlines at this year's Cannes film festival. But who gave the best performances?

This year's Cannes wasn't just the Cate Blanchett show - although it mostly was... Here are the 11 performances that stood out to our bleary-eyed critic:

1. Cate Blanchett in Carol

Credit: Festival de Cannes

Blanchett is riding high after that Blue Jasmine Oscar, but what’s superb about her work as the title character in Carol isn’t the emotional exhibitionism we know she can pull off, but the gravity and fine-tuned sorrow of this performance. She’s never before used her voice so softly or secretively to impart feeling. Her bearing is controlled, often irresistibly amused, and she knows the effect she can have in Sandy Powell’s creamily gorgeous costumes. She’s a blooming marvel in it. (Read our review here.)  

2. Colin Farrell in The Lobster

Credit: Despina Spyrou

We’ve been waiting a few years for a Farrell performance to match the heights of his wickedly funny In Bruges turn. The chance comes with David, the schlub he plays in Yorgos Lanthimos’s dystopian mating satire. A long pause he gives at the start, when a hotel receptionist asks about his sexual orientation, establishes the mordant tone of the entire film; while the character tries ever more weirdly to reinvent himself, he underplays David's desperation with a sad clown’s patience. (Read our review here.)

3. Toby Jones in Tale of Tales

Matteo Garrone’s triptych of medieval fables is very bumpy, performance-wise – Vincent Cassel is a dead loss in it – but Jones got justifiable raves for playing the King of Highhills, who becomes obsessed with a pet flea and allows his daughter to be carried off by an ogre. He’s wonderfully distractable and peppy in the part, never signalling the absurdity of the situations, and keeping us on his side throughout, for all the King’s egregious missteps. (Read our review here.)

4. Bebe Cave in Tale of Tales

Bebe Cave in Tale of Tales

Cave, a 17-year-old virtual newcomer from London, was cast by Matteo Garrone when he spotted her on someone *else’s* audition tape, and holds the screen with supreme poise as the hapless daughter in said Jones tale. Her terror and calculation when she’s lumped with the opposite of wedded bliss, in an ogre’s filthy cave, give this peak section a mounting emotional force, and her final couple of scenes announce a real star in the making. (Read our review here.)

5. Géza Röhrig in Son of Saul

Credit: Festival de Cannes

At 48, teacher, poet and novelist Röhrig makes his screen debut in Son of Saul and has to hold practically every frame: all around him are the screams of gas chamber victims, piles of bodies and the raging inferno of the Holocaust. Acting with a stony absence of expression is harder to pull off than it sounds, but try also keeping ambiguity in play about whether that’s really your child you just saw murdered. His features are drawn, drained, mesmerising, his whole affect hard to shake off. (Read our review here.)

6. Zhao Tao in Mountains May Depart

Credit: Festival de Cannes

Jia Zhangke’s epic of Chinese cultural transition from 1999 to 2025 is an unwieldly beast, with a very divisive, poorly performed English-language third act. But the most consistent force in it is his customary muse, Zhao Tao. From the love triangle she must resolve in the first section, to the dwindling of the character decades later, you will rarely have seen someone age in this long-range way more convincingly; she’s also impeccable at making every choice feel thought-through and momentous.

7. Rooney Mara in Carol

Carol is by no means just the Cate Blanchett show: Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy and John Magaro all make terrific impressions in support. As per Highsmith’s book, Mara’s Therese is the main character, though, and Mara’s job is to capture the peculiar essence of this uncertain girl, “flung out of space”, while still making her someone we can relate to and care about. Behind the star’s rigid reserve there’s vulnerability in spades, and watching it seep through the cracks is mesmerising.

8. Louis Garrel in Mon Roi

Garrel can be a sour, petulant lead, but he only has the third biggest part in Maïwenn’s near-two-hander, as the brother of Emmanuelle Bercot’s character, and comes close to stealing the film with his very funny, flippantly appealing, unusually generous support. He thinks Vincent Cassel’s Georgio is a bad egg from the off, but we watch him sit with this feeling and stew, while also deciding how and when to confront his sister about it. (Read our review here.)

9. Tim Roth in Chronic

Credit: Festival de Cannes

Roth’s a very credible Best Actor possibility for playing a beleaguered palliative care nurse, in Mexican director Michel Franco’s soberly matter-of-fact look at a series of lives ending. The strain David’s under manifests itself in mysterious, stalkerish behaviour and quite a few fibs. Roth, though, makes discretion his keynote, receding to let his patients pull focus in many scenes, and makes a remarkably convincing account of a career spent easing people to the end.

10. Marion Cotillard in Macbeth

Credit: Studio Canal

Jacqueline Durran’s startling costumes really bring out the best in Cotillard, the one member of this cast not speaking in a Scottish accent. Her face in the monologues is impossible to take your eyes off – it’s almost a Dietrichian performance in its odd rhythms and magnetic hold of the screen. Quelling Macbeth’s freakout in the banquet scene, and then responding with bubbling horror to the cycle of violence, she modulates this tricky role with a piercingly acute sense of its trajectory.

11. Krisha Fairchild in Krisha

Credit: 2015 Getty Images/Tristan Fewings

The real-life aunt of writer-director Trey Edward Shults, Fairchild has been called a breakout star at age 64, in the title role of this excitingly unstable micro-budget drama, one of the hits of Critics’ Week. She’s a recovering alcoholic who could fall off the wagon at any moment, and a Thanksgiving family reunion starts nudging her to the edge. Fairchild triumphs at showing us her public effort to play nice and the private cocktail of loneliness, resentment and pain behind the bedroom door.