Will Todd Haynes's Carol beat The Assassin to the coveted Palme d'Or? And will Marion Cotillard's turn in Macbeth steal the show? Robbie Collin looks ahead

When trying to predict who’ll win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, you can easily tie yourself in knots. Endless parsing of the jury members’ professional allegiances and personal tastes can hasten along the headache that’s already glowering on the horizon, brought on by 12 days of sitting in the cinema and drinking not enough water and far too much rosé.

But when the festival starts drawing to a close, it’s irresistible – if only as an attempt to make sense of the 12-day film binge you’ve just been on. Here are the actors, directors and pictures I suspect the Coen brothers’ nine-strong jury might reward at Sunday evening’s ceremony. 

Palme d’Or: The Assassin

Qi Shu stars in The Assassin, in competition at Cannes 2015 Credit: Festival de Cannes

Two films in this year’s competition programme have towered above the rest. The first is Todd Haynes’s Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 romantic novel The Price of Salt, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as a New York socialite and a department store girl who embark on a forbidden gay affair. 

Carol deserves every word of praise that can be flung at it, but the film is so obviously wonderful, and so apparently destined for glory at next year’s Oscars, that you might justifiably wonder if the Coens might be inclined to reward something a little more left-field.

Which might be where The Assassin slips in: the year’s only other obvious masterpiece, and the first film in seven years from the Taiwanese director Hou Hsaio-Hsien. For his comeback, Hou has made a meditative and madly beautiful wuxia martial arts film, set in Tang Dynasty China, where a deadly female vigilante (Shu Qi) has been sent to dispatch a corrupt feudal lord.

Hou’s film moves slowly, but with immaculate sure-footedness, and every stunningly composed shot looks more beautiful than the last. Six of Hou’s previous films have played in competition at Cannes: he won the Jury Prize for 1993’s The Puppetmaster, but to date, nothing else. A Palme feels overdue, and this is an ideal film on which to bestow it.

Grand Prix: Carol

Todd Haynes's Carol stars Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett Credit: Festival de Cannes

Here’s where the one-prize-per-film rule starts to complicate things. Carol is just too significant for the jury to ignore, so if it doesn’t win the Palme it will almost certainly take the Grand Prix, the festival’s silver medal. 

The jurors may decide to make the award jointly to Haynes, Blanchett and Mara, just as Steven Spielberg’s jury did two years ago, when the Palme d’Or for Blue is the Warmest Colour was shared between the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, and the two lead actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. Haynes’s only other film to play in competition at Cannes was Velvet Goldmine in 1998.

Jury Prize: Son of Saul

Laszlo Nemes' Holocaust drama Son of Saul Credit: Festival de Cannes

The Jury Prize is effectively third place, but it’s the only other award given to a film as a whole, rather than a particular aspect of its making, so broadly admired pictures tend to do well here. One of the earliest buzzed-about titles this year was Son of Saul, the first feature from Hungary’s László Nemes: a Stygian odyssey through the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, though the eyes of a Hungarian Jew who’s forced on pain of death to help with the disposal of his fellow prisoners’ bodies. The Telegraph’s Tim Robey called it “one hell of a debut, with the emphasis on hell”. A prize doesn’t feel deserved so much as necessary.

Best Actor: Colin Farrell, The Lobster

John C Reilly, Ben Whishaw and Colin Farrell in 'The Lobster'

A bustling field, thanks to memorable work from Michael Caine as a retired conductor in Paolo Sorrentino’s flamboyant Youth, Son of Saul’s Géza Röhrig and the none-more-lugubrious Vincent Lindon in Stéphane Brizé’s recession drama The Measure of a Man. And let’s not forget Michael Fassbender in the title role of the hotly anticipated Macbeth, which will screen on Saturday morning.

But the year’s truly revelatory performance came from Colin Farrell, who played a paunchy divorcé negotiating a bizarre processing unit for single people in Yorgos Lanthimos’s surreal black comedy The Lobster. The Irish actor has never been better or funnier, nor negotiated such a perplexing role with ease.

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, Macbeth

Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth' Credit: Optimum Releasing

Set aside Cate and Rooney, and one actress stands out from the pack: Zhao Tao, the star of Mountains May Depart, the latest kaleidoscopic state-of-China drama from Jia Zhang-ke. Zhao plays Shen Tao, who begins the film as a young dance teacher in 1999 before her life changes dramatically twice: once setting up the film’s central 2014-set segment, and again for its final act, which takes place in a near-future Australia. 

Zhao’s miraculous performance in all three time periods is classic Cannes Best Actress material. And yet, and yet… She’s up against Marion Cotillard, who plays Lady Macbeth in Justin Kurzel’s hotly tipped Shakespeare adaptation. My suspicion: Cotillard, a four-time contender for Best Actress here whose time is long overdue, delivers a seriously good performance in an iconic role, and the jurors will fall into line.

Best Director: Matteo Garrone, Tale of Tales

For sheer strength of directorial vision, nothing this year could top Matteo Garrone’s fabulous fantasy portmanteau Tale of Tales, a film so strange that no investor from Garrone’s native Italy could be found to help fund it. Instead, the project was taken on by the maverick British producer Jeremy Thomas, who scraped together the money to realise the director’s gloriously offbeat vision. The source material will have surely struck a chord with juror Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan’s Labyrinth, and his strong track record at Cannes (two Grand Prixs to date, for his two previous films, Gomorrah and Reality) suggests he won’t be leaving empty-handed.

Best Screenplay: Mon Roi (Maïwenn)

Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel in 'Mon Roi'

This whirling relationship melodrama from the French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn, about a Parisian lawyer (Emmanuelle Bercot) and her irresponsible dream man (Vincent Cassel), boasted a frequently roar-out-loud script – and, crucially for the largely non-Francophone jury, the wordplay-heavy dialogue was well-translated into English, with the subtitles preserving its wordplay and brisk, screwball energy. Maïwenn’s previous film, Polisse, a drama about the Child Protection Unit of the Paris Police, won the Jury Prize in 2011.