Matt Damon teared up debuting 'Stillwater' at Cannes: See what critics say about the movie

For the first time since May 2019, the Cannes International Film Festival has kicked off in the South of France. The COVID-delayed festival features 24 films from around the world vying for the top prize, the coveted Palme d’Or award.

As 2019 festival winner "Parasite" showed, Cannes can be a major player in the Academy Awards. Director Bong Joon-ho's drama leapt from the Cannes spotlight to ultimately winning four Oscars, including best picture. Likewise, this year's festival will mark the first major event on the road to the 2022 Oscars.

As a jury led by director Spike Lee – the first Black person to ever lead Cannes' prestigious jury – begins reviewing this year's crop of films, here's what you need to know about 2021's Cannes Film Festival.

Spike Lee:The first Black Cannes' jury president, kicks off film festival: 'Vive la France!'

Matt Damon moved to tears after 'Stillwater' premiere

Matt Damon was at the Cannes Film Festival to debut his out-of-competition film "Stillwater," directed by Tom McCarthy ("Spotlight"). Damon was moved to tears during the standing ovation as the credits rolled at the drama's premiere, according to Variety.

The Oscar winner plays a goateed, stoic Oklahoma construction worker who fights tirelessly to free his daughter (Abigail Breslin), imprisoned in France for a murder she didn't commit. The 140-minute drama, coming to screens July 30, was well-reviewed.

Variety praised the unconventional drama as telling of how Americans are viewed abroad in 2021. "Bill serves as a mirror of what foreigners see when a certain kind of cowboy barrels through the saloon doors of another country, hands on his holster, and it’s not necessarily flattering," the review states. Indiewire called the drama "a strained but strangely affecting turducken of a movie." ScreenDaily referred to "Stillwater" as "a nervy mixture of character study, romantic drama and thriller (that) ends up a little out of its depth."

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard during a photocall for the film "Annette" at the 74th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. The photocall, which precedes an afternoon press conference with the actors, is another vaunted Cannes tradition.

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard debuted their wild musical, 'Annette'

Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver opened the 2021 Cannes Film Festival Tuesday with the comedy-drama musical "Annette," directed by French auteur Leos Carax and scored by the musical duo Sparks. 

With Driver and Cotillard in attendance, "Annette" received a five-minute standing ovation at the Tuesday night premiere, which is standard length and a tradition at the festival (however, there are often catcalls or audience boos during bad movies). The "Annette" reviews depict an often outrageous movie musical, which features Cotillard and Driver as two parents of a gifted child, singing in some unusual situations. Vulture describes a moment in the "gloriously artificial" film "when Adam Driver lifts his head from Marion Cotillard’s crotch in the middle of performing cunnilingus to sing a love song."

The surprise has been universal while the reviews have been mixed. The BBC proclaimed, "Adam Driver shines in a bizarre rock opera" while Variety exclaimed, "Adam Driver slow-motion implodes in Leos Carax’s tragic pop opera." The Hollywood Reporter said the movie "no doubt will engender much adulation from the auteurist faithful," giving Carax "ample credit for sticking to his wildly unconventional guns." 

Where is the Cannes Film Festival?

The invitation-only festival is held in Cannes, France, located on the Mediterranean Sea's Côte d'Azur or Gold Coast. The French Riviera seaside location, about 30 miles from Monaco, has long served as a playground for the rich and famous.

The festival is housed at the Palais des Festivals, with its famed red carpet-adorned steps atop which stars wave during black-tie premieres. The Palais is located at the top of the Boulevard de la Croisette, filled with gawking tourists, historic locations like The Majestic Hotel, beaches filled sun worshippers and blue waters filled with yachts.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, director Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt pose during the photocall for 'Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood' at the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival.

Why is Cannes famous?

The Cannes Festival remains the most famous film festival in the world, bringing history, prestige and glamor. Since the festival started in 1946, it has transformed Cannes into Hollywood on the Mediterranean during the festival. Grace Kelly traveled to her first Cannes festival in 1955 for her film "The Country Girl" and met her future husband, Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Princess Grace's close ties to Cannes forever imbued the festival's grand style.

The exclusive festival has launched the careers of prominent filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh, who revel in the adoration of crowds who revere directors as stars.

The movie stars dressed to the nines at premieres, due to a formal dress code, have only only added to the festival's esteem.

Jury president Spike Lee flashes the victory sign during a photocall at Cannes Film Festival on July 6, 2021.

What other movies are premiering at Cannes?

Director Wes Anderson's "The French Dispatch" will bring a host of A-list stars to the festival, including Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray. Anderson's film will be in competition with director Sean Penn's "Flag Day," which Penn also stars in alongside Josh Brolin and Penn's actor kids Dylan and Hopper Penn. "Flag Day" tells the story of a father works as a counterfeiter, bank robber and conman to provide for his daughter.

Four of the 24 films in competition are directed by women, a low percentage compared to other high-profile festivals, including "Bergman Island" from Mia Hansen-Løve starring Mia Wasikowska, Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps.