So what does today’s announcement of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival lineup mean for Oscar?
Who knows except that out of competition entry How To Train Your Dragon 2 will almost certainly be nominated for Best Animated Feature. Other than that we will have to wait and see until we actually view the films in Cannes next month. But there are good omens in this lineup (which could still see one or two more titles added) if you look at the impressive group of actors represented in these films: Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones (who directs the competition entry The Homesman), Meryl Streep, Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, and director Michel Hazanivicius are among the prominent names and past nominees like Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Jessica Chastain, Hailee Steinfeld, Berenice Bejo, Ryan Gosling (who is making his directorial debut) are also represented.
My colleague Nancy Tartaglione did a great job predicting who would make — or not make — the cut and wrote an exhaustive overview earlier. Now it’s time to look at the awards implications outside of those that will be handed out May 24th at the Palais. I look at Cannes as a soft start to Hollywood’s awards season. There’s no question of its importance as the granddaddy of all film fests and as a key worldwide launch for a movie that has got the goods, but in the end the May date scares off some distributors who, by launching their fall Oscar hopefuls on the Croisette may feel it ultimately hurts their chances — and more importantly their momentum.
That’s no doubt a key reason Warner Bros chose to hold back past Cannes competitor and favorite Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice and Fox Searchlight did the same with Alexander Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman even apart from the usual reasons that they may not “be ready.” Last year Paramount decided at the last minute to take Alexander Payne’s Nebraska to Cannes even though he initially favored more postproduction time. Payne had competed once before with About Schmidt, headed the Un Certain Regard jury, and served on the main competition jury so he was a favorite of Cannes’ chief programmer Thierry Fremaux. The film ended up winning Best Actor for Bruce Dern but after Cannes the director “tinkered” with it and made it tighter before hitting the Telluride Film Festival over Labor Day with his final cut. It went on to win six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Director and Actor after finally opening November 15 (it didn’t win any Oscars, though). It’s not the first time a filmmaker has made changes after their film was shown to the world’s press and reviewed in Cannes. The growing feeling among distributors is it is best to wait until the movie is really locked before risking exposure at this most visible of all festivals.
Of last year’s Cannes crop, Palme d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Color and Jury Prize winner Like Father, Like Son both got aced out of the Oscars when their respective countries — France and Japan — did not submit them to compete in the Foreign Language competition. The Oscar was eventually won ironically by another Cannes entry, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, a movie that went prizeless in Cannes. Cannes’ Grand Prize winner, the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, was wildly received by the Coen-loving French but not so much in the awards race when it opened in December and was shut out of most key guild races and eventually only scored two technical Oscar nominations and unimpressive box office. Did that May/December romance between Cannes and its U.S. opening go sour somehow, creating expectations the film couldn’t meet?
Conversely perhaps one of the most eagerly awaited films that will be in Cannes this year is Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. Originally, Sony Pictures Classics had booked the film for a December release as major 2013 awards-season player. It was to debut at te AFI Fest in a key slot but was yanked when Miller decided it wasn’t ready. Now apparently it is, and Miller — who was Oscar-nominated for Best Director for Capote — is getting a very high-profile berth for the movie that stars Steve Carell in a dramatic departure and Channing Tatum. Although no domestic opening date has been announced by SPC , it would appear in hindsight that waiting rather than rushing could turn this true story into a real player in the upcoming Oscar season. Time will tell.
From an awards perspective strong attention will also be paid to Hazanavicius’ The Search, which is his first film since winning the Best Director Oscar (and Best Picture) for The Artist, another film that started life at Cannes but won only Best Actor for Jean Dujardin (who repeated at the Oscars) when it played the fest in 2011. Hazanavicius’ wife Berenice Bejo stars in the film and was the Best Actress winner in Cannes just last year for The Past. David Cronenberg’s Hollywood satire Maps To The Stars, in which Moore stars along with Robert Pattinson, could have strong industry appeal that could translate into awards-season action — or not. Nevertheless it is Cronenberg’s fifth competition film over his long career (and a win in Cannes is long overdue, as at the Oscars). I will also be keeping an eye on Cannes regular Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, a period piece about 19th century painter J.M.W. Turner which Sony Classics also has for release in the U.S. Leigh won the Palme d’Or in 1996 for Secrets And Lies and that went on to also become his only Oscar-nominated Best Picture contender although he personally has had seven nominations over the years. Could a second Palme d’Or lead to yet another major Oscar player for Leigh, a clear Academy favorite?
Actingwise I have heard strong buzz about Cotillard’s performance in the Cannes darlings Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night. Although she already has an Oscar for La Vie En Rose, she has never won at Cannes. A big splash here, and possibly a Best Actress prize, could ratchet up her chances for another Oscar bid. Of course Tommy Lee Jones is a favorite in Cannes and at the Oscars having won for acting before at both. Now with his first acting/directing gig since that Cannes-lauded 2005 directorial debut The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada, the new film The Homesman has genuine Oscar cred with multiple winners Swank and Streep along with past nominees Steinfeld and John Lithgow so it can’t help but be one to watch (apparently last year’s Jury President Steven Spielberg has also given the film his blessing).
And over at Un Certain Regard, all eyes will be on Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River which stars perennial Mad Men Emmy nominee Christina Hendricks and past Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan along with Eva Mendes. Hendricks told me recently she saw the film as she was looping it and found it to be an extraordinary directing job by Gosling. It was shot under the title How To Catch A Monster, but distributor Warner Bros has switched to the new, less interesting name. Hendricks told me she hopes they will go back to the original which execs probably think will be confused with a horror title. And after debuting a two-part, work-in-progress, 3 hour and 10 minute version in Toronto last September, The Weinstein Company will use Cannes as a re-launch for Eleanor Rigby, which by all accounts sports Oscar contending performances by Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy in the story of a marital freefall.
Of course Cannes is also the first stop for some of the world’s greatest auteurs in international cinema. It’s often one-stop shopping for the Best Foreign Language race at the Oscars (Palme d’Or winner Amour and the aforementioned Great Beauty both started in Cannes as have innumerable others). It will be interesting to see what pops there this year in that regard.
Overall in terms of the nascent 2014 awards season, today’s announcement gives Oscar watchers lots to chew on. We’ll see how that promise plays out starting May 14 when out of competition entry Grace Of Monaco opens the fabled festival. Oh and by the way that movie is one of those rare ones featuring one Oscar-winning Best Actress Nicole Kidman playing another Oscar-winning Best Actress. And so the Oscar/Cannes connection goes.