The Hollywood invasion of Cannes began in earnest this weekend and continues big time as the U.S.-set movies get their day in the sun on the Croisette — even as a little rain begins to fall for the first time since this movie smorgasboard got rolling last week. Yesterday, Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank hit the fest with a female-centric Western, The Homesman, that is looking for distribution and should find it with no problem. In fact, I just heard they have had at least three offers and a deal could be imminent. Stay tuned. Despite a mixed bag of reviews (but generally upbeat), there’s awards potential there, believe me (more on that one later).
But leading the pack is tonight’s premiere of Bennett Miller’s long-awaited Foxcatcher, which screened for press at 8:30 AM this morning to a wall-to-wall crowd at the Grand Theatre Lumiere (an overflow screening was quickly set up for those who couldn’t get in at the nearby Salle du Soixantieme). And at the press conference that followed, there were loud “bravos” from some journalists as Miller, stars Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, along with producers Megan Ellison and Jon Kilik, entered the room. That is not usually the case at these things — at least in my experience with the jaded press corps here. The accolades are well-deserved. This is 3-for-3 in the short filmography of Miller, whose two previous films — Capote and Moneyball – went on to Best Picture Oscar nominations. Foxcatcher will make it a third and continues to give distributor Sony Pictures Classics a very good Cannes outing so far following near universal praise for the first film seen in competition, Mr. Turner (it releases December 19). I’m also predicting some sort of prize here at Cannes when the Jury hands them out on Saturday. Certainly Carell is a solid Best Actor contender here for his mind-blowing , slow-burning and completely unexpected turn as wealthy heir John Du Pont, who in 1988 establishes his own stable of world-class American wrestlers at the mammoth DuPont estate engaging in a twisted relationship with two brothers that ended in murder. Sony Classics had intended to release this film last December and even had set an AFI Fest world premiere in early November, but it was abruptly cancelled when Miller decided he needed more time to shape the film, and SPC had to pull it from their 2013 awards-season plans.
Related: Hot Cannes Teaser: ‘Foxcatcher’
Although it wasn’t addressed at the press confab, I am told the film was basically tweaked and tightened but not changed significantly from the version shown originally to AFI toppers. Seems like a wise decision in hindsight as the Cannes exposure and expected thumbs-up reaction here tonight will only enhance its reputation as it hits the fall fest circuit ahead of its November debut — primetime for an Oscar campaign. Besides Best Picture, it would be easy to see this competing in lead actor ( for Carell although I heard SPC might consider supporting there); director; screenplay for Dan Futterman, E. Max Frye and perhaps even supporting actor for Tatum (he could be lead too) and/or Ruffalo (who with Normal Heart and Begin Again is clearly having a great year). Carell’s complete transformation into DuPont will probably nab a makeup nomination too.
One British journalist pointed his finger at me after the screening and said “this film shows the complete decline of your country”. And Miller said some may see it as a polemic, but it couldn’t be further from what he was attempting, or what he has brilliantly accomplished. Although DuPont, as depicted with his jingoistic and inarticulate ramblings about restoring America, might be a precursor to Tea Party rhetoric in some ways, Miller sees it much more specifically: “I think that the style of this film, and my other films, is not so much telling the story, but serving the story. I try to create a context that will sensitize you to what’s happening beneath the story because there’s a lot of American male repressed non-communication happening in this story. There’s an undercurrent beneath the undercurrent and every scene is a tip of the iceberg….When I first heard about this story and the details about it, it was so bizarre… yet it felt very familiar. Within this story there are themes that are much larger than the story. But because I really do care about these characters, and this story, that’s where the attention goes. I can relate it to the world that we live in but it’s not a political film and does not take a moral position as much as it’s meant to be an investigation and an attempt to understand and deal with some of the dynamics.” He said he chose to look at this true story through a microscope rather than a telescope.
Ruffalo though did say he felt there was a moral thrust to the story — and all involving money. “There’s a Greek tragedy buried in it in asking what happens when everything has a price tag on it? What happens when everything is for sale? It’s a theme that’s interesting to me, and it’s topical and it’s up for discussion,” he said. But pointedly not discussing it was Ellison, who also deflected the chance to say anything at all at the press conference but who financed the movie through her Annapurna Pictures. Of course her family is a wealthy Hollywood dynasty, but unlike the oddball and repressed-in-every-way DuPont, she has continued to use her money and family power to turn out one great, smart movie after another including three Best Picture nominees in a row (Zero Dark Thirty, Her, American Hustle).
Premiering in the second slot tonight is Maps To The Stars, Canadian director David Cronenberg’s view of America — a sharp Hollywood satire that turns really dark. It’s written by Bruce Wagner, who joined Cronenberg and the actors including Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska and John Cusack at their news conference. It’s a wicked story of celebrity culture and the movie industry that takes no prisoners as you might only expect from a Cronenberg flick (and a vast improvement on his last time here a couple of years ago with Centropolis). Cusack called it a “lurid fever dream about Hollywood,” but Cronenberg thinks it is much more than that. “The movie, and I’m not being evasive, is not only about Hollywood and the movie business. You could set this on Wall Street. You could set this in Silicon Valley, any place where people are desperate, ambitious, greedy, fearful. You could really set it anywhere,” he said. But I for one am glad Wagner, an LA native who nails the industry in a over-the-top way that really isn’t all that over the top, has set it in Tinsel Town. Standing out in the large ensemble are the always-great Moore as a desperate, aging actress who thinks the business is tossing her to the curb, and Evan Bird as the biggest spoiled brat of a movie kid since The Bad Seed. Playing an insufferable but successful young actor who anchors a valuable franchise but leads a Lindsay Lohan-like existence, he’s a character you love to hate. Many critics have compared him in some ways to Justin Bieber (who has also been seen around town this weekend) but this one is far more extreme. Wagner told me he never had Bieber in mind at any point.
Finally some movies actually designed to keep sleep-deprived journalists like me awake. And more to look forward to as Ryan Gosling hits town tomorrow with his hotly anticipated directorial debut Lost River. As fest topper Thierry Fremaux told me yesterday, there is a lot of good stuff still ahead. Despite some mixed reviews on what has shown so far (including an absolute roasting of Atom Egoyan’s misguided Captives with Ryan Reynolds) he remains upbeat about what he’s serving up in the 67th edition of Cannes. And so do I.