As I have slowly emerged during the past week from my French fog into the harsher realities of Hollywood, the likely effect of the 68th Cannes Film Festival on this year’s Oscar race has come more into focus. I consider Cannes a “soft start” to the awards season, not as key obviously as the fall trifecta of Venice/Telluride/Toronto but one that puts some early players in the game. Last year in the official Competition, Foxcatcher managed to win a Best Director prize for Bennett Miller and then vaulted all the way to five Academy Award nominations including major acting, writing and directing nods (it lost them all). But, oddly, the biggest winner out of Cannes was not in the main Competition or even Un Certain Regard. It came in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar, with the Sundance champ Whiplash. And although that film won no prize in Cannes, it went on to big Oscar recognition, including a Best Picture nom and three Oscars including Best Supporting Actor. Many films that play Cannes in one way or another are able to traverse the ensuing nine-month road to Oscar, but in the nearly seven-decade shared history of the two titan events, 1955’s Marty remains the only movie to take the top prize at both (although I am convinced that Roman Polanski’s 2002 The Pianist probably came very close to pulling it off).
So what can we expect to continue on the season’s trail out of Cannes? The Weinstein Company definitely will be riding the universal praise for its ’50s-set lesbian romance Carol, with real possibilities in the Best Picture, Director (for Todd Haynes), Adapted Screenplay (Phyllis Nagy) and, of course, acting for both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Mara shared the Best Actress prize at Cannes with French star Emmanuelle Bercot, so maybe she has a leg up — or not. But it is to be determined how they will be campaigned. Studios generally don’t like to pit actors against each other, so TWC might shoehorn Mara into supporting while Blanchett goes for lead. There is divided opinion on this, though. Quite a few people think both are leads, and that could muddy the waters. I see the thrust of the film story-wise to be its title character, but ultimately it is up to the actors branch to decide who goes where. However, by that time it is usually a done deal, with all the precursor awards more influenced by the campaign. Carol is opening in mid-December, so it likely will play the fall fest circuit and get wide awards exposure along the way. The company also has Competition entry Macbeth, with Michael Fassbender and particularly Marion Cotillard delivering award-level performances. Oscar winner Cotillard has become an Academy favorite, especially after surprising with a Best Actress nomination this year for the 2014 Cannes entry Two Days, One Night. No reason to believe her Lady Macbeth can’t do the trick again, giving the Weinsteins a bountiful crop of female performances to push later this year.
Reigning back-to-back Best Picture champ Fox Searchlight is coming out of Cannes with its pre-buy, Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, which seems to me to be the perfect Academy picture. Searchlight hasn’t dated it yet but promises a 2015 release and Oscar campaign. Look for potential acting nominations for Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda. The latter is onscreen basically for one big seven-minute-or-so scene but just knocks it out of the park as an aging, bitter two-time Oscar-winning film star. Her look is startling. The Supporting Actress category has been kind in the past to Oscar winners playing Oscar winners or nominees including Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator and Maggie Smith as an Oscar loser in 1978’s California Suite. Fonda hasn’t been in the Oscar game in a quarter-century, but this will bring her back. The same for two-time supporting winner Caine, who should nab a lead actor nom at 82. Keitel, nominated only for 1991’s Bugsy, is probably a co-lead but is best campaigned for supporting, where he has a better chance. The film itself, an English-language effort from Italy’s Sorrentino, who took Best Foreign Language Film for The Great Beauty in 2013, has a shot in directing, writing and Picture, along with some tech categories. Searchlight is excellent at bringing this stuff home, and this movie is catnip for Oscar voters.
Lionsgate plans to campaign its Competition entry Sicario, which, like Youth, came up blank from the jury but looks to do better stateside when it opens September 18. Benicio Del Toro’s riveting supporting turn and Emily Blunt’s strong lead actress performance will make shortlists for those categories along with Denis Villeneuve’s brilliant direction. The drug cartel drama is tough stuff but brilliantly made, so it should find a way into the race. The same could be said for another Competition entry, Chronic, which won Best Screenplay for writer-director Michel Franco but still is looking for an American distributor. Again, it is not an easy sell because it deals with some hard-to-take subject matter, but Tim Roth as a male nurse dealing with terminally ill patients gives a career-best performance, and there is there very actor-friendly great supporting work from Robin Bartlett and Michael Cristofer as two of his patients. And if Alchemy, which picked up Competition entries The Lobster (taking the Jury Prize) and Nanni Moretti’s My Mother, wants to get in the game, I think it could gain particular traction for John Turturro’s hilarious turn as an eccentric American film star acting in an Italian movie. It could have great appeal to the actors branch. The Lobster, on the other hand, is probably a bit too out there for the Academy, though both Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz (also fine in Youth) give terrific performances.
A few films that played Out of Competition on the Riviera and could get some traction, most likely below the line: Mad Max: Fury Road, a critical favorite that deserves attention beyond the crafts categories (it’s a shoo-in for a Cinematography nom for John Seale) to George Miller’s direction and Charlize Theron’s fierce performance. Woody Allen is always an Oscar possibility, but I doubt Sony Pictures Classics will get too far with his latest, the entertaining Irrational Man, though it’s got some noteworthy performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Parker Posey and especially Emma Stone. The Documentary Feature category should get ready to consider the brilliant Amy Winehouse pic Amy, which A24 will be giving a big push. It doesn’t look like obvious Oscar fodder on paper, but it is simply too good to ignore.
Two films out of Cannes likely will end up competing for Best Animated Feature: Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out and Paramount/The Weinstein Company/Warner Bros’ The Little Prince. The latter, which gets a French release in July and will go out in the U.S. via Paramount (still undated), had perhaps the biggest blowout Cannes party of the year last Friday night as the fest was winding down. Being a very French movie, no expense was spared in the building of a giant domed party tent with live musical performances, cotton candy and other goodies and stuffed toys for guests. The movie was great too, by the way. But Inside Out, which I saw at CinemaCon in March, has to be considered the front-runner right now and also had a none-too-shabby party on the beach itself. Inside Out actually has a shot for a Best Picture nomination as well, which happened with director Pete Docter’s previous film, 2009’s Up, which also debuted in Cannes.
One area where Cannes always makes a mark on the race is with the Foreign Language Film category. Cannes basically sets the table for this, but this year many of the top foreign directors who have been past nominees and winners were working in English, making their films ineligible for the race. That list includes Sorrentino, The Lobster’s Yorgos Lanthimos, Louder Than Bombs’ Joachim Trier, Tale Of Tales’ Matteo Garrone and Chronic’s Franco. Conversely, Natalie Portman made her directorial debut in Hebrew with A Tale Of Love And Darkness, which could be a contender from Israel, though it got a mixed response from the Cannes crowd. The French are likely to submit Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winner Dheepan, but they have another winner in Directors’ Fortnight honoree My Golden Days from Arnaud Desplechin. It actually managed better reviews than Dheepan and might be more up the Academy’s alley, but politics probably will play a part in making this determination, and it is hard to overlook a Palme winner. But the early Oscar favorite in the race, coming out of Cannes at least, certainly is Grand Prize winner Son Of Saul, from first-time filmmaker Laszlo Nemes of Hungary. Sony Pictures Classics snatched this one up quickly and will give it a year-end release to qualify in other categories as well. SPC’s Michael Barker told me he is convinced its leading man, Geza Rohrig, will land a Best Actor nom. It would be quite a story as Rohrig is really a poet, not an actor, but he’s stunning in this Holocaust story that is sure to make a splash in the nascent Oscar race.
To be continued …