UPDATED with corrected Wind River budget information. As the first weekend of the 70th Cannes Film Festival winds down it has lived up to the dream of great weather, some great films, many stars, endless streaming controversy, and lots of parties. That is lots and lots of parties.
From Friday through Sunday it has been largely non-stop, beginning with our own Deadline soiree which drew a big crowd of top film executives Friday afternoon and continuing through Netflix’s Sunday night party at a Villa up in the hills.
There is still no slam-dunk contender for the Palme d’Or and it looks like the jury may have its work cut out trying to decide on a top dog, but there is plenty on view that are award-worthy in one way or another, at least in my view.
Perhaps the most surprising will be a sentence I thought I might never write: Is Adam Sandler a contender for Best Actor in Cannes? He is getting the best reviews of his career — or at least since the only other time he was in a Cannes competition film with Punch Drunk Love 15 years ago. Paul Thomas Anderson took the directing award for that, but Sandler proved then he could be a seriously good actor, and with today’s competition film from writer-director Noah Baumbach called The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected), Sandler is a standout among other standouts in this terrific ensemble that also includes Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson and Ben Stiller among others. It is early to speculate on this possibility, but as Hoffman’s middle-aged slacker son and decent dad he delivers a fully three-dimensional portrait of a guy living in the shadow of not only his complicated father, but also his more successful brother played by Stiller.
Sandler deserves whatever praise he is getting, and he is getting a lot here, but so does Hoffman, who is just great once again. Believe it or not, has never come close to winning at Cannes in a career that took off exactly 50 years ago in The Graduate. Could this finally be his time to take a prize here? One stumbling block might be jury president Pedro Almodovar’s reluctance to shine a bright awards light on Netflix, since he stated at Wednesday’s press conference he did not believe a film that didn’t play in theaters should be considered for the Palme d’Or. It is likely Meyerowitz will play just a brief run in a handful of theaters day and date with its premiere on the streaming service, but if not a Palme d’Or possibility what about that Best Actor award for Hoffman or Sandler? The movie is right in line with past Baumbach movies about conflicted New Yorkers, but for my money follows 2015’s While We’re Young as a prime example of why this talented filmmaker is just getting better with time. Meyerowitz is a complete gem of a human comedy in every way no matter where it ends up playing.
Any kind of Cannes awards action might be a boost in helping this best-yet Netflix movie (which Baumbach financed independently through IAC Films and initially shot on 16MM) jump into the Oscar race, where I could easily see a couple of nomination possibilities. To date Netflix, unlike streaming rival Amazon, has not been able to crack the Oscars other than in documentary categories (where it even won docu short this year). The Academy seems to be resisting the temptation to succumb to this model in their marquee races — witness the 2015 shutout of SAG-winning Beasts Of No Nation — but in this case attention should be paid (no release date yet, by the way). Whatever side you may be on in the controversy that has raged ever since Cannes announced this film and Okja, the Netflix movies have totally delivered on the quality expected from films accepted into this festival.
On Saturday night a film of a very different sort screened: Sicario and Hell Or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s stunner of a directorial debut Wind River, which previously premiered at Sundance in January. The film, which features the best Jeremy Renner performance in years, as well as fine work from Elizabeth Olsen and scene-stealer Graham Greene, was not finished when it played Sundance, but in its international premiere here presented the final cut. The Weinstein Company releases the film August 4 and this dramatic (and yes, violent) thriller should be be seen (and even talked about) as another deserving awards contender in the story of a rookie FBI agent (Olsen) and game tracker (Renner) teaming to solve the mystery of the murder of a local girl on an American Indian reservation.
The movie received a lengthy standing ovation at the end of its 10 PM premiere in the Un Certain Regard competition, where Sheridan’s sensational Hell Or High Water debuted last year going on to a similar August opening and eventual Best Picture and screenplay Oscar nomination that nobody was predicting last May. You never know what will happen — it was the one film in any of the 2016 Cannes competitions to nab a Best Picure nod.
Just one year later he is back as a first-time director, but at The Weinstein Company’s Nikki Beach after-party he told me the road to get this made was not easy. He told me he worked for DGA minimum and nothing else making this great-looking film (Ben Richardson was cinematographer) . The final budget came in north of $10 million according to Acacia, the company that fully financed the film. In order to get attention for the movie so he could get enough money to finish it in post the way he wanted, he entered it into Sundance without telling his producers, who he says were not happy because they were trying to close a deal with TWC for the film. Nevertheless, that deal was eventually made, and Sheridan said Harvey Weinstein was so impressed with it he offered to release it as-is, but wound up encouraging the first time director to tweak it to fully complete his vision. Certain sections were reworked post-Sundance and that part was financed by TWC. It is clearly a movie that means a lot to Sheridan, and he could not have lavished more praise on Harvey than he did in our conversation last night.
One of the film’s producers, Thunder Road’s Basil Iwanyk, also was thrilled with the response the movie got here, and enthusiastically told me he has another film with Weinstein for December smack in the heart of Oscar season: The Current War starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse. He could not be higher on this film and praised its director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me And Earl And The Dying Girl) . This one seems like prime Oscar bait for TWC this year — and they know it.
Last night also brought the first press screening (ahead of tonight’s gala red carpet world premiere) of Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius’ wryly humorous and on-the-nose romantic comedy Le Redoubtable, about legendary French director Jean Luc-Godard and his marriage to teenage actress and muse Anne Wiazemsky when he was 37 and she was just 19.
The director, who hit the Oscar jackpot with his homage to silent movies in the black-and-white charmer The Artist (also from The Weinstein Company), which first debuted in Cannes in 2011 before going on to win five Oscars — including Best Picture and Director — has made another film-centric movie that is right in his sweet spot after missing here three years ago with the poorly received drama The Search. Louis Garrel nails Godard perfectly in a droll and amusing turn as the leading light of the New Wave who suddenly hit a roadblock when he let his far-left Maoist politics take over his creative impulses and new marriage. Stacy Martin is perfect as the young wife trying to deal with this complicated man, and the film also co-stars Hazanavicius’ real-life wife — and Oscar nominated co-star of The Artist — Berenice Bejo.
Cleverly incorporating some of Godard’s own cinematic techniques along with many of his own, I have to say that turning the curmudgeonly Godard into fodder for a romantic comedy is the most unlikely but best time I have had in any movie so far at this Cannes. Hazanavicius said he sent the script to Godard at the director’s request but never heard back from him about it or his offer to show him the film — Godard is only reported to have said “it is a stupid idea.” It may be, but it is also the most vibrant and alive movie with Godard’s name attached since his heyday in the ’60s and early ’70s.