Cannes is cooking. Just about everyone agrees the movies are better, the fillm market is booming like it hasn’t boomed in years, and the big stars are showing up in greater numbers than in some time. Fest Director Thierry Fremaux has shrewdly programmed for maximum celebrity wattage while maintaining the reputation of Cannes as a place for serious film-going and cinematic discoveries. Tuesday night it was The Beaver’s turn and Mel Gibson’s shot at an acting comeback for the movie which received a prolonged and tumultuous ovation for Mel and co-star/director Jodie Foster that was the talk of the Croisette earlier tonight. Mel wasn’t even a certainty to show but he hit the red carpet and got big applause at the end credits. Summit’s Rob Friedman is here too and has to believe now that bringing the film to Cannes was indeed a good idea. One prominent producer in the audience tonight told me she thought Gibson was amazing in the film and that “if people didn’t hate him so much he’d be winning awards for this”. Her French friend said it isn’t like the French tabloids like him any better. At any rate, Gibson doesn’t have to stick around until Sunday to see if he wins Best Actor. The flick played out of competition and is ineligible. Something tells me he could have won. 

Critics responded well to it at an earlier press screening. Foster, sans Gibson, did the press conference and said she thought the trip to Cannes would be therapeutic for Mel, assuring the press that though he wouldn’t be doing interviews, he would be on the red carpet. And so he was. She also brushed off talk about weak box office saying as an indie movie it will eventually find its audience, that she doesn’t marry her self-worth to the amount of money her movies make, and added, “I am not my boxoffice”.

Jodie has spent quite a bit of time in France lately. She is one of the stars of Roman Polanski’s Carnage along with John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz. Of course it is based on the Tony winning play, God Of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. She adapted the screenplay along with Polanski who recently completed shooting the film in Paris. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in the U.S. in time for awards season, most likely November (the film is targeted to premiere at the Venice Film Festival come September), and co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard will see a cut of the picture in June. Barker told me at one of SPC’s many premiere parties here (they have several films all over Cannes) that, from what he’s seen already, the film will be terrific. “Wait until you see Jodie and Kate in this film. I don’t think Jodie has ever done anything like it,” he said.

I think the title sounds like the title of an action movie, not a sophisticated Broadway comedy. Why did they change it, especially since the play is so well-known? Barker said Roman and Yasmina did it because the connotations of having “God” in the title could be confusing, especially in some countries. He added that the pair completely retooled the script and, though the set up is the same, much of the dialogue has been reinterpreted from the original French version (adapted for Broadway by Christopher Hampton). Barker says a  promo reel  being used here to sell new terrritories really proves Carnage is the perfect name for it.

Speaking of promo  reels, one movie was conspiciously absent from the clips of upcoming product Harvey Weinstein showed off to press and buyers at last Friday’s Weinstein Company bash at Hotel Martinez. Deadline had just broken the news earlier that day that the company acquired U.S. rights to The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as her ever faithful husband Denis. They made the deal based only on the script and the reel Pathe put together but the ink was still drying and they didn’t have any footage they could show the press. Fortunately Deadline rates and I was able to visit Pathe’s offices here and snag an exclusive look at the film. Based on the few minutes I saw Weinstein can count on a slam dunk nomination for Streep who just nails Thatcher in every way but brings real emotion, grit and humor to her making it much more than a mere impression. Is there anything she can’t do?  Broadbent looks like a scene stealer as well. There appear to be a surprising number of laughs and upbeat moments too, ala King’s Speech. If the movie is half as good as the sales reel this one’s gonna be a real contender come fall.

An Oscar nominee just over a year ago, director Lee Daniels (Precious) was in Cannes yesterday talking up his latest film, The Paperboy, a thriller that is sort of an arty cross between Basic Instinct  and Body Heat which he starts shooting in New Orleans in July with Matthew McConoughey, Zac Efron, Tobey Maguire (in a bad boy role) and Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara.  He also shares a screenplay credit with Pete Dexter, writer of the original novel and Pedro Almodovar who spent some years developing the movie as a vehicle for himself. Nu Image/Millennium’s Avi Lerner is bankrolling it and held a party at Baoli Beach Club for Daniels to meet many of the international buyers from Australia to Scandinavia who have already nabbed the film. No U.S. deal is in place yet but it shouldn’t be a problem with that cast. 

Daniels said the film came about only after he spent a year postPrecious trying to get his film , Selma off the ground only to see it collapse just as it was nearing production. Daniels told me with all the Oscar success of Precious, not to mention his own Directing and Best Picture nomination that he thought getting projects rolling would be a snap. Not so. He says it is as hard as ever but now is extremely happy things have fallen into place for this film which likely will be aimed for a summer 2012 release according to Lerner who told me this is his 39th consecutive Cannes festival and its been very successful for the company.  Lerner says Paperboy is not the normal fare he usually dabbles in but “one or two a year like this” is fine. Daniels says the movie is a wild ride, completely unexpected with roles that are unlike any these actors have played before. Lerner says he was disappointed with the domestic boxoffice for his recent Clive Owen film, Trust  which deals with the topic of an internet predator preying on a 14 year old teenage girl but that he made the film because of his own 11 year old daughter. With DVD and ancillary he says the company will come out fine on the David Schwimmer-directed film which Lerner released through his own company after failing to find any other takers that were acceptable.

Finally on the competition front after the disappointment of  Bertrand Bonello’s crashing bore  of a period brothel movie, House of Tolerance (which despite beaucoup nudity manages to make the prospect of watching paint drying a fairly attractive alternative), things definitely were looking up again with today’s charming , funny and sweet La Havre, a french-set film from Cannes favorite and Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki that received easily the most enthusiastic applause at any press screening I have attended this Cannes. The director received the Grand Prize in 2002 for The Man Without A Past but I think this is his best and puts him in contention for the suddenly crowded race for the Palme d’Or. There’s a wonderfully droll lead performance by Andre Wilms and, after Uggy in The Artist, another great role for a dog, Laika who gets special billing in the film’s press brochure. In fact this whole festival competition lineup seems to be big on kids and dogs.