Because of its early calendar spot in the awards game, the Cannes Film Festival is not always the best gauge for predicting Oscar success. But many a major nominee has appeared first in Cannes, even if its overall importance to the Oscars is nowhere near as key as Telluride, Venice and Toronto can be when they kick off the official awards season in early September.
Only one Academy Award winner came out of Cannes last year: Iran’s The Salesman for Foreign Language Film. It also was helped by President Trump’s proposed travel ban as much as it was by its Cannes debut, where it picked up Actor and Screenplay awards on the Croisette. Similarly, the only eventual Oscar winners with a Cannes berth in 2016 were Son of Saul for Foreign Film and Amy for Documentary Feature. However the out of competition film Mad Max: Fury Road, which was not considered a serious contender when it premiered here, went on to receive 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and won six in crafts categories. Last year Hell or High Water, which would go on to four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, came out of the Un Certain Regard lineup rather the more high-profile main competition, and at this time last May was not envisioned as a Best Pic possibility in any big way. Things change. Two years ago it was Todd Haynes’ Carol, not Mad Max, that was going to be the big deal out of Cannes, Oscar-wise. It wound up getting snubbed for a Best Picture nomination. Last year, Focus Features’ Loving was thought to have a better shot for a Picture nomination than Hell or High Water. It didn’t work out that way. You never know.
Having seen nearly all the movies here that might land in the Oscar conversation, at this point there is definitely no slam dunk Best Picture contender in the bunch. Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, from the acclaimed children’s book that is told from the point of view of a couple of deaf kids in different eras, certainly will get a campaign from Amazon Studios and deserves to. It has a group of crafts people who are all Academy favorites as well, so put that one at the top of the list. Oscar winner Sofia Coppola has been in the Oscar winners circle before, and her remake of 1971 Civil War drama The Beguiled has its fans in Cannes but seems a real long shot to last all the way to Oscar time as it opens in June.
The other big Nicole Kidman drama, director-writer Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is an Oscar challenge but has much to recommend it. I loved it, but it is divisive and might not be up the Academy’s alley. But isn’t that what they said about Lanthimos’ Dogtooth and The Lobster, and both landed in the Oscar race in an important category.
Benny and Josh Safdie’s Good Time is a dazzling genre thriller full of style, but it also might not be to the Academy’s taste. But Robert Pattinson is terrific in it, as is breakout Buddy Duress, and they could pick up some awards action along the way. A24 is following the Hell or High Water pattern of playing Cannes and then opening in mid-August. Both films revolve around a bank robbery. Lynne Ramsay’s ultra-brutal and violent You Were Never Really Here is tough stuff for a traditional Academy play, and she has yet to break through with Oscar. Joaquin Phoenix is good in it, but it is seedy material that won’t be an easy sell.
Netflix has been controversial in Cannes this year even though its movies are aces, and they will be controversial with the Academy despite some success getting their documentaries in the race. For the delightful Okja and Noah Baumbach’s very Oscar-friendly cast at the top of their game in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), it will be a case of whether the Academy even wants to go there. In the latter, both Dustin Hoffman and Adam Sandler might represent the breakthrough Netflix needs with marquee Oscar races.
Smaller films out of the Directors’ Fortnight competition a hop, skip and a jump down the Croisette could upstage the big boys, particularly Sean Baker’s wonderful story of childhood, The Florida Project, which was just picked up today by A24 Films and might be another Moonlight for the distributor, kind of the little engine that could. This is the one to watch in terms of a Best Picture contender coming out of nowhere. Baker made his last film, 2015’s Tangerine, on an iPhone 6. He has stepped up to 35 MM, and the movie really works, though it was passed over for a prize from Fortnight.
Similarly I would also keep an eye on Fox Searchlight’s Sundance pickup Patti Cakes, which is closing Directors’ Fortnight on a high. It is simply a crowd-pleaser and a total original. First-time director Geremy Jasper has made a hip-hop delight that could gain Globe and Oscar attention for its star, Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, as well as Raging Bull Oscar nominee Cathy Moriarty, who steals every scene she is in as Nana. Equally great is Bridget Everett as Barb, Patti Cake’s mother who sings up a storm in her own unique style. Jasper’s songs could be in the Oscar hunt as well. After all, it worked for Eminem and also “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” didn’t it? And although it is small, Sony Pictures Classics has a King of Hearts-style piece of whimsy with Critics Week closer and another Sundance pickup Brigsby Bear that really grows on you. If SPC can make it work on the indie circuit, the film could gain some awards talk. The company also picked up The Rider from Directors’ Fortnight and, though I missed it, it has gotten buzz and won an award today, so we’ll see where that one goes.
Where the Cannes Film Festival really makes a mark year in and year out with the Academy is in setting the table for the Best Foreign Language competition, and this year there are again many possibilities if the countries of origin feel a Cannes berth is a way to impress the Academy too. Leading the list is Russia’s Loveless from director Andrey Zvyagintsev, who got nominated in the Foreign Language race previously for the magnificent Leviathan. This one is bleak, but well made. Opinion was mixed but I loved Hungary’s Jupiter’s Moon from Kornel Mundruczo, who won Un Certain Regard with his rampaging dog movie White God and this one is every bit as accomplished.
From Sweden comes a real contender with Ruben Ostlund’s The Square, which got great reviews but is overlong. With trimming it could be a real contender for the Scandinavian country. The same director got attention for his Force Majeure in 2014, but this could be his ticket. Since both Cannes and Oscar loved Amour, count on Austria entering its quasi-follow-up from Michael Haneke called Happy End. SPC would be wise to campaign veteran Jean Louis Trintignant for Supporting Actor as well.
I was very impressed with Germany’s In the Fade from director Faith Akin and featuring Diane Kruger in a sensational star turn as a woman who loses her Turkish immigrant husband and their 6-year-old son to a bombing by extreme Nazi groups. It has real gravitas in addition to being an accomplished thriller. From Italy comes the passionate Fortunata in Un Certain Regard and especially another prize winner, A Ciambra, in Directors’ Fortnight, which comes from Mediterranea Oscar nominated director Jonas Carpignano, and endorsed by executive producer Martin Scorsese.
And this being Cannes, there are a ton of French possibilities for Foreign Language consideration, probably led by the earnest but moving AIDS drama 120 Battlements Per Minute, and Oscar-winning The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius’ very funny and pointed story of a marriage between Jean Luc Godard and his much younger teenage wife in Redoubtable. I also was highly entertained by the great Francois Ozon’s psycho-sexually charged L’Amant Double, which almost defies description except to say it has elements of everything from Hitchcock’s Marnie to anything by David Lynch. The plot has a woman switching off between her ex-therapist and now-live-in lover and the discovery of his identical twin, also a therapist, who prescribes interesting ideas for her happiness. Not even Chubby Checker has the kinds of twists and turns this thing has.
Finally, perhaps the single most impressive movie experience I had at this year’s Cannes won’t even be eligible for an Oscar, but was an official selection here from a four-time Oscar winning director, Alejandro G. Iñarritu and three-time winning cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki. Only one person at a time can see Carne y Arena, a magnificent six-minute VR take on the plight of immigrants trying to cross the border to a better life in America. This immersive virtual reality experience puts you right in the middle of the desert with these people and their lives as they are assaulted by border patrol in helicopters and on land. It’s extraordinary and was very much worth the trip to the Cannes Airport hangar where it is playing until Cannes closes this weekend. If all the Academy voters somehow could see it, one by one, it would be a cinch for Live Action Short. This is literally live action. Bravo.
VR and the future of movies aside, will Cannes live up to its reputation as a starting gun for the Oscars, or will it all just stay here on the Cote d’Azur this time around? We shall see.