The Palme d’Or is unquestionably one of the most prestigious awards a filmmaker can win, but unlike the Oscars, it’s nearly impossible to predict. The decision comes down to a jury comprised of eight artists from around the world. This year, they’re led by Italian filmmakers Nanni Moretti, the first non-American jury president in two years. As screenings of the competition films wind down, culminating with Saturday’s awards ceremony, many Cannes attendees have embarked on the uncertain process of predicting which movies stand the best chance at the top prize. Unlike some years at the festival, the current edition has no single top contender. However, a handful entries have been routinely mentioned as the most likely contenders, for the reasons explained below. Of course, come Sunday, anything could happen.
WHY IT MIGHT WIN: Michael Haneke’s emotionally assured and devastating look at an aging couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) dealing with the Riva character’s devolving mental state is unquestionably the filmmaker’s most powerful achievement, a deeply moving account of the aging process and its impact on family bonds. Critical acclaim has been through the roof.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: Haneke won the Palme d’Or for “The White Ribbon” just two years ago, a factor that could figure into the jury’s decision if they decide to single out a less acclaimed filmmaker. It’s also possible that the jury will decide the film’s chief strengths come from its two lead performances and award one or both of them while sharing the love by giving the Palme to someone else.
WHY IT MIGHT WIN: Leos Carax’s jarringly strange portrait of a versatile man (Denis Lavant) dashing around Paris in a limo and playing several vastly different characters for some unseen spectators excited critics for its dreamlike logic and cinematic ambition. It’s Carax’s first feature in 13 years and quite the comeback.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: Some viewers found “Holy Motors” too gimmicky and illogical; it’s this year’s “Uncle Boonmee” slot, but that surreal Thai movie won the Palme d’Or when Tim Burton was president of jury and not a politically-charged director of Italian comedies. It’s hard to say if Moretti likes the film but certainly possible that the jury as a whole doesn’t quite know what to make of it. Instead of the Palme, they could award Carax with the festival’s directing prize and/or single out Lavant’s performance.
WHY IT MIGHT WIN: Walter Salles’ adaptation of the classic Jack Kerouac novel turned out a lot better than many people expected by replicating the Beat author’s stream-of-consciousness approach and maintaining an understated tone. It’s a hard movie to intensely dislike even though a lot of critics were underwhelmed, and giving it the Palme would acknowledge the lasting value of Kerouac’s work in addition to Salles’ ability to render it in cinematic terms.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: It’s a star-studded, unambitious road trip drama that doesn’t build to a major emotional payoff or contain an advanced filmmaking approach. It could win the screenplay award instead.
WHY IT MIGHT WIN: Abbas Kiarostami’s Japan-set enigma about a young prostitute driving around town with an elderly professor left a lot of critics scratching their heads even though many enjoyed the experience. Kiarostami’s textured narrative draws you into the proceedings with his typically advanced use of mise-en-scene and patient storytelling approach that constantly seems littered with meaning even as the big picture remains elusive. The jury may also want to single out an Iranian filmmaker for the political ramifications such a decision could have.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT WIN: Because the big picture remains elusive. Hardly the big hit of the festival, “Like Someone in Love” is a tough sell for anyone unfamiliar with the filmmaker’s work and there are far more uniformly accessible films in competition this year.
WHY IT COULD WIN: Jacques Audiard’s sentimental tale of an agile woman (Marion Cotillard) rendered wheelchair-bound after a devastating accident and the buff street fighter (Mathias Schoenaerts) who gradually falls in love with her went over quite well early in the festival for its carefully developed, bittersweet mood. Audiard is a much-beloved filmmaker in France who was considered a leading contender for the Palme a few years back when “A Prophet” premiered at Cannes, so this could be jury’s chance to single him out.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: Not everyone responded so warmly to the film’s familiar type of sentimentalism, and the plot is largely predictable by the end of the first act. While skillfully made, it’s not an audacious achievement. The jury could also single out Cotillard or Schoenaerts for acting prizes.