Gosh, it feels like only yesterday we were talking about the 2011 Oscar season, with films like "The Artist," "Hugo," "The Descendants," "The Help" and "Moneyball" jostling for position in the chase for little gold statues. And that's because, well, it basically was yesterday: we're only a little over three months since Oscar season wrapped up. But time marches on, and with the arrival of the Cannes Film Festival, we've got some of the first indications of what might come into play in the awards season by the end of this year.
Last year, after all, saw the emergence of "The Artist" on the Croisette, a film that virtually no one was aware of before, but was swiftly picked up the Weinstein Brothers, became a crowd-pleaser, and went on to become an awards season juggernaut, winning Best Picture, Director and Actor. Palme d'Or winner "The Tree of Life" and Woody Allen's opener "Midnight in Paris" both went on to earn Picture and Director nominations, while "We Need To Talk About Kevin," "Drive," "Melancholia" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene" were all on the fringes of the conversation, and Israeli film "Footnote" went on to become a Best Foreign Language Film nominee.
This year didn't seem to be the same kind of proving ground for Academy fare in the same way, but that being said, in the days after the festival closed last year, not everyone thought that "The Artist," "Midnight In Paris" and "The Tree of Life" would be Best Picture contenders either. And even if no obvious Best Picture nominees emerge out of Cannes, we're bound to see some of the films that premiered there crop up in other categories. So what are we likely to see in the awards conversation this year from the Croisette? And what films can be essentially counted out after their initial reaction?
Wes Anderson has never been an Oscar favorite, minus an animation nod for "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and one for screenplay on "The Royal Tenenbaums." But "Moonrise Kingdom," which opened the festival, is his best-received film since "Rushmore" (indeed, it's got his highest score on Rotten Tomatoes, for what that's worth). It's certainly more audience friendly and less insular than some of his pictures, even if it does still take place firmly in Wes World. And crucially, it looks like it's going to be a big summer crossover hit, opening with the highest live-action screen average of all time last weekend. Unless it drops off (and the indie/arthouse theaters are relatively starved for decent fare this summer), it should at least match the $56 million haul of "Midnight in Paris," and may come closer to "Dreamgirls" or "Brokeback Mountain," which opened with similar averages, and come close to $100 million. If that's the case, like the Woody Allen film last summer, it may become a real Best Picture prospect. Like 'Midnight,' it'll benefit if some of the fall films fail to live up to expectations, especially if Focus Features' other hopefuls, "Anna Karenina" and "Hyde Park On Hudson," don't turn out to be big awards players beyond acting nominations. If nothing else, a screenplay nod for Anderson and Roman Coppola looks likely.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Some of the biggest awards buzz at Cannes revolved around a film that actually premiered four months earlier: Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which was the talk of Sundance when it bowed there back in January. The film won huge acclaim in Park City, but some thought it would be a bit too small and weird for the Academy. But as it rolled out on the Croisette, many started to change their minds. Winning over more and more fans, it picked up the top prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar to add to the Grand Jury Prize it won in Park City, and also got a special mention from the FIPRESCI lot. It's building buzz nicely and while comparisons have been drawn with "The Tree of Life," Benh Zeitlin's film has a more obvious beating heart to it, and "The Tree of Life" did, after all, get a Best Picture nomination and it's arguably even more enigmatic. It's got a long road ahead of it still, and if it disappoints at the box office when it opens later this month, that road may get even longer, but this stands a very good chance at being the little-indie-that-could this year. And in what's looking like a weakish year in the best actress category, the door is open for 8-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis to become the youngest nominee in history for the film, should Fox Searchlight campaign for it.
Traditionaly, film festivals tend to be front-loaded: the biggest pictures roll out early on, with the runts of the litter held back until late. Cannes bucked the trend somewhat this year: festival whipping-boy "The Paperboy" (which is firmly out of the Oscars race) might have bowed late, but so too did David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" and prize-winner "In The Fog." And the last film to bow in competition was one that really got U.S. critics in particular excited — "Mud," the latest from Jeff Nichols, director of "Shotgun Stories" and "Take Shelter." His last film never quite got Oscar traction, but there's every chance the new one might break him in. Not every critic was won over (our own included), but it got its fair shares of raves, and even the naysayers said that it was by far Nichols' most accessible film to date. And with a duo of movie stars in Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, it certainly has a chance of turning Academy members' heads. Right now, our gut says that the film may be a little minor to really get into the Best Picture race, but McConaughey could well be in for a shot (although we've heard serious awards buzz about his "Magic Mike" performance, believe it or not…), and Witherspoon could end up a candidate in Supporting Actress. And maybe if enough critics get behind it once it makes its way stateside, than it could aim even higher. The biggest obstacle right now? It doesn't have a distributor. A lot will depend on where it lands — if Focus, Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics pick it up, it's good news, if it lands at Magnolia or IFC, it's a much longer shot.
The Weinstein Company Slate
Having picked up the big winner of "The Artist" prior to the festival last year, which turned into his second Best Picture winner in a row, Harvey Weinstein was on bullish form. While his two films in competition both look like non-starters (see below), the producer was also had another movie in his pocket Out Of Competition, which premiered at the festival, and that he has high hopes for. He was careful to stress that "The Sapphires," despite early buzz, wasn't going to be a successor to "The Artist." But the Australian comedy, about an Aboriginal girl band in Vietnam in the 1960s, killed with audiences at the festival, with comparisons to "The Help," "Strictly Ballroom" and "The Full Monty" being raised. Worst case scenario is that the film becomes a modest hit for the company, best case scenario is that the comfort-food taste of the Academy in the last few years keeps going and the film gets traction with them. TWC haven't yet set a release date for the film, but we reckon it'll find its way to theaters before the end of the year. And breakout star Chris O'Dowd could well have a a solid chance at a nomination with it (although with Best Actor so tough, cheating him into Supporting might not be the worst idea in the world). Meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein gathered together select press to show off footage from three more year-end hopefuls and there was plenty to consider. Early word suggets that "The Master" is going to be a real behemoth, with Joaquin Phoenix in particular looking like a lock for a Best Actor nomination, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams likely to follow. "Django Unchained" is a less-sure bet — the film seems to be particularly bloody and pulpy, although we might have said much the same about Best Picture nominee "Inglourious Basterds." Still, we reckon, as we always have, that screenplay and Supporting for Leonardo DiCaprio are its best bet. Reaction to footage from David O. Russell's "The Silver Linings Playbook" suggested it's relatively light in a "Flirting With Disaster" vein, but our man on the ground thinks that Jennifer Lawrence could be a strong possibility — it's seemingly a more adult performance, very different from anything we've seen from her before, and a nomination for that would also tip the hat to the success of "The Hunger Games" as well.
Foreign Language Possibilities
Surprisingly, only one of the five nominees for Best Foreign Language category came out of Cannes last year, but this time around there could be more from the Croisette. Looking like a lock in the category is Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner "Amour." It's a tough watch, for sure, particularly for the elderly Academy crowd, but assuming Austria pick it as their submission, it should at least be a nominee. There's been some talk of other nods for the film — for leads Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, for screenplay, even for Director and Picture — but at this point, there's enough riding against it (grim subject matter, Haneke's reputation, being in a foreign language) that we're not willing to predict it coming through just yet. Perhaps a stronger possibility to break out of the subtitled ghetto is Marion Cotillard in "Rust & Bone," a performance which won serious raves after it premiered. It's got many of the hallmarks of a Best Actress contender — a disability, triumphing over adversity, nudity — and Cotillard has obviously already won once for a French-language role, and has subsequently made her name known to wider audiences, so it's definitely one to keep an eye on. The film could also figure into the Foreign Language race, should France pick it — they do occasionally make odd submissions, but it's definitely a likelier candidate than the other critical favorite, "Holy Motors," which is probably just too weird to make real inroads.
Dead On Arrival
All that being said, a lot of the most high-profile films to bow at Cannes landed with something with a thud, Oscar-wise, at least. We've already discussed "The Paperboy," which unless it has an end-credits song, is certainly not gonna happen, even if some of the performances are strong. "Lawless" was pretty much dismissed as a pure genre picture. Expect the reviews to be kinder when it hits theaters, and it doesn't have the lofty Cannes expectations attached to it, but it still doesn't feel like an Academy movie. The same is probably true of "Killing Them Softly," which has more going on upstairs, but has a scathing, anti-capitalist message which is unlikely to go down well with voters, and an anti-thriller vibe that will be a hard sell to audiences. If critics get behind one of the supporting performances — James Gandolfini, Ben Mendelsohn or Scoot McNairy seem to be the stand-out, maybe it could happen, but the film is by most reports more about tone than performances anyway. And finally, "Cosmopolis" is seemingly too weird, as even the film's fans will acknowledge, while "On the Road" is too messy (and will have IFC distributing, so won't have much of a campaign behind it).