Though there’s still a couple of days and a few high-profile premieres to come, things are starting to wind down here in Cannes. So while that means a
chance to catch up on reviews and on stuff we missed earlier in the festival, it’s also a opportunity to have a breath and take stock of what’s come over the
last week or so. And, we say with a semi-heavy heart, to start to work out which of the big Croisette premieres might stay the distance all the way through
to the upcoming awards season.
Yes, it’s only been a couple of months since the last Oscar campaign came to an end, but publicists are gearing up once again, people like Harvey Weinstein are already talking up their slates, and some of the first major hopefuls (if you exclude “The
Grand Budapest Hotel,” which was released a couple of months ago) were unleashed at Cannes. So what films look like real players, and what died on the
Let’s deal with the latter first: the festival opened with “Grace Of Monaco,” which picked up some of the most toxic reviews anyone could
remember for a Cannes opener (our own included). With Olivier Dahan, of “La Vie En Rose” fame, directing Nicole Kidman, Harvey Weinstein had clearly bought the film with the intention of making an awards run, for Kidman if nothing else. But
he’d been feuding over final cut of the film with Dahan (although final cut is only one of the movie’s problems), and yanked it from not one, but two
release dates before now. To be honest, it seems like Harvey had already given up on this (he skipped the premiere to go on a charity trip to Syria), and the film certainly backs
this up: the very, very best it could hope for is a Golden Globe nomination for Kidman, as the HFPA love nominating movie stars, but otherwise, this is
territory for the Razzies rather than the Academy.
Another Croisette return for an acclaimed French director whose film won Oscars came with “The Search,” Michel Hazanavicius’ follow-up to “The Artist,” and while it’s not as bad as “Grace Of Monaco,” it’s still pretty bad, as our review indicated. Seemingly
made by Hazanavicius with the motivation “well, if they loved my slight little silent comedy homage, they’ll LOVE my serious war melodrama!,” it certainly
hopes to court awards, but the reviews have been weak for the most part.
It might play better with audiences, but it’s hardly a crowd-pleaser, closer to Angelina Jolie’s “In The Land Of Blood And Honey,” which came up short in awards season too. And it’s notable
that, even now, no U.S. distributor has stepped up: if it was something that felt like a strong awards run, a big dog—not least the Weinsteins who had “The Artist”—would have snapped it up by now.
Don’t expect much play for Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall,” which is far from the
best from a director who’s never been Academy-friendly, or for David Cronenberg’s
“Maps To The Stars,”
which is lots of fun, but also a David Cronenberg film. And while Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy”
and the Dardennes’
“Two Days, One Night” are major Palme d’Or contenders, they’re unlikely to figure in to awards beyond being strong front-runners for the Canadian and Belgian selections for
Foreign Language (even if Marion Cotillard wins Best Actress at the festival for the latter, if she couldn’t get a nod for “ Rust & Bone,” she won’t get one for her lower-key turn here).
Out of competition,
“How To Train Your Dragon 2”
had its big premiere, and while the film is a step down from its Oscar-nominated predecessor, it’s still very solid, and beautifully crafted, and in a year
where its only real studio competition are “The Lego Movie,” “The Boxtrolls” and “Big Hero 6,” it’s
locked for a Best Animated Film nomination at least.
Also away from the main competition, we caught a chance to catch up with
Sundance favorite “Whiplash”
when it screened at the Directors’ Fortnight, and are firmly on the praise wagon with it. It’s a killer debut for director Damien Chazelle,
much less conventional and tougher than it appears at first, and is the kind of film that could really strike a chord with the artistic types that vote for
the Oscars (see “Black Swan”). As we’ll see, Sony Pictures Classics are likely to have their hands full this fall, and
the film’s probably too intimate to be a major Best Picture challenger, but a Screenplay nod isn’t unthinkable (though as an expansion of Chazelle’s short,
it’ll be in the traditionally tougher adapted race), and veteran character actor J.K. Simmons has a real shot at a supporting nod for his
barking music teacher, a career-best performance.
Much more of a question mark is
Tommy Lee Jones’
latest Western. The actor’s first film as director, “The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada,” failed to get awards traction, though it
was superb and won two awards at Cannes, and our gut is that the new film doesn’t have a better chance: it’s formally classical, but a slightly odd
mish-mash of a film as a whole, that doesn’t seem all that likely to be taken to the hearts of Academy members. That said, the film was just snapped up by upstart distributor Saban Films as their first buy, reportedly on the condition that they mount
a major awards run for the film. New distributors can struggle to get into the race (CBS Films and FilmDistrict have both
demonstrated this), and short of American critics taking it to their hearts at a fall festival in a much bigger way, we can’t see it having much a chance
of a Best Picture run. But maybe if Saban plays their cards right and hire the right consultants, Hilary Swank and photographer Rodrigo Prieto could have outside chances, depending on the strength of their competition.
As usual, Harvey Weinstein was at the festival to debut a sneak preview of his upcoming slate (it’s interesting to note that the film of his that actually
got a Best Picture nod last time, “Philomena,” wasn’t showcased, as the company actually acquired at the tail-end of Cannes 2013), and the
buzz is that Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” looks like the biggest potential, with Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle
“The Imitation Game” and, maybe, the Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard “Macbeth” also having some
chances. But Harvey seemed keenest on talking up a film that actually screened in full at the festival, Ned Benson’s
“The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby.”
Debuting at Un Certain Regard in radically different form than the three-hour, two-part “Him/Her” cut that screened at TIFF, the film’s glowing
reception has reportedly convinced Harvey to give the movie a big push come the fall. This writer had some reservations about the whole (though our TIFF correspondent raved about the longer take), but it’s not just because of that that we
feel Harvey may just be playing the PR game: it’s a more intimate and indie-styled drama than normally clicks in Best Picture. That said, the performances are outstanding, and McAvoy and especially Chastain certainly give some of the best turns we’ve seen so far this year, and
arguments could be made for Viola Davis or William Hurt in supporting, though the latter’s role is truncated in the
shorter ‘Them‘ cut. And it’s that latter thing that gives us the most pause: will the film’s unique release pattern end up confusing
voters? Or cause controversy? We’ll have to hang on a bit to find out the answer, but with Chastain also a producer on the film, she’ll certainly be
campaigning hard alongside Harvey.
Finally, there are two movies, which actually have shots at getting in the Best Picture conversation.
First up, and the darker horse, is
“Mr. Turner,” Mike Leigh’s latest, and absolutely one of his greatest. Leigh became a bit of an Academy favorite in the mid-1990s, with “Secrets & Lies”
getting five nods, including Best Picture, “Topsy Turvy” four, and “Vera Drake” three, including Best Director. Since
then, he’s missed out, but as a period piece biopic, “Mr. Turner” certainly feels more in the Oscar wheelhouse.
We will say that, while we loved Timothy Spall’s central performance, its snort-heavy manner isn’t necessarily the kind of thing that
Academy voters flock to, so he’s probably an outsider in that race. And we have noticed a minor disconnect between U.S. and U.K. critics on the film (it’s
sure to do well with BAFTA), though it’s also the kind of picture we can see going down a storm at Telluride, where it’s essentially a lock to play. We
wouldn’t bet the farm on the film right now, but it has a chance, though Sony Pictures Classics haven’t historically been very good at campaigning for more
than one movie at Best Picture, and they probably have a safer bet right now…
…with “Foxcatcher” which had people tweeting the word “Oscar” as soon as it finished screening at Cannes.
The film’s spectacularly good—so good it was a shame to see it immediately framed in those terms—and is likely to be a critical favorite all year. To our mind, it is the first movie of
2014 that we can genuinely see being among the final nominees come next January. Best Picture is certainly a strong possibility (which would make Bennett Miller three-for-three after “Capote” and “Moneyball”), along with Director, Screenplay, Cinematography and Editing. And everyone here agrees, as many had predicted, that Steve Carell’s transformative, career-changing turn as millionaire John du Pont, is likely to get a nomination. The slightly more unexpected
bit of information is that Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are just as good, and just as awards-worthy, as him.
Which creates something of a problem when it comes to campaigning, because there’s always a reluctance to create multiple nominees for one film in one
category, in case it splits the vote. As such, Ruffalo, who’s less showy and less central than the other two, will probably take the hit. Tatum has the
neat McConnaissance-esque narrative behind him, and is hugely impressive in the film, so he’s got a very good shot, but the question is how SPC end
up playing it: Tatum’s inarguably the film’s protagonist, but takes a back seat in the third act in favor of Ruffalo. Carell’s turn plays like a supporting
role, but he is the film’s subject, and bridges the whole running time.
As such, we imagine that the studio put Carell in lead and Tatum in Supporting, but they’ve got plenty of time to scope out the competition. If it looks
like Carell has a better chance of winning if he goes Supporting, that’s likely to happen. All this said, you might want to hold your horses: “Foxcatcher”
has a certain chilliness, and a certain challenging quality that likely means it’ll be more of a critical favorite than an audience one.
And one only has to look at last year’s Cannes line-up to see how those films can be seen by Oscar voters: both “Inside Llewyn Davis” and
“All Is Lost” came out of Cannes 2013 hotly tipped after rave reviews, only to miss out on major nominations by the time the fall rolled
around. It would be arguably an even bigger shame for that to happen here, and those movies didn’t have
performances as Oscar-friendly as Carell’s, but just a gentle reminder that it’s worth taking the Cannes awards buzz with a pinch of salt…