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Cannes: The 5 Films With The Most Oscar Potential (And Why)

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 14, 2014 at 7:59AM

Cannes is about to kick off its 2014 festival, but will it also kick off the 2014 awards season?
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Sometimes awards season starts in September, but as this article points out, sometimes it starts in Cannes. Over the next 11 days, we'll get our first looks at the films hoping to become the next "The Artist" or "Inglorious Basterds" (and not the next "Lawless" or "This Must Be The Place") as they premiere on the Croisette. And there's definitely plenty with considerable potential. 

Previous Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, Hilary Swank, Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, and director Michel Hazanivicius are all premiering films at the fest alongside past nominees like Mike Leigh, Bennett Miller, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Jessica Chastain, Hailee Steinfeld, Berenice Bejo and Ryan Gosling (though the latter is sitting in the director's chair this time).

Not all of them are in films that are going into the fest with those kinds of ambitions (as good as Julianne Moore looks in the trailer for "Maps To The Stars," calling it a film that looks like an Oscar contender is a stretch -- though we sure hope it ends up becoming one anyway), but that's what's great about Cannes. It's not some kind of Oscar speculation-fueled fest where that's what everybody is taking about all the time. It develops a bit more naturally and it's often pretty surprising (no one would have thought "The Artist" would end up a Best Picture contender before the fest started). But there's always gonna be favorites, so with the unpredictability of the next 11 days in kept in mind, here are five films most likely to succeed in this regard:

Foxcatcher
Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
U.S. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cannes Premiere Date: May 19th

Why It Might Be An Oscar Contender: "Foxcatcher" was a highly anticipated potential fixture in last year's awards race. But it was pushed to 2014 at the last minute because director Miller ("Capote," "Moneyball") didn't want to rush things. But considering how crowded the Oscar race was, maybe it was for the best. And it gives us something to very much look forward to in 2014 -- potentially with Cannes kicking things off. Starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Sienna Miller and Vanessa Redgrave, the film tells the true story of Olympic Wrestling Champion brothers Mark (Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Ruffalo) and their relationship with the eccentric John du Pont (Carell), heir to the du Pont Chemical fortune that led to murder. Written by E. Max Frye and "Capote" scribe Dan Futterman, if it were to work out a little less than a year from now, it would be Bennett Miller's third straight film to receive a Best Picture nomination.

Why It Might Not Be: Certainly heading into Cannes with the Oscar question most dominantly placed on it, "Foxcatcher" thus has the most to lose in that regard. If reviews are less than stellar, it could sink pretty quickly. Though it's hard to imagine Sony Classics would put it under this kind of pressure it didn't have the goods...

TWC Tim Roth and Nicole Kidman in "Grace of Monaco."

Grace of Monaco
Director:
Olivier Dahan
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Milo Ventimiglia, Parker Posey, Derek Jacobi, Frank Langella
U.S. Distributor: The Weinstein Company (it seems, at least)
Cannes Premiere Date: May 14th

Why It Could Be An Oscar Contender: Another film pushed back from last year, "Grace of Monaco" has a lot going for it on paper: It's a biopic from a director that's already won his leading lady an Oscar (Marion Cotillard for "La Vie En Rose") starring an Oscar winner (Nicole Kidman) who is playing an Oscar winner (Grace Kelly). And the last three films to open Cannes -- "Midnight in Paris," "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Great Gatsby" -- all went on to receive Oscar nominations.

Why It Might Not Be: While "Foxcatcher" seemed to genuinely get pushed back because its director needed more time, the external narrative behind "Grace" is not so promising. There was a massive feud between Harvey Weinstein and director Dahan going on behind the scenes, with Weinstein wanting a tighter cut and Dahan refusing. This reportedly is what pushed the film off the Weinsteins' slate earlier this year, until Cannes' decision to open the festival with it changed their tune. But just a few weeks ago, Harvey & Co. were once again considering not even distributing the film, which isn't exactly a vote of confidence from such an Oscar-hungry gang. We'll have a good idea by the end of Wednesday how good the film behind all the drama actually is, and whether the Oscar hopefuls of "Grace" are more than just good-on-paper.

The Homesman
Director:
Tommy Lee Jones
Cast: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Grace Gummer, Meryl Streep, Miranda Otto, James Spader, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson
U.S. Distributor: Still looking (should be a major buy at the fest)
Cannes Premiere Date: May 18th

Why It Could Be An Oscar Contender: Tommy Lee Jones brings one of the few wholly American films to Cannes' competition with "The Homesman," starring a pretty impressive group of Oscar winners and/or nominees in Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow, and Jones himself.  A tale of a claim jumper and pioneer woman who travel from Nebraska to Iowa with three mentally ill women, the film clearly has the potential to come out of Cannes with Oscar stamped all over it, or not...

Why It Might Not Be: Tommy Lee Jones's directorial debut "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" made its way to competition in Cannes (and Jones ended up winning the Best Actor award at the festival for it), but it made absolutely no dent in the awards race. And Westerns are often tough sells. For every handful that break into Oscar's good graces, there's a dirty dozen that fall by the wayside.

Mr. Turner
Director:
Mike Leigh
Cast: Timothy Spall, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Jamie Thomas King
U.S. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cannes Premiere Date: May 15th

Why It Could Be An Oscar Contender: In addition to being a consistent fixture at Cannes, Mike Leigh has done pretty well for himself at the Oscars, too -- especially considering how his work generally doesn't bait such attention. He's received screenplay nominations for four of his last five films ("Topsy-Turvy," "Vera Drake," "Happy-Go-Lucky" and "Another Year") and saw his Palme d'Or winning "Secrets & Lies" manage the rare feat of both winning Cannes' top prize and getting an Oscar Best Picture nomination. So there's no reason to count him out for this biopic about the life of controversial 19th century British painter and printmaker J.M. Turner (frequent Leigh collaborator Timothy Spall).

Why It Might Not Be: We did say four of the last five. 2002's "All or Nothing" was nowhere on Oscar's radar, so Leigh isn't entirely fail safe.


The Search
Director:
Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Berenice Bejo, Annette Bening, Nino Kobakhidze
U.S. Distributor: Also still looking (but can't imagine it won't get picked up by festival's end)
Cannes Premiere Date: May 21st

Why It Could Be An Oscar Contender: Michel Hazanavicius is coming off "The Artist," and we all know how that played out with Oscar. His follow-up -- said to be much darker and heavier -- takes us through war-town Chechnya where a woman working for a non-governmental organization forms a bond with a young boy. It also reunites him with Oscar-nominated "Artist" actress (and his wife) Berenice Bejo, who stars in the film alongside longtime Oscar bridesmaid Annette Bening, who oddly enough just lost the Best Actress prize twice to someone she'll be competing against at Cannes: "Homesman" star Hilary Swank.

Why It Might Not Be: It all sounds up Oscar's alley, but Hazanavicius's victorious first time out with Oscar might just have been beginner's luck.

This article is related to: Academy Awards, Cannes Film Festival, Foxcatcher, The Homesman, Grace of Monaco, Mr. Turner , The Search