By Eric Kohn | Indiewire May 19, 2011 at 1:1AM
By now, everyone must be wondering just what Robert De Niro makes of all this.
It's always tricky to predict the Cannes frontrunners in the final stretch, even when one of the contenders didn't turn himself into an "unwelcome person" with a press conference. And there are still three competition titles that need to play -- "Drive," "This Must Be the Place" and "Les Source Des Femmes."
Nonetheless, a clear set of contenders for the Palme d'Or have begun to emerge. As a reminder, the jury includes Jude Law and Uma Thurman as well as directors Olivier Assayas, Johnnie To and Mahamat Saleh Haroun; Martina Gusmán, Argentine actress and producer, Chinese producer Nansun Shi and
Linn Ullmann, Norwegian critic and writer.
In no specific order:
Why It Might Win: Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's gently amusing tale of a shoe shiner who tries to help an underage illegal immigrant find his way home received one of the warmest reactions at Cannes this year. It's a charming crowdpleaser that nevertheless contains a serious life-affirming message and political content as well, never at the expense of its overall appeal. Despite his reputation, Kaurismaki has never won the Palme d'Or, which could also help his chances.
How It Could Lose: Kaurismaki has a distinctive style and this movie breaks no new ground. If enough of the jury realizes that, they may want to use the award to advocate for something that faces more of a challenge getting recognized.
Why It Might Win: Lars Von Trier's visually magnificent apocalyptic tale left most audiences stunned. Moving beyond the shock tactics of "Antichrist," Von Trier has made a fascinating allegory for grief, one of his best in years. (Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter called it a combination of "Armageddon" and "The Celebration," which illustrates its cross-over appeal.) The movie's memorable imagery and experimental storytelling will probably impress the jury, whether or not they're fans of Von Trier's other work.
How It Could Lose: Even if Cannes had not censured the director, Von Trier already won the Palme d'Or for "Dancer in the Dark," so jurors could have decided that once is enough, especially for this notorious egotist.
Why It Might Win: Michel Hazanavicius's throwback to the days of silent film--and the impact of sound technology on stars of the time--impressed audiences with its delicate story and impressive execution. Hazanavicius has made his first seriously ambitious work, and the ensemble cast (led by Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo) gamely rise to the challenge of imitating silent traditions. It's nostalgia for classic Hollywood is very Cannes.
How It Could Lose: Despite its nifty gimmickry, "The Artist" is a very slight work that indulges in nostalgia but doesn't have much in the way of bigger themes. Entertainment value alone usually doesn't lead to a Palme. That lack of seriousness may lead the jury to scratch it off the list.
The Kid With the Bike
Why It Might Win: By most accounts, Cannes regulars Dardenne brothers have delivered the sweet tale of a young boy coming to grips with his absent father while taking their trademark style in new directions. Yes, there's pop music and a star of sorts (Cécile de France, recently seen in Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter") rather than the amateur actors and heavy naturalism associated with the siblings' other work. By and large, however, audiences have expressed their appreciation for the directors' unexpected sweet side.
How It Could Lose The Dardennes have won the Palme d'Or twice, for "Rosetta" in 1999 and "L'Enfant" in 2002. That's four Palmes between the two of them, securing the kind of legacy that could lead the jury to conclude they've won enough accolades. It's somebody else's turn.
The Tree of Life
Why It Might Win: Terrence Malick's painstakingly rendered epic is one of his most visually sensational accomplishments, with many critics concluding that it represents the apex of his patient thirty-year career. The movie has stars, but it's defiantly non-commercial, another plus when considering the sort of message the Palme brings about the importance of artistic freedom.
How It Could Lose Ever since boos were heard at the first press screening, "Tree of Life" has attracted nearly as much disdain as it has praise. There are many who find Malick's entire approach too heavy-handed and simplistic. The director's reclusive nature means he probably won't show up at the ceremony, which would be a superficial reason not to give him the award, but certainly something that might come up during deliberations.
Other potential winners: Tilda Swinton is a likely contender an acting prize in "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Israeli comic Shlomo Bar Aba may also land an acting prize for his hilarious and touching turn as a frustrated scholar in "Footnote." Beloved octogenarian French director Alain Cavalier may get a special prize for his personal competition entry "Pater," just as Alain Resnais won a special jury prize for lifetime achievement in 2009. And Danish provocateur Nicholas Winding Refn's allegedly action-packed "Drive," starring Ryan Gosling, may wow audiences when it screens tonight.