Coming off a banner year thanks to "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Django Unchained" netting over $100 million each domestically and three Oscars (two for "Django" and one for "Silver"), The Weinstein Company sailed into Cannes this year eager to kick off a follow-up via their annual slate preview. While last year saw their auteur-driven heavy hitters "Django," "Silver" and "The Master" debut pre-trailer footage that set the industry abuzz, this year's big reveal landed with more of a "meh." Or, as a journalist seated next to me to said, "Well, that was underwhelming."
Not to say that their slate is unimpressive this year. Among their 2013 Oscar hopefuls are the Meryl Streep-Julia Roberts headlined family drama "August: Osage Country," Lee Daniel’s ridiculously star-studded "The Butler," Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize-winning sensation "Fruitvale Station" (aka "Fruitvale"), David Lowery's somber crime love story "Ain’t Them Bodies Saints" (they are handling foreign), and the Nicole Kidman-starring biopic "Grace of Monaco."
Problem is, unlike with their 2012 slate, footage for the majority of their biggest new titles ("August," "Fruitvale" "The Grandmasters" and "The Butler") has already been made public via a slew of lengthy trailers readily available on YouTube. Couple that with the fact that two of their films, "Fruitvale" and "Ain't Them Bodies," have already premiered at Sundance (both also are playing here at Cannes), and you have an event that felt a tad underwhelming -- even with the buzz Harvey Weinstein is so ace at conjuring.
No doubt Weinstein's intended highlight of the evening was the five-minute "Grace of Monaco" montage, made evident by the in-person appearance of Kidman, here on Cannes jury duty. Looking poised as ever, Kidman introduced the footage per Weinstein's request to the packed house, citing that it was nice to be working with Weinstein again, who campaigned hard with Kidman to net her the Best Actress Oscar in 2002 for "The Hours."
So what of the footage? Well, it was tough to gauge the tone director Olivier Dahan is going for with his Grace Kelly biopic; no scenes were given much room to breathe in the rapidly cut montage. Kidman certainly looks the part as the Hollywood star turned princess, but no one should expect a transformation akin to what Marion Cotillard (who popped up in a brief scene from TWC's period drama "The Immigrant" opposite Joaquin Phoenix) did as Edith Piaf in Dahan’s other biopic, "La Vie en Rose." Seen only from the back of her coiffed head for the opening moments of the footage, Kidman's big reveal as Grace wasn’t so much a reveal as a confirmation that Kidman knows how to work a gown and look regal.
Penned by Arah Amel, the biopic focuses on the dark times of Kelly's marriage to Monaco’s Prince Rainier III (played by Tim Roth, who appears to be having a scene-chewing ball) during a dispute between the Prince and France's Charles De Gaulle and amid a looming French military invasion of the principality.
All in all, Dahan’s film looks be an eye-catching affair in the vein of the company's "My Week With Marilyn," just with much higher stakes and more jewels.
No doubt the highlight of the night came after the "Monaco" footage had wrapped and when the press finally got an extended glimpse at Kristin Scott-Thomas' turn as one bad mama in a scene from Nicolas Winding Refn's Palme d'Or contender "Only God Forgives." In the thriller, an icy blond Thomas plays Crystal, the menacing matriarch of a drug empire and mother to Julian (Ryan Gosling), a manager of an illegal Thai boxing ring, who she orders to hunt down his
brother (and her son's) killer.
As evidenced by the scene, Crystal is the type of mother you don't want to cross. Upon meeting Julian's new squeeze, who introduces herself as an "entertainer," Crystal greets her by scoffing, "How many cocks can you entertain in that cum dumpster of yours?" Later, she laments how her dead son's "cock" (her word choice, not mine) was bigger than Julian's. The response to the scene was pretty terrific, proving that Refn can elicit not just shocks, but laughs. And all at the same time.
Another film that scored well was the J.D. Salinger documentary, "Salinger," directed by Shane Salerno, who co-wrote and executive produced Oliver Stone's "Savages." The exclusive to Cannes trailer featured many-a talking head (Edward Norton makes an appearance) and positions the film, rather tantalizingly, as a mystery in the vein of last year's acclaimed documentary "The Imposter" that will unravel why the author stopped publishing after penning "The Catcher in the Rye."
Weinstein capped off the evening with a first look at the trailer for one of his big Oscar hopefuls, the Nelson Mandela biopic, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," based on Mandela's autobiography of the same name and directed by Justin Chadwick ("The First Grader"). From the looks of it, British rising star Idris Elba ("Pacific Rim") acquits himself nicely with the tough to nail down South African accent as Mandela and seems to give his all to the role. Bond's new Moneypenny, Naoime Harris, co-stars in the film as his ex-wife and fellow political activist Winnie Mandela.