By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 26, 2014 at 10:12PM
Now that it's all over, let's take an Oscar-specific look at this year's Cannes Film Festival, which could very well serve as a partial crystal ball into what will be happening in the awards race a few months down the line.
In the past few years, the best picture-nominated likes of "The Tree of Life," "Amour," "Inglorious Basterds," "Midnight in Paris," "The Artist" (which won) and, last year, "Nebraska," all debuted at the festival. Only once in the last 5 years -- 2010 -- did no Cannes alum go on to get a best picture nomination, suggesting there's a pretty good chance something that premiered on the Croisette in the past 11 days will make it to the Dolby Theater.
There were two films that took home prizes Saturday that one might expect are safe to be assumed as the festival's Oscar MVPs: Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" (which won best director) and Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner" (which won best actor for Timothy Spall). Both heading to US theaters via Sony Pictures Classics (who definitely know how to turn Cannes premieres into awards season fixtures), the films appear to have Oscar written all over them, with directors the Academy has nominated multiple times before offering films that critics hailed as among their best.
But then again, you never know. In 2007, Joel & Ethan Coen's "No Country For Old Men" went home empty-handed at the festival and then went on to win best picture. And two years later, few thought Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" was the Oscar contender it would wind up to be after it screened in Cannes. So perhaps something unexpected could happen beyond Mr. Leigh and Mr. Miller's latest (though it's pretty safe to say that it won't be "Grace of Monaco" or "The Search" -- both of which crashed and burned for the most part). Here's our category by category take:
Best Picture: Of the two frontrunners noted above, "Foxcatcher" definitely seems like the surest best (read Indiewire's review). A highly anticipated potential fixture in last year's awards race, it was pushed to 2014 at the last minute because director Miller didn't want to rush things. But considering how crowded the Oscar race was -- and how well-received it was in Cannes -- it looks like that decision was for the best. The film tells the true story of Olympic Wrestling Champion brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and their relationship with the eccentric John du Pont (Steve Carell), heir to the du Pont Chemical fortune that led to murder. It might end up all feeling a bit cold for the Academy's tastes, so it's no sure thing, but it's still hard to imagine at this point that it doesn't at least get one of the best picture slots -- though that also depends on how many there are.
If there is 9 or 10 slots, we wouldn't just bet that "Foxcatcher" makes the cut, but also "Mr. Turner." 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 (Cannes best actor winner Spall), especially after it got such strong reviews.
But beyond those two, is there really anything that stands a chance? David Cronenberg's "Maps To The Stars" and Olivier Assayas's "Clouds of Sils Maria" -- different takes on celebrity culture -- are very unlikely to be the kind of films Oscar voters take to (especially since they offer a thing or two that might hit close to home), even though both came out of Cannes with strong reviews. Ned Benson's revamped "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" premiered in Toronto to warm reviews as two films and was shown at Cannes to even warmer ones as one, and does have the backing of The Weinstein Company. But best picture seems like a tall order, and the film is more likely to factor into the acting races for its stars Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.
And then there's Tommy Lee Jones' "The Homesman," which was acquired by new company Saban Films with the promise of an awards campaign. New companies rarely fare well with awards campaigns, but "Homesman" benefits from a ton of Oscar-approved folks being involved: Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow, and Jones himself have all been nominated or won (they have 6 acting statues between them). But our critic Eric Kohn suggested it might be the strangest film in Cannes competition (and not necessarily in a good way), which doesn't bode well.
Most Likely To Succeed: Foxcatcher
Also Quite Possible: Mr. Turner
Dark Horses: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby; The Homesman; Clouds of Sils Maria; Maps To The Stars