After all the red-carpet lineups, anxious security delays, gala black-tie dinners, multilingual press conferences, beachside afterparties, and yacht interviews, who came out ahead at Cannes? Several international filmmakers emerged with higher profiles; hot-ticket English-language title “The Florida Project” finally sold (after days of price-lowering anxiety) to American indie du jour A24 — but when it came to Oscars, Cannes delivered only a handful of contenders.
The lion’s share of this year’s downbeat program, rife with suicidal tendencies and abused children, will never be heard from again stateside. The most entertaining material came from two TV sequels from favorite Cannes auteurs: David Lynch’s return to “Twin Peaks” and Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” starring Elisabeth Moss and the ubiquitous Nicole Kidman, who took home a well-deserved special Cannes jury prize on Sunday.
And Mexico’s Three Amigos, with no feature films in the selection, came together for the 70th anniversary. Guillermo del Toro gave a memorable speech, Alfonso Cuaron gave an 80-minute master class, and Alejandro González Iñárritu wowed the lucky few who were able to nab slots at his off-site installation “Carne y Arena,” a huge advance of the craft of VR.
If Netflix Came For Oscar Buzz, They’re Disappointed
While the mighty disruptor dominated the media coverage and threw a studio-scale villa party in the hills above Cannes, the real question is what Hollywood’s biggest content provider wanted to get out of the festival. Public relations were a nightmare, as Netflix generated more negative than positive press and audiences booed the logo on their two competition films, Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” and Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja” — both were well-received but won no prizes. Cannes director Thierry Fremaux negotiated directly with producers Scott Rudin and Plan B respectively, choosing to book two veteran festival auteurs, not two Netflix movies. But after French exhibitors protested, he’ll have to insist on theater bookings for his selections next year.
Many players at Cannes are unhappy that Netflix is messing around in the movie business, but the streaming giant has installed itself between the two worlds. Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos is running for the Academy board of governors and has no intention of not functioning inside the Hollywood movie business. Both “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories” look great on the big screen and deliver strong online content with topline movie stars. But if Netflix was looking for a Cannes boost for potential Oscar contention, neither film is likely to register on that score.
If “The Meyerowitz Stories” had a conventional theatrical release building up to a full-on Oscar campaign, they might have been able to get Dustin Hoffman’s cranky artist and father a shot as supporting actor. But a day-and-date release in limited situations for a week is hardly going to do the trick. And political satire “Okja” is likely better off in the online realm; it could prove a feathered fish in theatrical release, neither family fare nor arthouse. Netflix doesn’t have to worry about these genre limitations.
The Kidman Effect
Nicole Kidman, a walking reminder that betting on risk-taking auteurs is a canny career strategy, was acknowledged as the queen of the Croisette even before the festival began with “The Beguiled,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” John Cameron Mitchell’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” and “China Girl: Top of the Lake.” However, only one of those holds Oscar hope.
“The Beguiled” could land her a best-actress nomination, but “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is an eccentric satire. And the Academy won’t embrace her Goth turn as a punk talent scout in the deliciously light-hearted sci-fi romp “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” adapted from a Neil Gaiman story. It may play better on the stateside midnight circuit than in Cannes, where the movie appeared miscast. (UK critics derided its scattershot mix of working class and posh British accents in ’70s Croyden.) Elle Fanning also enjoyed a festival boost in two of the Kidman films, growing into sexier roles as an alien learning how to eat and lust and sing as well as the teenager who beds Farrell’s Yankee in “The Beguiled,” with disastrous results.
Most Likely to Succeed at the Oscars
“The Florida Project”
Following their Oscar win with “Moonlight,” A24 brought four movies to Cannes. But their hot pickup is more likely to push them into awards season contention than satiric “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” sci-fi romp “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” or gritty crime caper “Good Time”— although there’s talk of Robert Pattinson as an acting breakthrough. It could push “The Florida Project,” writer-director Sean Baker’s follow-up to “Tangerine,” using the model of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which debuted in Sundance and went on to ride strong Cannes buzz and the fall festival circuit to four nominations, including Best Picture, Writer, Director, and Actress Quvenzhane Wallis. She’s a precursor to “Florida Project”‘s 6-year-old diminutive breakout Brooklynn Prince.
Baker’s slice of life along Orlando’s budget motels relies on twice-nominated Willem Dafoe (“Platoon,” “Shadow of the Vampire”), who is long overdue for award recognition. His humane and paternal motel owner is the glue that holds together this poverty-row drama. He’s the closest thing to a father figure and civilizing force these marginal characters will ever know.