As usual, the Cannes Film Festival’s official selection is a mix of brainy competition auteurs, star power, and the lucky handful of players who might — if everything plays out as hoped — return to North America as Oscar contenders. You know that while “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is conspicuously missing in action from Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux’s official selection announcement, he wants nothing more (especially with a lineup short on red-carpet players) than to have Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and the festival’s favorite filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, walk upstairs to the Grand Palais.
But for studio executives, whose priority is covering their bottom-line bets, the risks of going to Cannes often outweigh the gains. Last year, A24 indulged Cannes discovery David Robert Mitchell’s desire to be included in the prestigious Cannes Competition and wound up with “Under the Silver Lake” not only branded with a mediocre 57 Metascore but a filmmaker who decided that his Cannes cred obviated going back into the editing room. (The film will finally be released tomorrow, April 19.)
Will Sony motion picture chairman Tom Rothman send an unfinished $95-million movie to Cannes with the risk that high expectations for Tarantino — working for the first time at a studio, away from his old patron Harvey Weinstein — will come crashing down? The filmmaker is eager to return to the Competition after a decade away; “Inglourious Basterds” was a smash at Cannes in 2009 and delivered $321 million worldwide along with eight Oscar nominations and one win, for Christoph Waltz, but it may not be Tarantino’s decision to make.
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In this case, Hollywood insiders say that both DiCaprio and Tarantino have been planning to attend the festival (not to mention the rest of the sprawling and starry cast, multiple Oscar veterans among them). It has slotted a night to celebrate the movie along with the 25th anniversary of “Pulp Fiction,” which won the Palme d’Or in 1994 and pushed Tarantino into the ranks of a world-class filmmaker. The festival is likely giving Tarantino some breathing room so that the perfectionist auteur can finish his movie. For “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the net gains of showing in Cannes should outweigh any concerns. Its megastar wattage will splash across every news outlet around the world. If anything, Sony might want to move up their planned July 26 release date to maximize the Cannes PR blast.
Studios tend to premiere their movies in Cannes as a launch pad for international release. That’s the case for “Rocketman” (May 31, Paramount), Dexter Fletcher’s follow-up to $900-million juggernaut “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It stars Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, and Jamie Bell — but more importantly, the film’s subject, global pop star Elton John, will hit the carpet, too.
That timing is why the rumor that Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” (Sony) was en route to the Riviera never made any sense. No way a studio sends a Christmas movie to Cannes. It would be a waste of money. (In any case, Gerwig hasn’t finished the film.) In March, she and partner Noah Baumbach gave birth to their first child. The final movie isn’t going to be ready to show the studio until the summer, after which it will likely hit the fall film festivals in advance of December 25.
Of the three U.S. directors in the Cannes competition, Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” (Focus Features) opens the festival on May 14 (in competition) and opens a month later. Cannes provides the perfect send-off for a zombie comedy boasting a great international cast led by Bill Murray, who starred in Jarmusch’s 2005 Cannes entry “Broken Flowers,” and recent Oscar nominee Adam Driver, who attended Cannes with Jarmusch’s “Paterson” in 2016. They play two small-town cops dealing with an onslaught of the undead, while Cannes regular Tilda Swinton (“Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive”), who plays a samurai-sword slashing mortician, will add glamour to the opening night red carpet. Will she chase a second Oscar win? That’s where an unlikely genre entry for awards could get a cred boost from Cannes.
Ira Sachs, a New York indie director who has never played Cannes, gets a boost into the Competition with “Frankie,” which stars France’s leading actress and recent Oscar nominee Isabelle Huppert. Costars Marisa Tomei and Brendan Gleeson also offer some Oscar cred as North American distributors circle the title, a generational family saga shot in Portugal.
And then there’s the return of Terrence Malick, whose “Tree of Life” won the Palme d’Or in 2011 and went on to score three Oscar nominations. After delivering a series of “Tree of Life” spin-offs, Malick takes a new route this time with “A Hidden Life,” about Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), who would not fight for the Nazis in World War II. Always-excellent Belgian star Matthias Schoenaerts costars.
Never underestimate Cannes regular Willem Dafoe, who has four Oscar nominations including two recent back-to-back nods, for “Florida Project,” which broke out at Cannes 2017, and Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate,” which was financed at Cannes. Dafoe stars in a role loosely based on his wild and crazy director, Abel Ferrara, in “Tommaso,” a semi-autobiographical film essay playing as a special screening, which is also looking for a distributor.
Although the festival has a persistent tendency to leave major documentaries out of the Competition, Cannes also plays a significant role in elevating titles in the documentary and foreign-language Oscar races. British filmmaker Asif Kapadia debuted “Amy” at Cannes, which went on to win the Oscar. Kapadia’s “Maradona,” about the famed soccer player (who will attend the festival) will play out of competition as it seeks world-class distribution.
Of course Oscar-winner Pedro Almodovar’s autobiographical movie “Pain & Glory” (November 22), starring his go-to stars Antonio Banderas (long overdue for an Oscar nomination) as an aging Spanish arthouse director based on Almodovar and Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) as his mother, is bound to be an event. Sony Pictures Classics will mount this at the fall festivals as Spain’s likely Oscar selection this year.
Korean Bong Joon-Ho (“Okja”) is returning with “Parasite” (Neon), while Chinese Diao Yi’nan’s detective story “The Wild Goose Lake” joins in Competition as well. After many of the filmmaker’s protests to the contrary, “Mattias & Maxime” returns prodigal son Xavier Dolan to the Cannes faithful, and if it plays well, could put him in contention as a Canadian Oscar entry.
The French selection includes one of four Competition entries from women filmmakers, Céline Sciamma’s promising 18th-century drama “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” Following the Asghar Farhadi “Everybody Knows” feat of making a film in a completely foreign language, Werner Herzog’s Japanese “Family Romance, LLC” is playing outside competition as a special selection. Does it belong to Japan or Germany?
The Cannes Film Festival runs May 14-25.