Launching a film at the Cannes Film Festival is equal measures honor and risk. For every “The Artist,” there’s a “Grace of Monaco;” others are happy to leave unscathed. Historically it’s a relative few who leave poised for Oscar consideration, but 2019 proved to be a strong year.
Among these are the two splashiest festival debuts, both showbiz sagas: Quentin Tarantino’s $90-million “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” (July 26, Sony), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie, and Dexter Fletcher’s flashy $40 million bio-musical “Rocketman” (May 31, Paramount), starring Taron Egerton as Elton John.
Studios tend to premiere their movies in Cannes as a launch pad for international release. Ten years ago, Tarantino’s “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. This time, the movie’s megastar wattage lit up every news outlet around the world. “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” should play well worldwide this summer and deliver Oscar slots for DiCaprio and Pitt, as well as Tarantino for writer and director along with a rash of technicals like costumes and production design.
“Rocketman,” Dexter Fletcher’s bravura follow-up to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” delivers an ambitious musical showcasing the vocal skills of Egerton, who will compete for Best Actor. Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin could land a supporting nod, and director Fletcher could score along with some of the craft players who delivered the movie’s extraordinary musical numbers.
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 with “A Hidden Life” (Fox Searchlight), about Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), who would not fight for the Nazis in World War II. This gorgeous and timely three-hour drama is elegantly wrought and could touch a nerve with global audiences and Academy voters.
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 opposite Robert Pattinson in Robert Eggers’ intense period two-hander “The Lighthouse” (A24). Set on an isolated island, a cranky lighthouse keeper and his strapping assistant battle the elements, and each other.
Although the festival tends to leave major documentaries out of competition, Cannes still plays a significant role in elevating titles in the documentary Oscar races. British filmmaker Asif Kapadia debuted “Amy” at Cannes, which went on to win the Oscar. Kapadia’s “Diego Maradona” (HBO Sports), about the famed soccer player, also reconstructs archival footage to amazingly dramatic results.
Winning Best Actor at Cannes was Antonio Banderas, star of Oscar-winner Pedro Almodovar’s autobiographical “Pain & Glory” (November 22), who is long overdue for a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Banderas gives a subtle, naturalistic performance unlike anything he has done as an aging Spanish arthouse director based on Almodovar; Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) is his mother. Sony Pictures Classics will mount this at the fall festivals as Spain’s likely Oscar selection this year.
Bong Joon-Ho (“Okja”) returned to Cannes with “Parasite” (Neon) and took home the Palme d’Or, the first Korean filmmaker to do so. The movie earned raves from critics and will be the likely Oscar submission from Korea, which has yet to score a foreign-language nomination.
See all the Cannes winners here.
The French selection included two prize-winning Competition entries from women filmmakers: Screenplay and Queer-Palm winner Céline Sciamma’s stunning 18th-century drama “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Neon/Hulu), a bodice-ripping lesbian romance inspired by Jane Campion’s “The Piano” (Campion remains the only woman Palme d’Or-winner), and Grand Prix-winner “Atlantics” (Netflix), an atmospheric ghost story from rookie director Mati Diop, the first black woman director in competition. France could also choose “Les Misérables” (Amazon), the riveting feature debut of documentary filmmaker Ladj Ly, who shared the jury prize and was scooped up by CAA.
Brazil may not come through for shared jury-prize-winners Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho (western “Bacurau”), whose Cannes title “Aquarius” was overlooked in the past, while Belgium will likely submit for Oscar consideration Best Director-winners Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardennes’ thriller “The Young Ahmed.”
Canada may want to consider a choice other than Xavier Dolan’s “Matthias & Maxime,” which yet again ran afoul of critics at Cannes.