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Cannes 2020 Selection Yields Slim Oscar Pickings

Cannes usually provides a huge boost to breakouts like "Parasite" as they head into award season. Not this year.

"The French Dispatch"

“The French Dispatch”

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If a film festival selection drops without screenings, does it make an impact? That is the question for Thierry Fremaux’s Cannes 2020, a branded “official selection” of 56 titles for a festival that does not exist, and without the usual theaters, red carpet galas, media, juries, and prize-winners. It’s tough to imagine the trajectory taken by Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” without Cannes, from becoming the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or to blockbuster ($255 million worldwide) to the Best Picture Oscar.

Most of the Cannes 2020 lineup won’t be reviewed by critics until they open locally in theaters or screen at fall festivals, where they will be swamped by a larger selection. Cannes branding is well and good, especially in Europe, but it won’t do much for the would-be awards-contenders that might have hoped for a lift into the Oscar race.

None of these movies will get that kind of boost from Cannes. They will have to wait for the fall festivals. And even Fremaux couldn’t say if the Oscars would be postponed or delayed.

The Cannes 2020 selection will eventually get that extra push from critics, media and audiences at Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York, in whatever hybrid form they take, including the highest-profile Oscar contenders in the lineup, Pete Docter’s jazz-inflected “Soul” (Disney, November 20), Wes Anderson’s visually sumptuous valentine to journalists, “The French Dispatch” (Searchlight, October 16), starring Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Timothée Chalamet, and Francis Lee’s British period drama “Ammonite,” starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, another lesbian romance from Neon following their success with “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” (Television episodes from Oscar-winner Steve McQueen and Studio Ghibli are not Oscar-eligible.)

Perhaps with that in mind, while Fremaux may boast about rewarding more women and emerging filmmakers this year, the fact is, he encouraged the big-name auteurs who might have showcased their wares in Cannes this year, from Paul Verhoeven to Leos Carax, to wait until Cannes 2021. (Other fall festivals are not thrilled that many top titles have been removed from the table.)

That left Fremaux with more room for risk-taking with Cannes 2020, where the movies may or may not be viewed, reviewed or judged, even as the Cannes branding is designed to boost them in the film marketplace.

Ordinarily, by now the press would have already appraised the Cannes lineup, for better or worse. (Fremaux joked that Cannes has never gotten such friendly reviews.) The films in this lineup are committed for local release before May 2021, 21 in France. Would François Ozon’s fluffy “Summer of 85”  make the Official Selection in an ordinary year? Fremaux clearly was hoping to give it a leg up at the French box office on July 15.

Normally, we would have known by now the movies that were acquired for pickup in North America, from Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Neon) to Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory,” (Sony Pictures Classics). SPC usually takes home a foreign-language contender or two from the festival. So far this year, the company has acquired Sundance/Cannes documentary “The Truffle Hunters,” which is set in Italy.

“The Truffle Hunters”

The festival always introduces a selection of the ultimate foreign-language contenders for the Best International Feature Film Oscar. Last year’s final Oscar nominations were culled from 91 submissions from around the world, including Cannes entries South Korea (Neon’s “Parasite”), France (Amazon’s “Les Misérables”), and Spain, whose “Pain and Glory” won Best Actor at Cannes for Antonio Banderas, leading to his overdue Oscar nomination. That list will likely be much slimmer.

The Cannes label could elevate titles seeking distribution during Covid limbo, when the value of a movie is hard for both buyers and sellers to gauge. Sell now at a reduced price or wait for the market to improve? The upcoming virtual Cannes Marché will host some of the Cannes 2020 titles looking for homes.

Sundance father-son drama “Falling,” for example, which is the well-reviewed directing debut of Viggo Mortensen, could gain some stature from its Cannes inclusion. Also still for sale (with Magnolia a likely home) is Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round,” starring his “The Hunt” star Mads Mikkelsen, about four teachers who experiment with alcohol as a boost for creativity.

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