Pete Hammond

Robert Redford may not be eligible for any awards at Cannes this year where his new film, All Is Lost premiered to strong response out of competition on Wednesday night, but if the reaction on the Croisette was any indication, he could be headed for the Oscars. The film, in which Redford is the only actor playing a man stranded at sea when his sailboat springs a huge leak, is a tour de force for the star and it won a 9-minute standing ovation at its debut tonight. Even the return of the rain that has plagued this festival could not put a damper on the mood of the filmmakers, Universal International (releasing overseas) and Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions (releasing domestically on October 18th). It is clearly an awards season play, not only for Redford in a role unlike any he has played but also Oscar nominated writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) who proves his first film was no fluke and shows a remarkable ability to pull off this one-man show with real filmmaking skill.Most reviews that came in after the afternoon press screening were very upbeat, making it even more of a head-scratcher as to why this film wasn’t put in competition. Redford certainly would have given the top notch list of Best Actor contenders at this year’s Cannes a real run for their money. At 76 years old he took on a hard, very grueling physical role with virtually no dialogue and pulled it off big time.

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The role is in the vein of other films which featured actors virtually alone on screen for the entire film including Spencer Tracy in 1958′s The Old Man And The Sea, Tom Hanks, who starred opposite a volleyball in 2000′s Castaway and most recently James Franco in 2010′s 127 Hours. Proving it pays to hog screen time, all three of those actors received Best Actor Oscar nods and I fully expect Redford to follow suit. Even though he is an Oscar-winning director (1980′s Ordinary People) and winner of an Honorary Oscar for his work at his Sundance Film Festival, Redford has surprisingly been nominated only once  for his acting in The Sting (1973). It may be early in the game  but this performance looks to change all that.

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At the film’s intimate after-party on the Johnnie Walker Voyage Yacht in Cannes’ Old Port, Redford told me he hadn’t been to the festival since 1989′s The Milagro Beanfield War which he directed. Before that he was last here as an actor in 1972 for Jeremiah Johnson. Except for a very rough  version with no special effects  or audio, he hadn’t really seen All Is Lost himself until the Cannes screening in front of 2400 people, and it left him a little shell-shocked remembering the tough shoot as he watched it unfold on the giant screen. I asked him how the huge ovation felt when it was over. “I don’t know what to think. Is that usual? I mean Cannes is kind of a circus,”  he said trying to put it all into perspective. From my vantage point sitting just one row away in the orchestra it seemed like the real deal, and I have been to a few of these things where they force the applause to keep it going. No need to do that here.

This was a  different kind of experience for Redford since basically he was just a hired actor. In recent years he has either just directed or both as with the recent The Company You Keep. “I was just an actor in this and I could barely do that, ” he laughed. “J.C. was in charge. I never could have directed this movie.”

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Indeed the challenges of pulling this off were many for Chandor who told me he shot most of it in the Titanic tank in Rosarita on just a 24-day shoot, remarkably short for such an ambitious film. What Redford pulls off, with few words and using his eyes and physical movement to tell the story, is really the essence of great screen acting.  I told him it was also a pleasure after a week to be able to walk into that theater and not see two sets of French and English subtitles over an Italian or German film. In All Is Lost there were virtually no titles since since it was really wordless. “Yes, it was using the language of cinema,” Redford agreed.

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Among the many producers on the film is Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto (Mr. Spock) and who also was a producer and star of Chandor’s first film, Margin Call. Quinto said he was having quite a day. His movie is number one, he was nominated for a Broadcast Critics Award for American Horror Story, he’s happy about going to Broadway in the Fall in The Glass Menagerie as Tom opposite Cherry Jones, and now All Is Lost won over the Cannes crowd. It almost makes up for Tuesday night when he got kicked off the red carpet for not having the right kind of bow tie and tux when he tried to attend the premiere of Behind The Candelabra. It was a first time in Cannes for Quinto and Chandor and their team. Tonight he got the outfit right, the end to a perfect day on the Riviera.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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