As my French fog lifts in the wake of my return from the Cannes Film Festival it’s a good time to look at how it might have impacted the 2014 Oscar race as the calendar turns to June and we have the first big benchmark out of the way. That’s not to say that Cannes is a huge indicator of where this thing will be come Fall when it really heats up, but this is one of the better years I think in terms of Cannes and potential for its ultimate impact on the awards season. Some years are better than others. You might recall in 2011 three films in the official Cannes selection, The Tree Of Life, Midnight In Paris and The Artist all went on to Best Picture nominations with the latter even winning. It’s never too early to speculate.
Sony Pictures Classics (which had Midnight In Paris) certainly seems to think 2014 is going to similarly big so they put out a press release earlier this week touting their triumph on the Cote d’Azur . They held the hot hand this year with a flurry of titles they brought and bought to Croisette. They come out of Cannes very strong with contenders of various stripes across several categories including Best Picture for Foxcatcher and Mr. Turner (with an outside shot for Directors Fortnight entry Whiplash which actually debuted at Sundance and won the major prizes). SPC should have Cannes Best Actor winner Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner in the thick of the lead actor conversation (and Marion Bailey in Supporting Actress) along with Foxcatcher’s Steve Carell who will be campaigned in lead along with co-star Channing Tatum (a longer shot to land a nomination since it’s unlikely both will make the cut). That film’s Mark Ruffalo has a shot in supporting too. But he’ll have to compete against J.K. Simmons who is simply unforgettable, and a sure thing, as the commanding music teacher in Whiplash. It’s the kind of role that brought John Houseman a 1973 Supporting Actor Oscar for The Paper Chase. If there’s any justice there should be some lead actor consideration as well for his co-star Miles Teller who truly breaks out in this role which reminded me of Paul Newman’s ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson in The Hustler. SPC also could compete again in Best Foreign Language Film after being shut out last year. Argentina’s Wild Tales and Russia’s heavily praised Leviathan could be strong possibilities if their home countries choose to enter them, a big question mark for the Russian film since it is a brutally honest look at the state of that country right now and local politics have increasingly become a major factor in these decisions. Foreign Language committee head Mark Johnson has said he plans to do something about the politics that have been creeping into the country submission process but so far nothing has been announced. China’s Coming Home from Zhang Yimou could place too. The company also comes out of Cannes with the documentaries, Red Army and Wim Wenders’ The Salt Of The Earth. A big Cannes for SPC could equal a big day when Oscar nominations come around.
Speaking of the Foreign Language Film race Cannes is really where it gets its mojo. Last year’s competition entry The Great Beauty went on to win as did the previous year’s Palme d’Or winner, Amour. This year’s Palme d’Or winner, Winter Sleep will certainly be Turkey’s entry and, despite its three hour-plus length, might have the best shot yet of gaining a foothold in the Oscar Foreign Language contest for its director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. France and Japan struck out respectively with the over-cooked Saint Laurent (also from SPC) and the abominable Still The Water, but Italy’s Grand Prize winner, The Wonders will likely be that country’s candidate. Others coming out of Cannes and heading for the Oscar competition are the African Timbuktu, Belgium’s Two Days, One Night (which could also figure in the Best Actress lineup for Marion Cotillard since IFC will release stateside) and Canada’s Jury Prize winner Mommy. There are numerous other possibilities from the other sections of Cannes, most notably a good bet as the French entry might be the smart romantic comedy Les Combattants which swept all three prizes in the Directors Fortnight competition plus one other award in Cannes. One possible roadblock in its way though is if France chooses instead to enter last year’s Palme d’Or winner, the wildly acclaimed Blue Is The Warmest Color which opened a week too late in France last Fall to qualify for Oscars. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see that happen. The French committee may think Les Combattants is too lightweight. It really isn’t , but comedy often gets the shaft. It’s also a sure bet for an American remake. Out of Un Certain Regard there are numerous possibilities led by the two big winners: White God, Hungary’s remarkable and riveting dog tale along with Sweden’s terrific thought-provoking and darkly hilarious Force Majeure (aka Turist) which just got a Magnolia pickup this week. The Certain Regard opener , Party Girl won the Camera d’Or and is also deserving of attention in the run-up to Oscar selections. There are many others from many countries that were on display (including a mixed bag of four from Israel) that make this year’s Cannes indispensable to the Oscar race.
Elsewhere The Weinstein Company , which usually dominates these conversations after Cannes, showed off its reel but Oscar talk was more muted than usual. I thought the Christmas season film Paddington looked the most promising based on the clips but it is hard to tell until we see the films. Of their Cannes entries The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby , re-cut into one film from the two separate movies first shown in Toronto, has real Oscar potential for its stars Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. William Hurt was very strong in support for that one too. Saban Films will undoubtedly launch a campaign for their first big acquisition, The Homesman from star/director/co-writer Tommy Lee Jones, but its Hilary Swank in a tough-as-nails turn who might have the most Oscar potential. Swank also had a film in the Cannes Market , You’re Not You which she produced and stars as an ALS victim. Buyers to whom I spoke raved about her performance and it could be factor when it opens in September thru eOne. Another actress candidate, actually supporting, is Julianne Moore as an aging Hollywood star in David Cronenberg’s trippy Maps To The Stars. She was the (deserving) surprise winner of the Cannes Best Actress prize and the actors branch will almost certainly relate to the role, if not the movie which goes off the rails in last act.
Two British films in the Directors Fortnight won no prizes in Cannes but might have appeal to the Academy, particularly older voters. 81 year old John Boorman’s lilting and somewhat autobiograpical Queen And Country is his follow-up to 1987′s Hope And Glory for which he personally received three nominations for Picture, Director and Screenplay and this one is every bit as sweetly nostalgic. And then there’s the charming 80′s -set Pride about a small gay group who help out some miners in a small English town. It’s in the spirit of films like The Full Monty which have always had traction with the Academy.
Finally DreamWorks Animation made a huge splash with the World Premiere of How To Train Your Dragon 2 and that film , which opens June 13, obviously has strong Oscar potential in the Best Animated Feature race, especially with Pixar out of the picture this year.
A good year for the Cannes-Oscar connection? It’s looking that way. Time will tell.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.