The Cannes Film Festival is over for me, and when I come to a place like this, I find myself asking, where are the next stars coming from? Between Fruitvale Station’s Michael B. Jordan and writer-director Ryan Coogler, and Inside Llewyn Davis’ Oscar Isaac, I feel like I got three answers to that question over the course of a weekend.
I come to Cannes primarily to chase deal stories, as I do in Toronto and Sundance. At those other two, the threat of transactions leaves me confined to a hotel room waiting for action. The sporadic action here allowed me see movies and stroll down a rain-soaked Croisette. The drivers here are entirely dangerous in their tiny cars; one driver trying to turn came so close to plowing into my leg that I had to pound his hood with my fist (luckily I didn’t damage my typing finger, which would have cut my output in half). I also made time to see movies including Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Behind The Candelabra. While Steven Soderbergh ends the movie-making part of his movie career 24 years after it began here when he won Palme d’Or in 1989 for sex lies & videotape, the road is just beginning for Jordan, Coogler and Isaac. Based on the films I saw here, each has a long drive ahead.
I spoke briefly with Isaac following the Inside Llewyn Davis premiere and jokingly asked him how they possibly could have overlooked him for Les Miserables, given his remarkable singing chops. He seemed jolted for a moment and then smiled as I did, because we both knew this was much, much better. Joel and Ethan Coen created a tour de force folk-singer role for him that any actor with pipes could only dream about. “This might sound cliché, but I feel like I’ve been training 33 years just for this movie,” said the 33-year-old actor. Judging by the talk I overheard between CBS Films and Isaac’s reps about keeping room in his late-year schedule for Oscar-season stumping, Isaac wasn’t overstating the case.
Coogler, meanwhile, is a 27 year old who hails from Oakland, and who got a football scholarship and then went to study film at USC. He found his feature debut in the story of Oscar Grant, the young man whose accidental shooting by roughshod cops atop a train platform created national outrage. Jordan plays Grant and to watch him, Coogler and their cohorts staring wide-eyed at the Cannes premiere crowd at the Palais was charming. A standing ovation must have lasted 10 minutes, and I can’t recall a movie where I saw so many audience members in tears, a remarkable accomplishment since so many absorbed the dialogue through subtitles. Much of the movie’s power is Jordan’s engagingly accessible screen persona, but a lot of credit goes to Coogler. As I and other journos milled around him, I could see Coogler bristle when they put him in the “black filmmaker” category, and it doesn’t surprise me that one reason Harvey Weinstein won Fruitvale Station over other bidders is that he was the only mogul who, when speaking to Coogler, drew parallels to films like The Bicycle Thief, classics Coogler studied in school. Coogler made more right decisions in this movie than is usual for a first-time feature director. His best one: making this a family story and not an angry urban polemic. It makes Oscar’s tragedy relatable to anyone who has abruptly lost a loved one (it hit me like a sledgehammer). As for the Cannes adulation, Coogler was overwhelmed, but applied a lesson learned on the football field when he was a wide receiver. “You constantly remind yourself over and over to concentrate on catching the ball and securing it first, before you try to run with it.” It is all about attention to technique and detail, he said, and he’ll take his time figuring out the next film. It will be something he can make personal, the way he did Fruitvale Station. Read More »