Welcome back to AwardsWatch’s Contender or Pretender series, where this week we will be doing something a little bit different. This last Saturday concluded the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, cinema’s most prestigious film festival. There, Jane Campion’s jury awarded prizes to films from a wide variety of countries and filmmakers, ranging from a Hollywood star such as Julianne Moore, to a legendary art-house stalwart like Jean-Luc Godard, to rising stars such as the 25-year old Canadian director Xavier Dolan.
Any award from the Cannes Film Festival is in itself one of the most coveted prizes in cinema, one which filmmakers the world over would give their left arms just to be considered for, even for a fleeting moment. But what we will examine today is who among the awardees, and even the snubbees, might win over the Hollywood mainstream in addition to the international tastemakers. Who from Cannes stands the best chance at Oscar glory? When answering such a question, the best place to start is invariably with the English-language films in competition. Two of these were awarded with prizes from Campion’s jury- Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher and Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, with the former winning Best Director for Miller, the latter Best Actor for its star Timothy Spall. Both films have been met with an outstanding early critical reception, with their Metacritic scores as of this writing resting at 91 and 97, respectively. But, as any number of critical darlings of years past can attest to, a high Metacritic score is not the only ingredient for Oscar success.
Both Foxcatcher and Mr. Turner have the additional advantage of being biographical films, one of the Academy’s favorite genres. The former examines the life of John Du Pont, heir to one of the great American business dynasties and a mentally unstable man who murdered one of the wrestlers at the high-end Olympic training facility he operated. The film concerns itself with the relationship between Du Pont and Mark Schultz, a wrestler at Du Pont’s facility and brother to Dave Schultz, Du Pont’s eventual victim. Channing Tatum and Steve Carell star as Mark Schultz and Du Pont, respectively, with Mark Ruffalo as Dave. The film seems to clearly be painting both Tatum and Carell as leads, with Ruffalo in support. This creates a problematic situation for the studio promoting the film, Sony Pictures Classics. Although Carell’s role is the one that might appeal more easily to the Academy due to his veteran status and the physical transformation involved (including a prosthetic nose), Tatum has received superlative reviews himself, which combined with the prominence of his role would seem to demand that he be placed in the Leading category along with Carell. SPC has reiterated that both will be campaigned Lead, thereby giving themselves a tough challenge to overcome – no film has scored two Lead Actor nominations since F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce did so for Amadeus in 1984. If Tatum were to go Supporting, the size of his role and reviews would all but assure his nomination, but Ruffalo’s chances might be in jeopardy then – the last film to receive two Best Supporting Actor nominations was 1991’s Bugsy. Outside of this category confusion, the film seems in an ideal position for Oscar, due to the combination of story, director and distributor, with the backing of the powerful Megan Ellison as well.
Mr. Turner delves further back in history to the life of J.M.W. Turner, a landscape painter who is considered one of the most celebrated artists in British history. It marks something of a departure for director Mike Leigh; his films typically chronicle the lives of ordinary, working-class people in the present day, although he has visited the past on two occasions before, 1999’s Gilbert and Sullivan biopic Topsy-Turvy and 2004’s Vera Drake, the fictional story of an abortionist in 1950s London. Cannes Best Actor winner and frequent Leigh collaborator Spall, a prolific character actor best known to American audiences for his role as Peter “Wormtail” Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films, received outstanding reviews for his portrayal of Turner, cementing himself as a strong contender for a Best Actor Oscar nomination, which would be his first. However, he does have a number of obstacles in the path of a potential nomination. For one thing, no male actor has been nominated for a performance in a Leigh film, despite some highly praised performances (including one by Spall himself in Leigh’s only Best Picture nominee Secrets & Lies). The second is that Sony Pictures Classics may see Foxcatcher as a higher priority than Mr. Turner, due to a higher potential for commercial success and a more accessible story for American audiences (Secrets & Lies is the only one of Leigh’s films to gross over $10 million). That would also be detrimental to its Best Picture and Director chances. Leigh is a perennial nominee in the Best Original Screenplay category, which should be one of the film’s strongest chances for a nomination, as well as technical categories such as cinematography, where DP Dick Pope’s work is said to imitate the landscape painting style of Turner, which should be highly appealing to the cinematographers branch. For a larger-scale breakout with the Academy, support from the British members would need to be truly tremendous.
Other English-language releases at Cannes were greeted with varying degrees of acclaim and buzz. David Cronenberg’s Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars took home a Best Actress win for Julianne Moore (thus completing her trifecta of wins from the major film festivals), though that may end up being misleading as far as her Oscar campaign is concerned. The film has described as an ensemble piece, with Moore possibly being able to be placed in the Supporting category. She is a strong contender for critical mentions at the end of the year, although it remains to be seen whether or not distributor eOne has the resources to see her through to a fifth Oscar nomination, let alone a win. Also receiving strong notices at the festival were the two leading ladies of Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, with the latter in particular receiving career-best reviews. However, distributor IFC films will be hard pressed indeed to keep either of them in the conversation at year’s end- though substantial progress in moving away from the Bella Swan phase of her career may be reward enough for Stewart.
Just as Cannes has introduced or solidified new contenders in the race, it virtually eliminates others from contention. Fresh off of Best Picture and Best Director Oscar wins in 2011 for The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius surely had high hopes for his followup The Search, a remake of the 1948 Fred Zinnemann film that transplanted its setting to the Chechnyan refugee crisis of 1999. The film was considered highly disappointing, and currently sits at a 36 on Metacritic, and distributors rumored to be interested in the film such as TWC and Fox Searchlight have vanished without a trace. Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman was seen as an interesting dark horse contender, particularly for lead Actress Hillary Swank, but the film met with a reception that, although in the green on Metacritic with a score of 69, seemed to lack the passion necessary for a breakout into most top 8 categories, though Swank may still factor in if the Best Actress field is sufficiently open.
As far as the foreign language films are concerned, it appears that we do not have an Amour-style breakout contender on our hands. This year’s Palme winner, Winter Sleep, does not seem to have the inherent appeal to the Academy’s main demographic as Michael Haneke’s film, and director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, while revered by cinephiles as one of the top auteurs of today, does not have the kind of profile in Hollywood that Haneke did even before the release of Amour. Ceylan’s ceiling is likely a nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category, which is a possibility if not a lock- the film (a character study of a misanthropic landlord in Turkey’s rural Cappadocia region) has drawn many comparisons to the work of Ingmar Bergman, one of the Academy’s most beloved foreign directors, though the three-hour plus runtime may make it a tough sit for some members. Other celebrated auteurs looking for their first Foreign Language nomination are Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who went home from Cannes empty-handed but whose film Two Days, One Night will likely have their highest stateside profile yet due to the presence of Marion Cotillard in the lead role as a woman who has a single weekend to convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses so she will not be laid off.
Another strong contender if submitted is 25 year-old Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, whose In Competition debut Mommy took home the Prix du Jury (in a tie), and won many high-profile admirers, most prominently Jessica Chastain. If submitted, Screenplay winner Leviathan might stand a good chance, but early word is that Vladimir Putin’s Minister of Culture is unhappy with Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film’s strongly critical message towards Russian society and is unlikely to submit the film. Cannes’ host nation of France has a number of possibilities from the festival to submit, from Pascale Ferran’s Bird People (which may be ineligible due to being partly in English- one of the leads is American actor Josh Charles) to biopic Saint Laurent (backed by Sony Pictures Classics and which also could figure into the technical categories with a Costume Design nomination) to actor-director Mathieu Amalric’s noir adaptation The Blue Room, which received excellent reviews in Un Certain Regard but possibly too sexual and too much of a genre piece for AMPAS. There is also a possibility that France may look back to last year’s Cannes instead of this year’s and choose Blue is the Warmest Color, which would almost certainly have been nominated in the category last year had it been eligible.
Arthouse films dominated the Cannes conversation so thoroughly (and rightfully so) that it is easy to overlook the premiere of the film that will likely end up outgrossing every other film at the festival put together. Dreamworks’ animated tentpole How To Train Your Dragon 2 was a very well-received new entry in the franchise and should go on to be a huge success at the box office, making it one of, if not the frontrunner in the Best Animated Film race. Dreamworks Animation’s last win here was in the category’s first year of existence, with Shrek taking home the prize in 2001. Though competition from Warner Brothers’ already successful The LEGO Movie and Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6 will likely be fierce, the Dragon franchise has generated a large amount of goodwill (the first entry would have likely won in a year that had not featured as formidable a contender as Toy Story 3, which also featured in the main Best Picture race) that could give it the advantage.
One thing is for certain – Cannes taken this year’s Oscar race from the theoretical to the actual for the first time- some films that were contenders on paper have proved themselves legitimate, while others saw their hopes vaporized in the instant it takes a critic to send a tweet. Pundits and observers of all stripes have a whole host of questions and developments to puzzle over and argue about this summer, until the fall festivals of Telluride, Toronto and Venice kick the race into gear once more.
BIGGEST WINNER OF THE FESTIVAL (WHERE OSCAR CHANCES ARE CONCERNED): FOXCATCHER
BIGGEST LOSER OF THE FESTIVAL: THE SEARCH
[author image=”http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v193/erikdean/0341151b-3137-4134-9de4-84a1560d6736_zps040dc936.jpg” ]Peter Cioth has been on the Awardswatch forums since the start of 2012. He’s a student in the real world and a student of pop culture, and he enjoys predicting who will win awards because it combines his love of pop culture with his love of competition and speculating about the future. His prediction prowess makes him a member of both the Emmy Experts and the Gold Rush Gang.[/author]