For the past two years, the Cannes Film Festival has figured prominently into the Academy Awards. Upon winning the prestigious Palme d’Or, Terrence Malick and Michael Haneke secured a Best Director’s slot along with a corresponding Best Picture nomination (The Tree of Life and Amour). With the 2013 jury led by Steven Spielberg, the trend certainly appears to continue where the Palme d’Or winner could figure into the awards season. With the festival opening on May 15th with the French premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and going through May 26th, the awards season begins.
Cannes is a particularly odd barometer for judging a picture’s credibility. Jeff Nichols’ Mud closed the festival last year to a mostly ambivalent festival crowd. A year later, Mud is hailed as one of the best films of this early year. 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom was another film that was met with resistance at Cannes but ended being in the thick of the awards conversation, securing a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola. Watching a series of films in competition can provoke the worst in audiences. Securing a win at the festival turns the keys in the ignition and provokes awards possibilities. With so many American and high profile foreign films screening in competition, the sense that this slate of films will figure into the awards season seems likely.
Becoming increasingly promising with every new bit of information coming down the pike, the Coen Brothers debut their new film, Inside Llewyn Davis. Winning the coveted Palme d’Or is unlikely (the duo won back in 1991 for Barton Fink and the festival has a notorious penchant for only rarely double-dipping) but if the film proves to be another solid effort, then it could easily figure into the Oscar race. With a ripe awards season release date in early December, Inside Llewyn Davis has the pedigree.
Following the release of James Gray’s Two Lovers, the director has achieved a measure of notoriety and prestige to his name. The elapsed time in between work has caused many (including myself) to reassess his work. How his newest feature, The Immigrant follows –up on the promise that the director has shown over the course of his career is left to be seen. Backed by the Weinstein Company, expectations are high that the film could play a critical role in the distributor’s awards prospects.
There are two films that immediately strike me as having crossover appeal – to win the Palme d’Or and strike a chord amongst Academy voters. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska is the director’s follow-up to his critically adorned The Descendants. While not a fan of that work, Payne remains a favorite of mine, blending a powerful mix of American soul-searching and biting sarcastic wit. Nebraska looks to fall in line with the director’s previous work, though something about the early press information and images depict a more somber tone. There’s a sense of urgency to Nebraska that could very well be misinterpreted, but early buzz on the film is strong.
Somewhat more of a long shot, but my own particular favorite to take the Palme d’Or is Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to A Separation, The Past. Farhadi’s ascension to the upper-echelon of the film community came out of nowhere, with A Separation blowing up upon taking the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. From there, the film proved formidable enough to take the Best Foreign Language film Oscar back in 2011 and even secured a Best Original Screenplay nomination. The picture topped Roger Ebert’s list of the best films of 2011 and had it been afforded a more focused campaign, it would have likely entered the conversation as a Best Picture nominee. The Past is now poised to potentially take the Palme d’Or and build momentum toward an awards campaign. With no American distributor yet, I’d imagine a company like Fox Searchlight providing a strong campaign for the film – that is, if it delivers. If there’s one takeaway from any of this it’s that while an early buzz going into (and out of) Cannes can help, it’s that nothing is a certainty. The season begins when the Palme d’Or is awarded, but there’s still about eight months to go from there.
Check out my first foray at predicting the Oscar season here.