Weinstein Company touts ‘Grace’ and ‘Mandela’ but Kristin Scott Thomas steals the show

CANNES – Harvey Weinstein took center stage Friday evening as The Weinstein Company held what has become a semi-annual preview of the rest of their yearly slate for select members of the domestic and international press corps at Cannes. In the past Weinstein has used this event to tease expected players such as “Nine” and “My Week with Marilyn.” Last year, however, the event created a tremendous amount of buzz after a surprise 10-minute-plus first look at “Django Unchained” as well as sneaks of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” and David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook.”

This time around, “Grace of Monaco,” featuring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, “August: Osage County,” starring Meryl Streep and an all-star cast and “Mandela: A Long Road to Freedom,” starring Idris Elba as the legendary South African civil rights leader, were the more anticipated sneaks. And yet it was “Only God Forgives” star Kristin Scott Thomas who unexpectedly stole the show. More on that later. First let’s get to the awards season players.

“Grace of Monaco”
“Grace of Monaco” was Harvey’s personal highlight, because Kidman was in the room and he joked that she had to go first because she had a meeting to get to as a member of the Cannes grand jury where “she’ll decide which movie of mine will win the Palm d’Or.” He added, “I’ve certainly given Steven [Spielberg] enough money over the years.” (Cue laughs.)

“We’ve made so many movies together,” Kidman said, standing alongside Weinstein. “It’s almost two decades of working with Harvey and I haven’t been able to do it for awhile so I’m so glad that he decided that ‘Grace’ was for him. Obviously, it’s fantastic to be back here. I spent a good portion of last year in this area making this film and subsequently got to know Grace very, very well. Researched her, fell in love with her and I got to work with a French crew and [director] Olivier Dahan, who I adore, and you’ll get to see the movie at some stage, but not today.”

The actual footage from “Grace” finds the newly crowned princess and former Hollywood leading lady arguing with her husband Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth) about everything from modernizing Monaco to her dream of acting again in Alfred Hitchcock’s next big picture. The montage used a motif of Kelly practicing her acting skills with cards asking her to display different emotions including anger, surprise, etc. By the end of the piece, a card titled “resentful” appears and Kelly takes her hand and passes it over her face with no change in emotion or demeanor. That implies the central conflict in the picture is Kelly’s worry that she made the wrong choice marrying the Prince (a controversial view that will no doubt be disputed by the Monaco Royal Family).

Kidman certainly looks the part and this far out will be considered a Best Actress contender until “Grace” is officially seen. However, this sneak didn’t convince anyone in the room that “Grace” is anything more than a Kidman showcase (not yet, at least). Although, it certainly does look pretty. Is it a hit? That remains to be seen.

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
First impression? Idris Elba looks impressive in another big screen version of the freedom fighter’s life story. Unfortunately the trailer for “Mandela” jarringly flips in tone from potential awards playing drama to a hip-hop-themed action flick. TWC is obviously trying to broaden the audience for the picture, but it’s hard to believe that works in this context.

Perhaps realizing the film needed more background and hype. Weinstein added afterward, “The trailer is just the beginning of ‘Mandela’s’ [marketing campaign].” He also talked up Naomi Harris’ “scintillating, amazing and emotional [performance as Winnie Mandela]…this is not your Daddy’s HBO version of ‘Mandela.’ This is the kick-ass version of ‘Mandela’ and the truth, written by him, in ‘The Long Walk to Freedom,’ the book. When you see Naomie get to the real Winnie, you watch this incredible relationship, this tough relationship that was once warm and romantic separated by years and years. She and Idris Elba are amazing together in telling this story in a really tough way…This is warts and all, the story of Mandela and the story of Apartheid.'”

Harris joined Weinstein on stage. Producer Anant Singh, who’s been trying to make this movie for over a decade, praised director Justin Chadwick and hyped the film’s “amazing” test screening scores in the states.

“Only God Forgives”
What really woke the room up was a three-minute clip from Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives.” In fact, it was the only individual clip or preview to get any applause from the audience. The scene featured a dinner where Julian (Ryan Gosling) takes his girlfriend Yay (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) to meet his mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas). Julian’s mother is quite a character. She bluntly and hilariously tears into her son, basically emasculating him in front of Yay while Justin stars blankly back at her.

Rumors have been circulating that Thomas is the best thing about the film and this clip only proves her character is an internet meme waiting to happen. They debuted online a few weeks ago, but it appears none of the press had seen them yet. You can watch most of the clip we were shown embedded here:

“The Immigrant”
Another TWC film making its debuts at Cannes is James Gray’s in competition title “The Immigrant.” The period drama finds Marion Cotillard as a desperate newcomer to New York City who is forced into prostitution by a schemer played by Joaquin Phoenix in order to save enough money to get her ill sister out of quarantine. TWC played an extended scene showing Phoenix’s character manipulating the fragile woman Cotillard is playing in order to lure her into becoming a whore. Cotillard looked very good, but Phoenix sadly not. There is already very mixed buzz about this one and the clip did nothing to alleviate those fears that Gray’s latest just doesn’t work. We won’t have to wait long to find out, however. “The Immigrant” screens for critics near the end of the festival on Friday, May 24.

Additionally, TWC showed the first trailer for the documentary “Salinger” (looks commercial), previewed a “Grandmasters” trailer many of you have already seen (Guy Lodge reviewed out of Berlin earlier this year), played the trailer for Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury and Audience Prize winner “Fruitvale Station” (Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan were on hand), played (yet another) trailer for “The Butler” (no Oprah Winfrey or Forest Whitaker in the house), included a clip of Sundance and Cannes screener “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (Rooney Mara stopped by) and a preview for “One Chance” (true story of surprise “Britain’s Got Talent” Winner and now Opera sensation Paul Potts).

Sadly, there was no extended trailer or clip from “August: Osage County.” Instead the press watched the already released trailer. Weinstein joked he wanted to have producer George Clooney there, but he was still upset he lost to him at the Oscars this year. (For those not playing at home, Clooney produced Best Picture winner “Argo”). 

Of course, all this comes on the heels of news that The Weinstein Company looks like its in the drivers seat to pick up Stephen Frears’s drama “Philomena” starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, which screened a reel for buyers at Cannes this week. It’s based on the true story of an Irish woman (Dench) who decides to find the illegitimate son she gave up for adoption in the United States. Harvey is known for throwing as many possible contenders against the wall as possible and seeing what hits. So, if “Grace” and “Mandela” don’t fly, perhaps “Philomena” will?

Do you think The Weinstein Company has any real Oscar contenders with the films mentioned in this story? Share your thoughts below.

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