Ever since the Cannes International Film Festival knocked down a few walls between itself and the West in 2001 with festival director Thierry Frémaux coming on board to liven up the Croisette with more of a Hollywood acceptance, the connection between the annual May event and the awards season has become more pronounced.
Films like Baz Luhrmann's “Moulin Rouge!,” Roman Polanski's “The Pianist,” Clint Eastwood's “Mystic River,” Wes Anderson's “Moonrise Kingdom,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's “Babel” and David Cronenberg's “A History of Violence” all started their Oscar trajectories in the south of France, while others like Paul Greengrass' “United 93,” Woody Allen's “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Midnight in Paris” and Ang Lee's “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” got high profile beginnings out of Competition.
A coveted Palme d'Or win sometimes leads to a significant boost in the Oscar season, even if no recipient of the festival's coveted top honor has gone on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in nearly 60 years. Nevertheless, Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life” and Michael Haneke's “Amour” have tried to change the course of that state in recent years. And in the Un Certain Regard section of the annual selection, films like “Precious,” “Blue Valentine,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Fruitvale Station” have tried to keep the fire burning at Cannes after Sundance bows, catapulting them into the season. (Though, as Guy noted in his report on this year's festival selections, a lackluster Sundance in January yielded no such carry-overs this time around.)
Cannes can do strange things for a film. It can lower the bar of expectation if initial reviews are less-than-enthusiastic, as it did for Alexander Payne's “Nebraska” and Quentin Tarantino's “Inglourious Basterds” before each waded into the season and found purchase (though both, interestingly enough, won Best Actor honors at the fest). Or it can serve as a coming out party for a sure-to-be-dominant awards player, as it did for the Coen brothers' “No Country for Old Men” and Michel Hazanavicius' “The Artist,” both eventual Best Picture winners.
This year's line-up obviously provides a number of possibilities for the upcoming season. It's all purely speculative until the films are seen and considered, but of course even then, as we saw with “Nebraska” last year, you never can tell how something will register differently away from the Croisette.
At the top of the list is a movie we've all been waiting for for a very long time: Bennett Miller's “Foxcatcher.” The “Moneyball” director's third feature was primed for release last season and even secured an AFI Fest bow before being yanked from the schedule altogether. Sights were set for Cannes and Sony Pictures Classics will look to start a significant roll-out next month after finding success with films like “Amour,” “Volver” and “Midnight in Paris” in the past. Miller's first two films landed Best Picture and Best Actor nominations, and this one could do the same with Steve Carell expected to deliver something quite unique in his portfolio.
Elsewhere in the competition this year, and also part of the Sony Classics stable, is Mike Leigh's “Mr. Turner.” Perhaps his most outwardly ambitious project to date (certainly his most expensive endeavor yet), the filmmaker's J.M.W. Turner biopic may be a big Best Actor play for Leigh regular Timothy Spall. Leigh's work tends to register more with the writers branch than any other area within the Academy, but this particular project could yield more. And Leigh is a filmmaker whose esteemed work over the years could only help make the case in an Oscar campaign.
There's also Tommy Lee Jones' “The Homesman” to consider. His last film, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” played Cannes nearly a decade ago and proved too esoteric to navigate the awards season. But this one, based on the Glendon Swarthout novel, might have more luck. Hilary Swank stars with Jones. You can check out the trailer here.
And speaking earlier of Michel Hazanavicius, he's back with his “Artist” follow-up, “The Search.” The film tells the story of a woman working for an NGO who forms a special relationship with a young boy in war-torn Chechnya. The director's muse and wife, Bérénice Bejo, landed a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for “The Artist,” but she takes the lead in this one. Annette Bening also stars.
DreamWorks Animation's “How to Train Your Dragon 2” will probably kick off the serious Best Animated Feature Film conversation out of competition, while David Michôd's “The Rover” looks like a strong opportunity for Guy Pearce in the midnight section (watch the trailer here). And while David Cronenberg has had a dicey at best relationship with Oscar season over the years, Competition entry “Maps to the Stars” sure does have a lot of, well, stars, and plenty to say about the industry. Unless it ends up cutting too close to the bone for comfort, it could absolutely be something to watch for.
While all of these may be the projects that have the most awards season promise on paper, you never can tell what might show up as a big discovery otherwise Few knew much at all about Hazanavicius this time three years ago and he soon found himself and his film dominating the circuit.
We'll know more in about a month's time, when the 67th annual Cannes International Film Festival sets a course for these and many other 2014 hopefuls.