Decompressing the Contenders from Cannes – Are There Any Oscar Nominees?

Bérénice-Bejo-Ali-The-PastThe 2013 Cannes Film Festival has come to a close.  Blue is the Warmest Colour by director Abdellatif Kechiche won the prestigious Palme d’Or with Joel Coen & Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis capturing the Grand Prix.  Over the past five months, the Awards Circuit also attended several other film festivals including Sundance and the Tribeca Film Festivals.  Each one managed to deliver a solid set and possible looks at future Oscar contenders for next January.

While many of these supposed high-quality films may never see the light of day in certain U.S. markets and may fare better at the Independent Spirit Awards then they will at the Dolby Theater, it’s worth taking a look at the contenders that sit themselves on the radar as of now.

Blue-is-the-Warmest-Colour-34662_1Blue is the Warmest Colour (Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche)

This is always a good place to start as the film did exactly what it needed to do at the Cannes Film Festival.  It was the talk of the festival attendees with many calling it one of the best things that it offered and walked away with the Palme d’Or.  The film, based on the French graphic novel “Le Bleu est une couleur chaude” (“Blue is a Hot Colour”) by Julie Maroh, tells the story of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a 15-year-old who aspires to become a teacher but her life is turned upside down when she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), a blue-haired art student at a nearby college, who instigates a romance.  While it sounds like a compelling drama, I wouldn’t jump on a hopeful notion that the film’s win in France will translate into Oscar love.  Despite that it’s a foreign film, which we know Oscar tends to ignore, is said to be sexually explicit, and is over three hours, you’ll be lucky if you get a voter to pop in the screener, let alone sit through it.  It also needs a U.S. release date, which hasn’t been announced yet.

I can see the massive potential that the film has to offer.  Feeling like a foreign, distant cousin to Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (2011), any film that explores and details the narrative of sexuality in a manner which is both respectful and dignified, which is what this film has been described by many, I’m fully on board with.

OSCAR POTENTIAL: Best Foreign Language Film (if selected)

Less concerned with classic storytelling than with creating virtual performance pieces on screen, the film features dozens of extended sequences of Adele and Emma both in and out of bed—scenes that are virtuously acted and directed, even if they run on for longer than most filmmakers would allow. But such a technique is precisely why Kechiche belongs in the same camp as John Cassavetes orMaurice Pialat, eschewing narrative concision in favor of the messy realities of life, and creating works that can be as ambitiously bloated as they are emotionally jarring.

-Jordan Mintzer of the Hollywood Reporter

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The-Immigrant1The Immigrant (Director: James Gray)

An anticipation that has only grown since the days it was called “Lowlife,” James Gray’s follow-up to Two Lovers (2008) features an all-star cast that includes Academy Award Winner Marion Cotillard and nominees Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner.  Said to be atmospherically compelling and a stellar and fierce turn by Cotillard, Gray’s film will have many humps to jump during the fall season if it’s looking for awards attention.  First, any way you slice him, Gray is an acquired taste for some.  While Phoenix was a revelation in his earlier collaboration with Gray, Two Lovers left many cold and distanced from the narrative subtleties he takes.

The Immigrant also managed zero mentions and citations from the jury at Cannes.  While that doesn’t scream the end of your Oscar run, American audiences may not warm up to it as kindly as some of our European counterparts did.  On technical merit, the film takes place in the 1920’s and is said to be silky and polished, regardless of any poor or mixed reactions, Production Design by Happy Massee, Cinematography by Darius Khondji, and Costume Design by David Schlesinger are areas it should find some traction easily.  As for the potential for major categories, Cotillard seems like a very strong bet for Best Actress.  But then again, she also seemed like a shoo-in for performance in Rust & Bone (2012) last year and was ultimately left off.  She’s also playing one of Oscar’s favorite ladies, a prostitute.  You know that’s going to keep her on AMPAS’ homing beacon.  Phoenix is said to be very subdued and that doesn’t usually resonate in Best Actor.  He also has other potential in the upcoming Spike Jonze film Her that could steal votes.  More importantly, even when many agree that he’s the best in the category à la last year when his performance in PT Anderson’s The Master (2012) was THE performance of the year, he was still fighting to sneak into a lineup.  Not sure his likability factor is as high as other actors this year.  Where it SHOULD be about the quality, we all know Oscar loves their butt-buddies too.  I’m looking at you Jeff Bridges.

Where Gray may come up short in the always tight Director race, he could find himself among an élite group in Original Screenplay along with co-writer Ric Menello.  Perhaps in the same vein of Paul Thomas Anderson, who found his way on Oscar’s radar in Screenplay for Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999) before he broke into the Director’s race for There Will Be Blood (2007).  Gray could follow suit.

OSCAR POTENTIAL: Best Motion Picture, Best Director (James Gray), Best Actress (Marion Cotillard), Best Original Screenplay (James Gray & Ric Menello), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Gray is, to some extent, repaying that Continental loyalty with “The Immigrant,” a painstakingly restrained but profoundly romantic coming-to-America drama, and his first film set outside his own lifetime. It’s arguably his most Eurocentric work, and not just as an evocative document of the European immigrant experience – taking as its subject a penniless Polish future-seeker, one of many thousands to set sail for Ellis Island in the grim wake of the First World War. Less literally, in its most rapturous moments, “The Immigrant” channels the Euro-Hollywood immigrant cinema of such artists as Murnau and von Sternberg: its gauzily stylized aesthetic and literarily composed love story reaching past latter-day realism. The resulting film is altogether extraordinary: a silent tragedy with words, at once boldly breaking form while reflecting all Gray’s passions and curiosities.

-Guy Lodge of HitFix-In Contention

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The Past_Berenice BejoThe Past (Director: Asghar Farhadi)

Asghar Farhadi took many by surprise when he nurtured a story of divorce, betrayal, and love in the Foreign Language Winner A Separation (2011).  Expectations were placed significantly high when he announced his next project, The Past starring Oscar-nominee Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim.  By the sounds of applause and reactions, it looks to be another quality effort from the Iranian director.

Telling the story of an Iranian man who deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland, Farhadi’s theme about marriage and divorce looks to be prevalent and is said to be just as powerful. Building a strong name for himself among critics, he’s having a similar launch with AMPAS and Oscar prognosticators that reminds me of Pedro Almodovar. If the film isn’t selected as the film for France’s Oscar submission, Sony Picture Classics is the right studio to push a film such as this into the hands of many that could manage lots of awards attention. SPC had success last year with Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012), a film that was nearly drowned out by all the December banter. Can they achieve their second consecutive Foreign Best Picture nominee? Time will tell there.

In other bright news, Bejo nabbed the Best Actress honors for her performance. This should at the very least put in serious conversation for the rest of the year until critics’ awards are given out. Not in her favor is you have to go back to the 2006 Cannes Film Festival to find a Best Actress winner that translated to an Oscar nominee and that was Penelope Cruz for Volver. Which hardly counts since it was shared among her cast mates. You have to go back ten years earlier to 1996 when Brenda Blethlyn captured honors for her turn in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies (1996) for a winner turned nominee.  A little tip in her favor is Bejo’s nomination for The Artist (2011) is rather recent and there still may be residual goodwill leftover.  Especially if her turn outdoes her previous effort.

Tahar Rahim didn’t receive any of the key notices to be seen as a spoiler in unforeseen future.  A talented actor that has shown how great he can be in Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet (2009), there’s a possibility this performance can bridge him into more challenging and accessible roles for audiences and voters that isn’t called The Eagle (2011).

I foresee a strong campaign for the film during the awards year likely in Best Actress and Screenplay.  Depending on how the rest of the year shapes up for big studio films, The Past will need a heavy presence on the critical awards (NYFCC, LAFCA) to be deemed legitimate and even then, may still be a longshot to many.  I’m hoping it lives up to the hype.

OSCAR POTENTIAL: Best Motion Picture, Best Director (Asghar Farhadi), Best Actress (Berenice Bejo), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film (if selected)

But even when the script’s underlying machinery reveals itself, the actors remain unimpeachably authentic, the crucial test being that every character will probably annoy you at some point. In a performance of bristling intelligence and verbal acuity that may surprise audiences who know only her silent turn from “The Artist,” Bejo embodies a particular brand of hotheaded, hopelessly romantic Gallic femininity without tilting into cliche. Mosaffa is remarkable as a well-intentioned outsider with a melancholy streak, hinting at a history of depression that factors into the story at various points. Rahim emerges later in the proceedings but becomes a prominent and sympathetic figure, in perfect keeping with Farhadi’s highly democratic methods.

-Justin Chang of Variety

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I’ll be looking at more Cannes Film contenders later this week including Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, and Joel Coen & Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis. Stay tuned.

Discuss your thoughts of the race in the comments.