The thing I always enjoy about predicting the Cannes Film Festival awards every year is how it forces me to predict from an emotional distance that I can’t with the Oscars. Barring some fairy godmother miracle, I will never be there to screen the competition entries at Cannes, most of which are making their premiere there. So having not seen anything vying for these awards, I can only go by buzz, history and my instincts. Last year I correctly predicted two of the seven categories (including the top prize!), and only two of my ponies walked away with nothing. For the first time ever we have co-Presidents of the jury, but it’s not like the festival was going to invite only one of the two Coen Brothers to head it up. Predicting the results here is not simply gauging consensus like the Oscars; here the awards are decided solely by Joel and Ethan Coen, Xavier Dolan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rossy de Palma, Sophie Marceau, Sienna Miller, Rokia Traoré, and Guillermo del Toro.
And based on reports from those in attendance, they have their work cut out for them. It sounds like many strong movies are contenders for awards this year, hilariously contradicting the contention from at least one knuckle-dragging awards pundit that this would shape up to be an underwhelming slate. All sorts of possibilities present themselves here, but here is the outcome I am going with:
Okay, okay, so maybe I’m letting my heart talk me into this bet just a little, having one of our finest living filmmakers win the top prize this year for my most anticipated movie of 2015. But it’s not just a wish-fulfillment shot in the dark! Carol has been enjoying some of the most passionate rave reviews of the whole competition, on such a deafening level of near-unanimous praise reminiscent of the kind of responses that greeted Amour and The Child when they coasted to the Golden Palm. It doesn’t hurt that people seem to finally be catching up to the extraordinary career of its director. If Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Ken Loach could be seen as “overdue” when they won, then one could certainly see the jury feeling the need to have an artist as esteemed as Todd Haynes join the Palme alumni as well. Honestly, it’s impossible for me to imagine this film walking away with nothing tomorrow.
Grand Prix – Grand Prize of the Festival
I’m being a little bold here, since the reactions to this lavish, stately period epic from Hou Hsiao-Hsien have been a little more…divisive than that of the other competition entries. But those who love it really love it, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien has garnered a level of respect as prestigious as Haynes if not even more so. Practically everyone seems to agree that the movie is visually immaculate and a lot of other pundits have this one pegged to win the Palme. While I do not believe this movie has the kind of heft and consensus support boasted by Carol, The Lobster and Son of Saul, I also would be foolish not to see it through to a major prize tomorrow. This “runner-up” award is as good as any.
Prix du Jury – Jury Prize
Like The Assassin, Justin Kurzel’s period epic also has garnered its fair share of mixed responses. Those who love it are declaring the film one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever, while others are dismissing it as a tediously grim and nasty slog in slick period clothes. It’s hard to tell where the jury falls on that spectrum, but the presence of the Coen Brothers and Xavier Dolan among the jury suggests at least a few members who might sympathize with a director’s darker, more aggressive aesthetic that splits audiences. Despite being the last to screen in competition, Macbeth has been one of the most talked-about films before and after its premiere, and the Jury Prize has often gone to films lacking the critical mass for the Palme but nevertheless end up as one of the festival’s most prominent conversation starters like Mommy and Fish Tank before it.
Prix d’interprétation féminine – Best Actress
So it’s right about now I should remind readers that the Cannes Film Festival has implemented a rule since 1991 stating that a film cannot win more than two major prizes in the main competition. This happened after Barton Fink swept the Palme d’Or, Best Director and Best Actor prizes, which ended up being very controversial. Now, it’s certainly more than possible that Cate Blanchett or Rooney Mara (or both!) could win Best Actress, but if I’m predicting Carol for the Palme, then their chances of winning this award as well goes down considerably. And since the last time I predicted Marion Cotillard to win didn’t turn out so well, I’m going with one of the other more acclaimed performances of the festival. Zhao Tao has been singled out as the highlight of Jia Zhangke’s mostly well-received multi-generational family drama Mountains May Depart, and recognition for her would be an effective way to honor the film itself.
Prix d’interprétation masculine – Best Actor
Unlike Best Actress, this field appears to be…”weaker” is the wrong word, maybe less overtly competitive? Either way the most likely contenders appear to have narrowed down to three names: Tim Roth as a homecare nurse in Chronic, Antonythasan Jesuthasan as a Sri Lankan refugee in Dheepan, and Michael Fassbender as the titular usurper in Macbeth. While Jesuthasan’s real-life connection to the film he co-wrote, requiring him to play a range of more strenuous emotional beats across a wide dramatic arc, makes him the most competitive performer on paper, I’m going to predict a victory for Tim Roth here. He’s been enjoying some of the best reviews of his career in a film otherwise receiving mixed-to-negative responses. Like last year’s winner Timothy Spall, Roth is the kind of longtime career actor that virtually everyone likes but rarely has the chance to shine in a lead role of his own. This is an opportunity to recognize what happens when he has that opportunity.
Prix de la mise en scène – Best Director
Even if László Nemes’ debut film, a harrowing drama about a man forced to burn the bodies of his fellow prisoners in Auschwitz, doesn’t win anything tomorrow, it will walk away from Cannes with at least one award: the FIPRESCI Prize, also known by spectators as the “critics choice” of the festival. Last year it went to Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep, and while I can’t imagine this film repeating that feat, virtually everyone has been singling out the direction from Nemes as bringing a sense of hard-hitting immediacy to a subject seemingly done to death from every possible perspective by filmmakers around the world. A Best Director award would be a fitting means of welcoming Nemes as a promising newcomer with an exciting career (and a possible Best Foreign Language Film Oscar) ahead of him.
Prix du scénario – Best Screenplay
A screenplay prize for such a concept-heavy, tricky premise as one tackled by The Lobster is so stupidly obvious on paper that I feel almost nervous pegging it to win here. If it fits so perfectly the jury has to be at least tempted to resist going for it in that way, right? But then again, what other film comes even close to depending on its writing to carry it to the kind of success it reportedly had at Cannes? It’s such an out-there setup for a movie, supposedly flexed for all its humorous, disturbing, satirical worth by Filippou and Lanthimos according to everyone who has seen it. Right now the only reason I can see this not winning Best Screenplay tomorrow is if the jury plans on giving it a different award and want to spread the wealth as a result.
So there you have it: my bets on which films will emerge victorious tomorrow. What are your 2015 Cannes Film Festival predictions?