The final in-competition entry at this year’s Cannes Film Festival has screened, and with the time gap between speculation and results much smaller than the Oscar race, it’s time once again for my spitballing, mostly-in-the-dark, probably inaccurate predictions on who will emerge victorious from the Croisette tomorrow. Strict Academy Award hounds shouldn’t write off these upcoming results as just a niche cinesnob event since Cannes has been a springboard for a lot of serious Oscar contenders in recent years: Palme d’Or recipients The Tree of Life and Amour went on to surprise (but well-deserved) Best Picture nominations, Jean Dujardin and Christoph Waltz’s successful Oscar campaigns started with winning Best Actor here, and any non-American or non-British winner is almost always considered a possible Best Foreign Language Film contender.
This festival was interesting in the relative diversity of responses to its more high-profile submissions. The only common refrains from attendees this year (besides an annoying level of “Waaaaaaaah! Critics are jerks because they don’t always agree with meeeeeeeeeee!” bellyaching from journalists who should know better) was that Grace of Monaco is destined for camp classic status and Foxcatcher has cemented itself as no-joke Oscar powerhouse. Besides that…depends on whom you ask. We at Awards Circuit have collected a number of responses to various festival premieres, but no solid frontrunner for the top prize like the last two competitions. There is also the much-publicized fact that this jury – headlined by the all-around awesome Jane Campion, herself a Palme victor for The Piano – is one of the most feminine in its history. While I find the idea of a female-majority jury being some big game-changing factor to be irritatingly reductive, it would be foolish of me to completely dismiss it playing at least some part in the final decisions, especially with Campion’s outspoken desire to see more women filmmakers and movies about women recognized in the industry. With that, here’s what my (makeshift) crystal ball is telling me…
Palme d’Or – Golden Palm
The hardest category for me to get a reading on finds me leaning toward a director that I don’t personally “get,” but has the kind of career trajectory destined for the big win eventually, so why not now? Nuri Bilge Ceylan has been a respected figure of the world cinema scene for almost twenty years now, but it wasn’t until Once Upon a Time in Anatolia that he vaulted to full-fledged arthouse celebrity status. Cannes welcomed him from the birth of his career when he premiered his short film Cocoon there back in 1995, and he’s racked up an impressive number of awards from the festival ever since, including two Grand Prizes, one Best Director award and two FIPRESCI Prizes…but no Palme d’Or yet. Winter Sleep, about a retired actor running a hotel in Turkey becoming increasingly estranged from his immediate family, certainly appears to continue his pet themes of humans struggling to meaningfully connect with each other against dramatically-lit, picturesque settings, and the screening reportedly played well with the jury. Along with its newly-minted FIPRESCI Prize, all the signs – critical, popular, and yes, even political – certainly seem to be pointing at this being the Turkish auteur’s time to shine.
Grand Prix – Grand Prize of the Festival
The “runner-up” award of the festival, based on history, tends to go to formally accomplished entries that for one reason or another garners more respect than affection from the jury. That’s not a knock against the category, by the way; I personally find the Grand Prix winners of 2013, 2009, and 2001 far superior to the films that beat them in their respective years, and many of this category’s awardees have gone on to a respectable degree of relative popularity and acclaim. Be that as it may, to predict this award one has to look at an ambitious competitor with a lot of critical goodwill but lacking in “momentum” (anyone who tells you that Cannes is always immune from the same awards season “narratives” as the Oscars is a liar). That’s why I’m betting on Andrei Zvyagintsev’s sprawling Biblical allegory Leviathan to win this. My bias might be informing this prediction just a bit since this is, no kidding, the main competition entry that I’m personally most excited to see. His previous film Elena was one of my favorite films of 2012, but was bafflingly demoted to Un Certain Regard at Cannes (where it won the Special Jury Prize, but compared extremely favorably to most of the films in main competition that year). I can’t help but imagine an implied mea culpa is in store for such a blunder, and recognizing his most ambitious outing yet would be an opportunity to do just that.
Prix du Jury – Jury Prize
Okay, so this is where I fall a little for the “Lady’s Club” angle peddled by the media. For all the feminist lip service from festival brass, the ugly truth is that only two women are represented in the main competition this year, which is twice as many as was selected last year. I have to imagine that’s (understandably) more than a little annoying to the female jury members. While Naomi Kawase has been adamant in her belief that her entry Still the Water deserves the Palme, critics…don’t seem to agree. A far warmer reception was directed at Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders. Rohrwacher made a splashy directorial debut with Corpo Celeste in 2011 and vaulted herself in the company of some pretty seasoned competitors this year. Cannes is not as welcoming to new directors as you might think, so when someone’s sophomore effort is considered strong enough to compete with longtime Cannes mainstays, it’s a sign of tremendous faith in their future prospects. As Andrea Arnold, Samira Makhmalbaf, and Thomas Vinterberg can attest, many rising world cinema stars with warmly-received features have proven successful in this category, and an award for what has been called a more low-key, gentler version of Dogtooth would be an apt Welcome to the Big Leagues anointing for her.
Prix d’interprétation féminine – Best Actress
Anyone who predicts awards results for this festival in any year without mentioning the submission from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne do so at their peril; they are the darlings of Cannes and have been for a long time now. Ever since Rosetta won the Palme d’Or in 1999, not one of their subsequent features have left the Croisette empty-handed. The big draw of Two Days, One Night – a sort of social realist High Noon centering on a woman who has one weekend to keep her job by convincing her colleagues to sacrifice their bonuses for the year – is their first collaboration with a major movie star. Marion Cotillard, in the kind of earthy de-glam role that would probably entice Academy voters if the film were “bigger,” has been receiving the lion’s share of praise for her performance as a woman desperate to avoid unemployment, and her win would be ample opportunity to draw attention to Europe’s growing economic problems. While Mommy’s Anne Dorval, Maps to the Stars’s Julianne Moore, and Clouds of Sils Maria’s Kristen Stewart (no, really!) have been chalked up as possible contenders, Cotillard’s home field advantage (internationally acclaimed French actresses do very well here) and prestigious reputation should give her the edge.
Prix d’interprétation masculine – Best Actor
One of the first critical hits of the Cannes Film Festival this year was Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, his long-gestating passion project about the eccentric painter J. M. W. Turner. While a second Palme d’Or is possible for Leigh, I’m more willing to bet that the jury will want to honor this well-received biopic elsewhere. Of all the performances in the main competition, Foxcatcher has unquestionably the most Oscar traction for Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, but that does not automatically translate to an acting award at Cannes. In fact, one should look at No Country for Old Men, Mystic River, and L.A. Confidential to remind themselves that juries will sometimes shy away from awarding competitive submissions with likely Oscar traction in order to spread the wealth and to avoid becoming redundant echo chambers like 99.9% of other awards precursors. Timothy Spall, on the other hand, is that perfect alternative for a jury that might want to recognize a “smaller” but no less popular performance from a longtime, under-the-radar actor like Timothy Spall.
Prix de la mise en scène – Best Director
Xavier Dolan’s fiery melodrama about a destructive mother-son relationship is arguably the most talked-about film of the main competition. Just about everyone who’s seen it has declared Mommy ingenious, heartwrenching, off-putting, unhinged, raw, singular, excessive, and wearying…often all at once. There are many who are betting on this as the favorite to win the Palme d’Or, and while such an outcome is certainly possible for the 25 year-old wunderkind, festival history suggests Best Director being a more distinct possibility. It’s hard to tell right now where the jury falls on this passionately-received film, and Best Director is a favorite award for the most brash, explosively stylish film of the main competition. The jury will likely see Dolan as a budding artist with his best work still ahead of him and can turn to this award as a more than generous endorsement of his artistic promise.
Prix du scénario – Best Screenplay
This award has a long history of going to competitors hailed by attendees as the most complex, rhetorical, brainy, or heavily reliant on character interaction and dialogue that for whatever reason falls short of being considered a serious threat for the Palme d’Or. One could apply those descriptions to a number of films this year depending on who you ask, but Olivier Assayas’s film about an actress who retreats to the titular Swiss town with her personal assistant has been described as – besides the best performance of Kristen Stewart’s career – a very sharply observed and structurally ambitious character study, reportedly blending fiction and reality with biting satire of the modern film industry. While other films seem to have the reputation of more emotional gravitas and thematic ambition, Assayas is likely to be recognized at least for the deftness of his execution with this award.
And there you have it. I always find myself in an interesting state of mind predicting the awards results for the world’s most prestigious film festival, because without having seen any of them in a given year I am always 100% removed from preferential bias, but a year where I’m truly “dead on” with my forecasts still eludes me. But maybe this year’ll be different. Think you can do better? Tell me who you believe will come out victorious tomorrow in the comments!