Will Cannes Film Festival Continue Its Fast & Furious Journey To Crash The Oscar Race? Who Might Be Going All The Way To The Dolby?

Will Cannes Film Festival Continue Its Fast & Furious Journey To Crash The Oscar Race? Who Might Be Going All The Way To The Dolby?

No one really expected this year’s Cannes Film Festival to replicate the stellar showing of last year at the Oscars, when official selections Killers of the Flower Moon, Anatomy of a Fall, and The Zone of Interest took an unprecedented three of the 10 Best Picture nominations and a total of 20 noms and three wins among them. How many times can the French catch lightning in a bottle like that achievement? Who thought 2019 could be equaled or topped, when Parasite became the first Palme d’Or winner to take the Best Picture Oscar since Marty did it in 1955 and where Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (also an official selection that year) went on to 10 Oscar nominations and two wins?

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Cannes had largely been thought too risky, too early for serious launches of potential Oscar nominees and winners, except for those hoping to land a spot in the Best International Film (formerly Foreign Language Film) race where Cannes has always been influential. Now clearly things are changing, especially with the increased Global footprint and membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Movies on display and premiering in Cannes now don’t seem to totally have that stigma or thoughts that maybe it is best to wait for the Fall film festivals.

Cannes 2024 prize winners (Getty Images)

The Academy itself now has an annual party it throws in Cannes every year for its membership who are at the festival, and this year was no different at their packed soiree early in the festival on a rooftop hotel just across from the Palais. Academy President Janet Yang and CEO Bill Kramer presided and it attracted a healthy lot of members including the likes of Ron Howard who told me he thought Cannes was less crowded than the last time he was there (six years ago for Solo). That might have been the case in terms of movers and shakers but it certainly wasn’t evident at the Oscar party where there was lots of talk about films, including Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis which had just premiered the night before. Of those I a talked to who had seen it, including former AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson, the word was quite upbeat, which ran counter to punditry who weren’t so high on its eventual Oscar chances. Still you often get a different vibes from those who will actually be voting.

‘Megalopolis’ American Zoetrope/Mihai Malaimare

Last year in this post-Cannes column I correctly predicted the Oscar fates of the aforementioned three films that landed Best Picture slots, and I also surmised that maybe France would not submit its Palme d’Or winner, Anatomy Of A Fall in favor of the more French film Pot Au Feu (The Taste Of Things) (which took the Director Palme), meaning distributor NEON would still be to launch a campaign in all the other categories other than Best International Film, something that did come to fruition and an eventual Oscar win for Original Screenplay to boot. This year among potential Oscar nominees getting their launch in Cannes this month I would predict a similar possibility.

There is no way NEON will see its Iranian film, The Seed Of The Sacred Fig as an official entry from Iran. Its director Mohammad Rasoulof had escaped from Iran just before the festival and thereby ran out on his eight year prision sentence. Plus the movie, critical of the government but also a nail biting thriller worthy of Hitchcock, was shot in secrecy without Iranian officials even knowing about it. They tried to urge Cannes not to even show it and won’t let its two main actors out of the country. Although it didn’t get a major award (I thought it might win the Palme d’Or after seeing it at a private press screening a few days before its premiere) it seems to me to be among the strongest Best Picture possibilities from Cannes this year, and no doubt NEON (which also released Parasite and took it all the way) is planning just that.

‘The Seed of the Sacred Fig’ Run Way Films

NEON also is on a roll, now known as the “Palme whisperer”, and has the last five Palme d’Or winners in a row, including this year’s Anora , the first American winner since 2013. Sean Baker’s knockout of a comedy will find its way into several Oscar categories, almost certainly. They include Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay (three that NEON’s Palme d’Or winner Triangle Of Sadness also got in 2022) plus acting nominations for Mikey Madison as lead actress, 22 year old Russian discovery Mark Eydlshteyn who is manically hilarious as Supporting Actor , and other supporting actor possibilities with Yura Borisov and Karren Karagulian in this wacko tale of a sex worker who winds up in a whirlwind marriage to an out of control Russian rich kid who is living the high life and heir to a fortune.

‘Anora’ Cannes Film Festival

That movie could be in line for a SAG cast nomination as could French director Jacques Audiard’s Spanish language sensation, Emilia Perez. This intense action musical about a drug cartel kingpin out to change his ways and his gender split the Best Actress prize between its four female stars including Zoe Saldana, Selena Gomez, Adriana Paz, and trans actor Karla Sofia Gascon who is truly astonishing in the title role. This ensemble will be hard for Netflix campaigners to split up but it is likely to be a major player Oscar-wise for the streamer, which won the bidding war for the film out of Cannes, and who otherwise so far has a lighter Academy agenda than usual (The Piano Lesson is a key prospect) , but is in the process of building it.

Emilia Pérez
Selena Gomez in ‘Emilia Pérez’ France 2 Cinéma

And though horror isn’t usually top of mind at the Oscars, you can absolutely take a first-ever Oscar nomination to the bank for The Substance star Demi Moore who is sensational as a veteran star fitness guru out to stop the aging process. She signs up for a program of shots called “The Substance” that is designed to reverse the aging process by creating a “new you” , in this case literally regenerated as Margaret Qualley, but still one with herself creating a kind of internal All About Eve, or as I have coined it, Ozempic: The Movie. French director/writer Coralie Fargeat won the screenplay prize from the Cannes Jury and no doubt will be in the running for Oscar along with Moore, Qualley in supporting, and the special effects team for sure for this September 20 MUBI release.

Demi Moore in Cannes (Getty Images)

Then there is Searchlight’s Yorgos Lathimos triple play of stories, Kinds Of Kindness, each weird and with the same starry cast including Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Jesse Plemons, the latter who took the Jury’s Best Actor prize for a movie not as well received as the distributor might have hoped. He is clearly an Academy favorite too so might overcome the mixed reception the film got in Cannes and is liable to repeat when it opens in the U.S. in June. I would say he is a bit of a long shot in the Best Actor Oscar race but we have to see how it plays out. It is early. Still audiences expecting a Lathimos treat like the Oscar winners and Best Picture nominees, The Favourite or Poor Things (both with Stone in Oscar nominated and/or winning roles) is going to have to settle for something more along the lines of bizarreness like his earliest works including Dogtooth and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, and the fabulous The Lobster, but those were all too quirky to make it into Best Picture.

Kinds of Kindness movie
‘Kinds of Kindness’ Searchlight Pictures

The big question now for another competition entry, also with mixed response, is just who, if anyone, is going to step up for U.S. distribution rights to the Donald Trump origin story, The Apprentice? That all depends on the answer to that (and I don’t think it will be a streamer), and if there is an early Fall release date, and if they are willing to spend on a campaign, and if people will be in the mood to stomach a Trump story that actually manages to humanize him, well a little, or if it will be subject to being steamrolled by the November election that could make its chances for the Oscar election moot. No matter what, the performances by Sebastian Stan as the young Trump, Jeremy Strong as evil mentor Roy Cohn, and Maria Bakalova as Ivana Trump are exceptional and worthy of consideration. The same goes for Richard Gere who could be a possibility also for a first-ever Oscar nomination in Paul Schrader’s Oh, Canada should it secure the right kind of distribution. Neither film got any love from the Jury certainly could have helped the pitch to distributors looking to fill their Oscar dance cards.

'The Apprentice' movie review
‘The Apprentice’

Help is what Coppola’s roll of the dice, Megalopolis could have used from the jury but didn’t get, even as he stood on stage at the closing ceremonyright there with all of them, and knowing there would be no award for his ambitious and ballsy gamble that has much to say about the state of the world and does it as a direct riff on the fall of the Roman Empire in a very odd but entertaining and BIG way. Like the above films, this one will need the right distributor and campaign strategy to crack the Oscar race, but just remember there is still a lot of love and respect out there for 85 year old Coppola who just lost his beloved wife Eleanor, and producing partner on this and other films, Fred Roos. This one took its shot in Cannes but may still have a chapter left to write, at least as far as the awards season may be concerned – or not.

And speaking of “chapters”, Kevin Costner in a similar self-financed roll of the dice premiered his 3 hour Chapter 1 (of a planned 4) for his western epic, Horizon: An American Saga which like Coppola’s film got a warm elongated ovation from the opening night crowd in Cannes, but some distance from many critics. It opens on June 28 followed by Chapter 2 on August 16. It is a weird situation for any awards hopeful to be in, and it just may be that if it is to have any chance at eventual Oscar glory that chapter will have to be written after the 4th and final one is revealed (Costner is just embarking now on shooting #3).

Kevin Costner in Horizon, An American Saga movie
Kevin Costner in ‘Horizon, An American Saga Warner Bros

Warner Bros. (which is also releasing Horizon) and George Miller were hoping to use Cannes, just as they did for Fury Road, to not only ignite its impending theatrical release, but perhaps begin the same march to the Oscars where Fury got 10 nominations and won 6 crafts awards. The weekend’s headlines about weak and disappointing boxoffice however, despite top reviews and audience reaction, could be a problem for the campaign, at least temporarily. Still I can report a big crowd of nearly 600 showed up Saturday afternoon at the Academy’s official screening of the movie for members followed by a Q&A I moderated with Miller and co-star Chris Hemsworth, and the reaction, by my meter, was through the roof. Time will tell. Prequels are a hard sell.

Chris Hemsworth in ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ (Warner Bros. Pictures) Jasin Boland/Warner Bros.

There was also an out of competition entry in Cannes, the very French production of The Count Of Monte-Cristo, that may have been under the radar compared to the talked about competition and American movies on display, but man did the packed Grand Lumiere eat it up with a 12 minute standing ovation, and rightfully so. One person said to me, “if this was an American English language movie it would sweep the Oscars”. It is thrilling to watch and exceptionally well crafted. Tiny Samuel Goldwyn Films has it for domestic, but with the right launch and maybe a nice spend if they can cough it up, this could turn into another All Quiet On The Western Front in terms of the Oscar race. A Best Picture possibility? Stranger things have happened. The race, still looking sparse at this early date, could use something like this one.

‘The Count of Monte-Cristo’ Rémy Grandroques

There were other films I caught with possibilities, if not quite Oscar yet, at least at least with other awards groups including Ben Whishaw’s magnificent tour de force in Limonov: The Ballad, and Nicolas Cage’s gonzo turn in the wild The Surfer, a bit of a modern day The Swimmer and just as weird as anything Cheeve could conceive. And as always there are plenty of foreign language titles ready to be submitted for the Best International Film race, something Cannes is always on top of before anybody else. They include India’s Grand Prize winner All We Imagine As Light; Japan’s My Sunshine; Norway’s Camera d’Or winner Armand (with a great Renate Reinsve performance); Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino’s Parthenope; Zambia’s On Becoming A Guinea Fowl; Portugal’s Best Director winner Grand Tour; Brazil’s erotic Motel Destino; and many more including any number possible from France including the wonderful L’Amour Ouf (Beating Hearts) and the aforementioned The Count Of Monte-Cristo.

The race is on. Next stops: Venice, Telluride and Toronto.