For Your Consideration – Cannes Preview Edition

By Jim Keller

Now in its third year, this instalment of For Your Consideration takes a look at those films set to cross the Croisette this month. While the Cannes Film Festival is not primarily known as an Oscar launching vehicle, in recent years it has revealed a glimmer of Oscar’s gold. Last year’s fest premiered eventual Best Picture nominee Nebraska, as well as critic’s darling Inside Llewyn Davis, which only earned cinematography and sound mixing nominations. While details were slim, both films were discussed in this column. This year Jury President and director/producer/screenwriter Jane Campion, will oversee the bow of Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco, which will open the Festival and screen out of competition.

So let’s see what lies across the sea, ready to seize the hearts and minds of the attendees of this film industry exclusive and possibly jump-start the 2014 Oscar race. As always, my list is comprised of highlights and films with considerable pedigree behind them, to wind up in the throes of Oscar come February:

Grace of Monaco (director: Olivier Dahan):

The film chronicles the life of former Hollywood star Grace Kelly set against a heated political dispute between Monaco’s Prince Rainier III and France’s Charles De Gaulle, while a French invasion of Monaco looms in the early 1960s.

For Your Consideration (FYC): Dahan is perhaps best known for 2007’s La Vie en Rose, a biopic of Edith Piaf, which won Marion Cotillard the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the renowned French chanteuse. His new film stars Nicole Kidman, who was nominated for Best Actress in 2001 for Moulin Rouge! and won the Award in 2003 for The Hours. Following her win, Kidman’s career consisted of a hybrid of art house projects (Birth, Margot at the Wedding)and high profile duds (Australia, The Golden Compass). That changed in 2010 when she was nominated again in the category for Rabbit Hole. Oscar loves a good biopic and if well-received, both Dahan and Kidman could find some footing.

Foxcatcher (director: Bennett Miller):
This drama tells the true story behind the 1996 murder of Olympic wrestler David Schultz by paranoid schizophrenic and heir to the du Pont chemical fortune, John du Pont.

FYC: Miller first curried favor with the Academy in 2006 when he won the Best Director Oscar for Capote. While he went on to direct Moneyball, which earned six nominations in 2012, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Brad Pitt, Miller was hedged out of a director nomination by the competition. Besides the obvious points of Steve Carell playing against type and “getting ugly” for the role of du Pont by donning a prosthetic nose, the film will presumably tackle the relationship between the brothers Mark and David Schultz—both freestyle wrestling gold medalists, which all plays into the Academy wheelhouse. Mark Ruffalo, who plays Mark, earned a Supporting Actor nomination for The Kids Are Alright in 2011 and since then, has remained a fixture in the Hollywood community. Further, Channing Tatum has said that playing the role of David has been “the hardest acting challenge I’ve had to date,” so it will be interesting to see how meaty his role is and whether or not he can quiet the screaming fans obsessed with his body and deliver the goods.

The Search (director: Michel Hazavanicius):
Set during the aftermath of the Chechen war, the film recounts a young boy’s plight to reunite with his mother, with the help of an aid worker. It is loosely based on Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 WWII tearjerker of the same name.

FYC: Hazavanicius directed 2012 Best Picture winner, The Artist, and the Academy took him and the lead actor, Jean Dujardin, along for the ride by bestowing both men with Oscars in their respective categories. Interestingly enough, supporting actress nominee for the film, Bérénice Bejo starsin Hazavanicius’ latest as the non-governmental organization (NGO)-worker who connects with the young boy. Four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening also inhabits a supporting role and depending on the role, could be one to lookout for. Given that Zinnemann’s original won the now-defunct Juvenile Award and Best Writing, Motion Picture Story Oscars and earned Best Actor, Screenplay, and Director nominations, it isn’t inconceivable that Hazavanicius’ film could yield a similar trove.

Maps to the Stars (director: David Cronenberg):
The film depicts the plight of two former child-stars and looks at the entertainment industry’s complex relationship with the whole of Western civilization.

FYC: Cronenberg’s name is not one immediately thought of when it comes to the Academy and rightfully so—despite having made forty films, neither the director nor any of his film’s parts have earned Oscar nominations. So why discuss the auteur in this column? The answer is simple: I hope for change. In this context, change means what is Academy junk today is Academy gold tomorrow. There is no denying the public’s obsession with celebrity. On any given night, one can flip through TV channels and find a plethora of celebrity-based reality programs. Add this to Hollywood’s known self-interest (see The Artist above) and you have a quick recipe for a Best Picture contender. Ok, so it’s not that easy where Cronenberg is concerned, but you catch my drift. While the trailer reveals a sultry Julianne Moore and a brooding Mia Wasikowska, I would be remiss to try to discuss the depth of their respective roles. Instead, I’ll say that Moore plays an aging actress who hires Wasikowska’s Agatha to work as her assistant, seemingly unaware of her former Hollywood ties. Moore has been nominated for Oscar four times, beginning with 1997’s Boogie Nights and most recently in 2002’s Far From Heaven. Wasikowska has yet to be nominated, but consistently delivers in varying roles, which could eventually lead to a nomination.

The Homesman (director: Tommy Lee Jones):

The film centers on a claim jumper and a pioneer woman who team up to escort three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa.

FYC: This adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s 1988 novel of the same name marks the return of Jones to the director’s chair after his debut feature film 2005’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Not having a lot of directing experience (outside of the feature film he has directed two made-for-TV movies) leaves me feeling suspect about his Oscar chances, though anything is possible. It is for this reason that I concentrate more on his abilities as an actor here since he also stars in the film. Jones was first nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1992 for JFK: two years later he won in the category for his role in The Fugitive. He earned his only lead actor nomination in 2008 for In the Valley of Elah and was last nominated for his supporting role in 2011 for Lincoln. Based on the trailer, Hilary Swank seems to have the bigger role as lone pioneer woman, Mary Bee Cuddy. Swank is no Academy stranger, having won her first of two Best Actress Oscars in 2000 for Boys Don’t Cry and her second in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby. Because of this, Swank is considered one of the most Oscar-baity working actresses in Hollywood. The trouble is, when a film that she stars in fails to impress critics, it hurts her reputation in their eyes (see 2009’s Amelia and 2010’s Conviction). Meryl Streep also features in what appears to be a smaller role, as does her daughter, Grace Gummer as one of the lugubrious women—the other two are played by Miranda Otto and Hailee Steinfeld. It’s worth mentioning that Steinfeld was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for what was really a lead role in the 2010 True Grit remake. Perhaps one of the lesser roles can strike a flame with critics? After all, Beatrice Straight won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Network in 1976 after appearing on-screen for only five minutes and two seconds.

As I mentioned at the top, Cannes isn’t primarily an Oscar hunting ground. The Un Certain Regard category recognises young talent and encourages innovative, daring works by presenting the recipient with a grant to aid his or her film’s distribution in France. This year’s selection opens with Party Girl, a collaborative effort from Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Berger and Samuel Theis, which concerns an ageing nightclub hostess who decides to settle down and get married. Also appearing will be two feature film debuts: The Blue Room from French actor Mathieu Almaric and Lost River from Ryan Gosling. The latter stars Saoirse Ronan, Christina Hendricks, and Eva Mendes.

Screening out of competition this year will be Yimou Zhang’s Coming Home and Dean DeBlois’ animated follow-up How to Train Your Dragon 2. The festival will also celebrate the 70th Anniversary of French newspaper, Le Monde.

Other films to screen include: David Michod’s follow-up to 2010’s Animal Kingdom, The Rover; Mike Leigh’s long-gestating biopic of British artist J.M.W. Turner, Mr. Turner; Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan; Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Marion Cotillard starrer Two Days, One Night.

This year’s closing night film has yet to be announced.

The narrative of this year is already being built as the organizers saw fit to pack the docket with many female-directed films—most likely in response to criticism of previous festivals’ lack of female presence. For now, we wait patiently to see if any of Cannes’ Official Selection find themselves in the Oscar conversation. The winners will be announced on May 25!

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