By Jim Keller
It’s become a regular thing for me to take a bit of a hiatus after May’s Cannes Film Festival. This is largely because there simply isn’t much to write about in the Oscar world, but if I’m one hundred percent honest, it’s nice to have a bit of downtime as the summer months approach. So here we are in the thick of summer, the FIFA World Cup 2014 just came to a close, and most people are not giving the film world a second thought. Yet here I sit, mere weeks after the July 4th weekend, on the precipice of what is sure to be a crazy Oscar race, slowly beginning to take shape much like galaxies from dust particles. To that end, I am reluctant to dive into the “Ones to Watch” series just yet so in this edition we take a closer look at those films and performances in the Oscar conversation that bowed on the Croisette, which could earn nominations in their respective categories.
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.
For Your Consideration (FYC): Not only did Miller win the festival’s Best Director prize, but his film went on to vie for the Palme d’Or, which it lost only by a narrow margin to Turkish director Nuri Bilge’s Winter Sleep. As I mentioned in the last column, Miller won the Best Director Oscar for Capote in 2006. For now, he is the one to beat in the Best Director race. Also in May I wondered how meaty Channing Tatum’s role as David Schultz would be. While Steve Carell (du Pont) will campaign as lead actor, both Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, who plays Schultz’s younger brother, also named Mark, are considered co-leads. But with Carell’s playing against type, the two will likely compete head-to-head in the supporting race. A nomination here would be the first for Tatum, while Ruffalo earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Kids Are Alright in 2011. On top of that, co-screenwriter, Dan Futterman was nominated alongside Miller for his work on Capote in 2006, so look for him to figure in. All of this combined makes Foxcatcher a viable Best Picture nominee and possible winner.
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: Where Foxcatcher came up short in the acting categories, Maps excelled with a win for Julianne Moore as aging actress Havana Segrand, who tries desperately to reclaim her Hollywood fame. Moore has been nominated for Oscar four times, first for her supporting role in 1997’s Boogie Nights, then as a lead for 1999’s The End of the Affair. In 2003, she earned a pair of nominations: supporting for The Hours, and lead for Far From Heaven. More than 17 years after her first nomination, Moore is overdue for a win, and if Hollywood can set aside its inevitable squabbles with the film’s depictions of Hollywood and celebrity, this could be her chance to break the spell. The film’s other standout is Mia Wasikowska, as Segrand’s assistant, Agatha Weiss, a Florida sanatorium transplant. Wasikowska has yet to garner Academy attention, and I stress “yet.” An outside chance also exists for the Academy to punch Cronenberg’s ticket as well—though that is much less likely.
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: The word on Jones’ adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s 1988 novel of the same name is mixed. Where some fell hard for it, others felt it was disjointed. Most agree that the film’s biggest chances for Academy recognition lie with actors Jones as the claim jumper George Briggs, and Hilary Swank as the pioneer woman Mary Bee Cuddy. As discussed in the last column, Jones was first nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1992 for JFK and 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. The Academy doesn’t seem to favor Jones, and given the mixed reviews, a nomination would be his award. Swank, on the other hand, has won two Best Actress Oscars, the first in 2000 for Boys Don’t Cry and the second in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby. Going by recent history, if she can get a nomination, she’s a threat for the win.
Leviathan (director: Andrei Zvyagintsev):
Russian director Zvyagintsev’s drama tells the story of a man who struggles against a corrupt, land-hungry mayor. The screenplay is a modern reworking of the Book of Job it deals with some important contemporary, Russian, social issues, and covers the themes of love and tragedy experienced by ordinary people.
FYC: In 2007, Zvyagintsev’s second feature film, The Banishment, competed for the Palme d’Or, which allowed him to capitalize on his familiarity. In 2011 he returned to the festival with Elena, which won the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Award. This year Leviathan competed for the Palme d’Or and Zvyagintsev won Best Screenplay along with Oleg Negin. These achievements make the film one to watch in the Best Foreign Film race.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (director: Ned Benson): This drama tells the story of a couple as they sift through their broken past and try to reclaim the love they once shared.
FYC: The film first bowed last year at the Toronto International Film Festival as two different cuts: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: His and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Hers. Since then, an additional cut has been shown: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them—each with its own depiction of the same couple’s love story. While the film is helmed by first-time director Benson, the buzz has largely been about its co-leads Jessica Chastain and James MacAvoy as well as Viola Davis’ supporting turn. Chastain has been nominated twice: supporting in 2012 for The Help and lead the following year for Zero Dark Thirty—a win she narrowly lost, likely due to the film’s takedown by senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein, and Carl Levin. While MacAvoy earned a Golden Globe nomination for his leading role in 2007’s Atonement, he has not yet garnered Academy attention. Davis, on the other hand, was first nominated in 2008 in a supporting role for Doubt and narrowly lost in a leading role alongside Chastain in The Help. Any of these three could earn nominations, but my bet is on Chastain, who has not one, but four chances for a nomination this year. She will also appear in Miss Julie, Interstellar,and A Most Violent Year.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (director: Dean DeBlois): This animated feature sequel follows two young dragon-friendly Vikings who discover an ice cave filled with wild dragons and a mysterious dragon rider. Through their adventure, the two find themselves at the center of a battle to protect peace.
FYC: The film played out of competition at the festival, but that didn’t stop it from earning rave reviews. It appears that the sequel is on its way to much fanfare and possibly repeat nominations in the Best Animated Feature and Original Score races, following the 2010 film. Whether or not it can win against the much heralded Lego Movie is anyone’s guess.
Mr. Turner (director: Mike Leigh): A biopic that explores the last quarter century of the great, eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner’s life.
FYC: Leigh finally makes good on his promise to deliver his big screen biopic after a 2010 Los Angeles Times interview, and from the looks of it, it’s about to pay off. When the film bowed at the festival, critics fell hook, line and sinker for the extraordinary palette served up by Leigh, some going so far as to call it a masterpiece. The strong appreciation for his film earned it a Palme d’Or nomination, something Leigh has experienced four times, beginning in 1993 for Naked. He won in 1996 for Secrets and Lies, the film that catapulted Leigh onto the Academy’s stage with Best Screenplay and Best Director nominations. In 2000 he earned another screenplay nomination for Topsy-Turvy, followed by a second screenplay and directing pair of noms for Vera Drake in 2005. Leigh went on to earn two more screen play nominations: in 2009 for Happy-Go-Lucky and in 2011 for Another Year. There really is no reason why Leigh couldn’t land double noms again this year. Which leads me to Timothy Spall—another weapon in the film’s arsenal, who plays Turner. Spall has not yet attracted the Academy’s eye. He is perhaps best known for his role as Wormtail in the Harry Potter films, but has been a stalwart player in Leigh’s films over the years. Beginning with a role in 1990’s Life is Sweet, followed by Secrets and Lies, which earned him a Best Actor BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) nomination and Topsy-Turvy, which earned him a second BAFTA nomination for his supporting role, Spall has now appeared in five Leigh films. Where Leigh was nominated for directing, Spall took home the Best Actor hardware, which could easily become one of many this year. Further, outside of Foxcatcher, I’d say this is the most likely of the Cannes bunch to land a Best Picture nomination.
Clouds of Sils Maria (director: Olivier Assayas): The drama concerns successful actress Maria Enders and her loyal assistant, who retreat to the town of Sils Maria in the Swiss Alps after a young actress interprets the role that made her famous and her world begins to crumble.
FYC: Assayas’ film is another that competed for the Palme d’Or this year—an honor he has enjoyed four times, beginning in 2000 with Les Destinées Sentimentales. Based on the initial reaction to the film, I wouldn’t expect his name to pop up much in this year’s Oscar race, but I wouldn’t dismiss the actors’ chances: Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, in particular. Binoche won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1997 for The English Patient and earned a Best Actress nomination in 2001 for Chocolat. While Stewart is not closely associated with “Oscar,” she spent the years following the Twilight franchise delving into more challenging roles and rebuilding herself after 2012’s affair with director, Rupert Sanders, which resulted in her dismissal from the planned Snow White and the Huntsman sequel. Chloë Grace Moretz also appears as the young actress, but don’t look for her to figure in with a less prominent role.
I always write this, but it’s worth repeating: Cannes isn’t primarily an Oscar vehicle. While the performances and films discussed in this column may go all the way, for many the road will end here. Further, there were several films at Cannes this year that struck a chord with critics, and these, too, could build steam as the Oscar race picks up. The Un Certain Regard category unleashed both Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s, Marion Cotillard starrer Two Days, One Night. I chose not to discuss these in depth because the directors, while big names at Cannes, are Canadian and French, respectively. They are not well-known outside of the film world and for them to attract Academy attention, their films would have to really hit hard. Given some of the Cannes slate I discussed here, and what is yet to come from the bigger names, that is not a likely scenario.
Next month we will hit the ground running with the first in three-part “Ones to Watch” series.