How will the 2015 Cannes Film Festival set the stage for this year's Oscar race?

Posted by · 5:00 am · May 11th, 2015

Last year's edition of the Cannes International Film Festival brought with it the usual early awards possibilities. Some went the distance (Bennett Miller's “Foxcatcher” in a number of categories). Others fell short (Mike Leigh's “Mr. Turner”). But while Sundance is certainly stepping up its awards-relevance game, the Croisette is where people really start pondering how the film year will shake out once the Oscar drums start banging late in the fall.

One person who has leaned into the fest heavily the last couple of years is Harvey Weinstein. He has consistently held an event showcasing materials for The Weinstein Company's upcoming releases there, but this year he has a pair of films actually in competition that could make waves on the circuit. And it all starts with one of the most long-awaited films of the bunch.

Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's “Carol” is, along with Quentin Tarantino's “The Hateful Eight,” perhaps Weinstein's biggest awards hopeful of the year. Two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is sure to be in the conversation (her campaign perhaps even emboldened by a Cannes prize?) as she is starting to become almost as automatic a consideration as Meryl Streep.

Then there's Justin Kurzel's “Macbeth.” Ornate design and mouth-watering photography were singled out by press last year when footage was shown, but of course Michael Fassbender in the title part and Marion Cotillard in the gift of a role that is Lady Macbeth are bound to stir talk. Some were surprised to see it land a competition slot, so perhaps that bodes well for its quality?

Lionsgate could be back in the serious fold for the first time since precious with Denis Villeneuve's “Sicario.” The director's last effort, “Prisoners,” caused a stir that didn't quite amount to anything, but his talent is plain to see and the one-two punch of that film and “Enemy” was well-respected. All he needs is a fantastic screenplay (both “Prisoners” and his 2010 foreign language Oscar nominee “Incendies,” in my opinion, suffered from story issues). Perhaps writer Taylor Sheridan has provided that opportunity. Many eyes will be on Emily Blunt in lead but the cast fills out with supporting players that could easily pop, from Josh Brolin to Benicio Del Toro to Jon Bernthal. Oh, and with Roger Deakins behind the camera, you know it will be beautiful.

Gus Van Sant may or may not have a player with “The Sea of Trees.” It has all the hallmarks of being another existential experience a la the Death Trilogy (“Elephant,” “Gerry” and “Last Days”), i.e., not the Academy's cup of tea. It does feature recent Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey opposite Ken Watanabe, but it does not have domestic distribution yet. Lots of question marks there.

Early acquisitions talk has it that Fox Searchlight is circling Paolo Sorrentino's “Youth.” The director won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar two years ago for “The Great Beauty,” which also began its journey at Cannes. We're hearing that Michael Caine is amazing in the lead role, so keep a close eye on his buzz, while apparently Jane Fonda gets some scene stealing opportunities to boot. Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz and Harvey Keitel also star.

Speaking of “The Great Beauty,” there is, of course, the foreign field. Cannes is without question the place to be for international cinema and there will be a slew of titles hoping to represent their country at year's end. In addition to Sorrentino, two more filmmakers in competition this year have seen their work contend for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar: Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”) and Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”). They'll be back with “The Lobster” and “Dheepan” (working title) respectively.

Elsewhere, there is the usual exciting crop of fresh international filmmaking talent. “Gomorrah” director Matteo Garrone will be back with “The Tale of Tales.” “Oslo, August 31st” helmer Joachim Trier will have “Louder Than Bombs.” Jia Zhang-Ke, whose “A Touch of Sin” wasn't cleared for domestic release by Chinese censors, let alone selected for representation at the Oscars, will bring “Mountains May Depart.” Hirokazu Kore-Eda Hirokazu will follow up “Like Father, Like Son” with “Our Little Sister.” And “Declaration of War” director Valérie Donzelli will have “Marguerite and Julien.” And that's just skipping a stone, really.

Outside the fray of competition will be the usual mish-mash of consumer-ish stuff. “Mad Max: Fury Road” will melt faces (trust me) and, though it won't end up contending for top tier categories (though directors are sure to stand in awe and admiration of what George Miller has accomplished), it will be on plenty of longlists for fields like Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. The costumes deserve serious consideration as well. Pixar, meanwhile, will drop “Inside Out” a second time after showing it at CinemaCon in April, hoping to land in the expanded Best Picture field again. Woody Allen's “Irrational Man” will either make a player out of Joaquin Phoenix or just become one of the many non-essential titles he cranks out in between great works. And “The Little Prince” might prove to be a serious animated feature contender for Paramount, a first for the studio since “Rango.”

But to discuss the Cannes Film Festival in terms of Oscar potential is, as ever, a bit of folly. Yes, it gets the gears turning, but even as I cut through all this I find it limiting in discussing things. The Academy isn't going anywhere near a Gaspar Noé film, for instance, but “Love” is one of the films playing the fest that I'm most interested in discovering. Jeremy Saulnier's “Blue Ruin” was one of the best films of 2014, so I'm super stoked to see “Green Room.” Hou Hsiao Hsien has made a freakin' martial arts epic (“The Assassin”). There's a lot to chew on besides the circuit prospects, to say the least, but it's a launching pad for the season nevertheless.

So stay tuned to HitFix/In Contention over the next several days as we discover, together, how the early seeds of the 2015-2016 Oscar race will be sowed.

The 68th annual Cannes Film Festival runs May 13 – 24.

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