'Hateful Eight' looks good, but 'Lion' may be Harvey Weinstein's secret Oscar player

Posted by · 11:19 am · May 14th, 2015

Cannes – Harvey Weinstein appears to be in a good place. The Weinstein Company is, after all, coming off three-straight hits with “The Imitation Game,” “Paddington” and “Woman in Gold.” Thursday evening the industry titan held court for his annual Cannes preview, noting that he loved this year's slate while insisting that that's not always the case. The highlight of the evening was intended to be the first footage screened of Quentin Tarantino's “The Hateful Eight,” but this pundit was much more impressed with Garth Davis' “Lion.”  

Based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, “Lion” chronicles how, thanks to his inherent curiosity, a 5-year-old boy is separated from his family in India. Now, 25 years later, Saroo (Dev Patel) has grown up after being raised by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and begins a search for the biological family he believes is still waiting for him to come home. Davis is a first time director, but the cinematography by Greg Frasier (“Foxcatcher,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) looks superb. Moreover, Kidman is slumming it in a more dowdy and older roll than you've seen her play in quite some time.

Footage in this context can always be deceiving, but we were surprised when The Weinstein Company confirmed a 2016 release. Perhaps the studio feels it can slot it into that “Best Exotic Marigold” spring date with the same success. Or, perhaps the movie has problems they were effectively able to hide in the sneak peek. In either case, it's hard to understand why Harvey wouldn't just throw it up against the wall like he has with so many other awards players.

As for “The Hateful Eight,” it's visually and tonally very reminiscent of the winter scenes in “Django Unchained.” The preview didn't give away much of the story but instead focused on the fact that these are eight complete strangers (except for one) who are all stuck in the same establishment due to inclement weather. Kurt Russell's The Hangman, Samuel L. Jackson's The Bounty Hunter and and Tim Roth's The Little Man received the most screen time. These sort of teases can be deceiving, too, but judging from the footage, the film appears to have a much smaller scope than “Inglourious Basterds” or “Django Unchained.” It's currently scheduled for a release sometime this fall or early winter.

The preview compilation also included footage from “Southpaw” and TWC conveniently scheduled the event so Jake Gyllenhaal, who is serving on the Cannes jury this year, could attend. Harvey says he thought Gyllenhaal should have been nominated for Best Actor last year for “Nightcrawler” and that they will make it up for him this season with Antoine Fuqua's film. (He also said the movie was offered a slot in the festival, but wasn't ready in time.) We're convinced the boxing thriller could be a surprise summer hit for the company, but film's storyline (daddy will do anything to get custody of his little girl) isn't inspiring confidence the movie is anything more than a commercial play.

Here's a quick rundown on the other films that sparked interest during the event.

“Adam Jones”
Bradley Cooper plays a topflight chef who intends to take over the London restaurant world. Sienna Miller, another jury member who also stopped by, plays a fellow chef and his love interest. Frankly, the John Wells dramedy looks commercial if and only if Cooper's star power has grown since “American Sniper.” Outside of “Ratatouille,” cooking movies have never been huge business. What has us more intrigued are the supporting roles from Uma Thurman, Daniel Brühl, Emma Thompson, Lily James, Matthew Rhys and Jamie Dornan. Just how special was Oscar nominee Steven Knight's screenplay to make them jump on board, even if just for a cameo?

“Tulip Fever”
Set for sometime in 2015, this period drama got some of the biggest buzz from the international media and buyers on hand. Based on Deborah Moggach's novel, the film centers on a romantic affair between Sophia (Alicia Vikander) and Jan (Dane DeHaan). Christoph Waltz plays Sophia's older husband Cornelis (seemingly another bad guy role). It certainly looks beautiful, but is it really a serious awards player? Something tells us Vikander's chances at an Oscar nod lie with Focus Features' “The Danish Girl” and not here.

Todd Haynes' new drama plays in competition at Cannes this weekend and the extended footage looked promising. The awards hype for Carol herself, Cate Blanchett, appears warranted and both Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson have larger roles than we expected. We'll find out more when the film screens for the press Saturday night.

Well, it's certainly William Shakespeare's play up their on the big screen. Director Justin Kurzel's interpretation has a striking visual palette, but it will sink or swim based on the performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Normally we wouldn't even question the pairing of two of the world's greatest thespians. Unfortunately, the fact that “Macbeth” debuts on the absolute last day of the festival has us slightly concerned.

“Hands of Stone”
The true story of boxing legend Roberto Duran (Édgar Ramírez) and his trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro), this drama was just snagged by The Weinstein Company this past week. After “Southpaw” and Warner Bros.' “Creed,” it will be the third boxing movie hitting theaters in the next 12 months. It may be good, but are moviegoers that enthralled with boxing on the big screen? “Stone” will arrive in theaters in 2016.

It's worth noting there was no mention of Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts' “Suite Française,” which was previewed last year and has already opened across most of Europe.

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