Cannes 2012: Early Oscar Buzz Centers on Michael Haneke's 'Amour,' Marion Cotillard
Forget the speculation about who’s going to win the Palme d’Or. This year, the bloggerati, especially the U.S. contingent, already are debating which films in the festival have a shot at an Oscar.
They’ve proclaimed Michael Haneke’s Amour, a rigorous look at how approaching death affects a longtime couple, the near-certain winner in the best foreign-language film category and ordered the Academy to reserve a spot in the best actress race for Marion Cotillard’s affecting work in Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone.
Of course, it’s a long way from the red-carpeted steps of the Palais to the equally crimson carpeting leading to the Academy Awards and the newly renamed Dolby Theatre, and most years, movies that cause a stir in Cannes in May -- like, say, 2010’s Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives -- are mere afterthoughts by the time the Oscars roll around in February.
But last year’s Cannes lineup was a notable exception, introducing eventual best picture Oscar winner The Artist as well as best picture nominees Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life. And so awards antennae are up.
As soon as Rust & Bone screened May 17, its fans tossed its hat into the ring. Audiard’s film traces a love affair between two damaged people: Cotillard plays a trainer at a Marineland who loses her legs to a rogue orca, and Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts is a down-on-his-luck boxer. Displaying a sure command of English offscreen, Schoenaerts, who first made a mark in last year’s Bullhead, looks primed for a career as an international action star if he wants it. And Cotillard, already an Oscar winner for La vie en rose, turns the sort of unvarnished, honest performance -- look, ma, no makeup! – that often results in Oscar attention.
“Marion Cotillard excels,” tweeted Toronto critic Peter Howell, “Oscar honors possible.” David Poland of moviecitynews.com tweeted, “Cotillard and screenplay will be Oscar nominated.”
The critics were even more effusive when Amour arrived May 20. “Only thing that can keep Amour from winning Foreign Language at next yr's Oscars is the pain of an Academy of members who are all too close,” Poland proclaimed. And Oscar-ologist Sasha Stone blogged that the film “is probably headed straight for Oscar’s foreign-language race, where it will likely win.”
“I’m not going to jinx it by talking about any of that,” said Michael Barker, co-head of Sony Pictures Classics, which picked up both films for U.S. release prior to their Cannes debuts.
If either film is going to figure in the foreign-language race, it will first have to be nominated by a host country. While Rust would have to get the nod from France, Amour could be nominated by either France or Austria because, though it’s performed by French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and the sublime Emmanuelle Riva, the principal filmmakers are Austrian. SPC, however, does plan to release both films stateside by the end of the year, so whether or not they are submitted for foreign-language consideration, they will be eligible in other categories.
If anything, distributors are playing down all the premature Oscar talk rather than encouraging it. When the Weinstein Co. swooped in and grabbed U.S. rights to The Sapphires, the based-on-a-true-story account of an Australian Aboriginal girl group that toured Vietnam in the '60s, it looked as if history might be repeating itself, since TWC picked up The Artist right before its Cannes debut last year. But as he hosted a party for the movie Monday night, TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein insisted that the feel-good movie isn’t part of some bigger awards calculation. “It’s a modest movie,” he said. “I just think it’s fun and smart. Anything beyond that is a mitzvah.” Still, if TWC takes the film out on the festival circuit, it’s just the kind of movie that could bring home lots of audience awards.
There also are plenty of other titles stirring up discussion. Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s whimsical look at young love, commanded the opening-night slot, which Woody Allen’s eventual best picture Oscar nominee Midnight in Paris did last year. And just as SPC used the Cannes limelight to turn Midnight into an art house-crossover hit, Focus Features hopes to do the same by opening Moonrise in limited release May 25. Although Anderson has scored two Oscar nominations in the past -- for co-writing The Royal Tenenbaums and making the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox -- he has yet to be fully embraced by the Academy, so Moonrise’s fortunes are a question mark.
Cannes also rolled out its red carpet for John Hillcoat's Prohibition-era drama Lawless, starring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke as brothers violently defending their turf. The debate that followed the first screening of the Weinstein Co. release is whether it should be classified as solid genre fare -- or something more.
Fox Searchlight’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, which had a triumphant debut at Sundance, continued to attract fans as it played the Un Certain Regard sidebar. It’s certainly headed for a seat of honor at the independent Spirit Awards, if not at the Oscars.
Other foreign-language films including Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (Romania) and Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (Denmark) also earned positive responses and could show up on some future Academy shortlist.
DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted might not have stirred up Oscar talk when it played the Palais -- despite grossing a cumulative $1.1 billion collectively, the first two films in the series didn’t get animated film nominations, either -- but DWA did show off footage from Rise of the Guardians, which opens Nov. 21, and it looks to have serious awards potential.
And then there are all the movies yet to screen: Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, Walter Salles’ On the Road, Jeff Nichols’ Mud. So don’t hand out all those Oscars just yet. There’s plenty more to come.
Email: Gregg.Kilday@thr.com; Twitter: @gkilday