Cannes: Oscar Chatter Hits the Croisette

9:00 PM PST 05/19/2014 by Gregg Kilday
AP Photo/Thibault Camus
"Foxcatcher" cast at Cannes

Heeeere's Hollywood! From Steve Carell in "Foxcatcher" to Julianne Moore in "Maps to the Stars," buzzy performances provide early fodder for awards season handicappers.

And on the sixth day, the Cannes Film Festival unveiled a serious Oscar contender, and the bloggers saw it and said that it was good.

No sooner had the end credits rolled at the Monday 
8:30 a.m. press screening of Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher -- eagerly awaited ever since Sony Pictures Classics pulled it from its 2013 release schedule -- than the Twitterverse exploded in superlatives.

Even as the press applauded the real-life drama starring Steve Carell as John du Pont, heir to a family fortune, who becomes fatally obsessed with Olympic wrestlers Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum, and his brother, David (Mark Ruffalo), Vanity Fair quickly declared, "The first Oscar contender of the year just debuted at Cannes."

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Suppressing his natural comic instincts, Carell, abetted by aging makeup and a prosthetic nose, plays du Pont with repressed hauteur in a role that could be legitimately submitted for either best actor or supporting actor consideration, while Channing more than holds his own as a muscled hunk, full of tamped-down emotion. Miller -- whose first two features, Capote and Moneyball, both earned best picture Oscar noms -- is now positioned for what Awardsdaily.com's Sasha Stone proclaimed a "threepeat."

Of course, the 87th Academy Awards ceremony is more than nine months away, and right now the feverish speculation along the Croisette is more about who will capture the Palme d'Or. But as the festival hits its halfway mark, only a handful of movies have emerged that can be expected to go all the way to Hollywood's awards season.

Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, a portrait of the British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, starring Timothy Spall, is among the best-reviewed movies at the festival, along with Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep. The Academy likes to invite Leigh to its party -- he's earned five writing nominations and two directing noms -- but Mr. Turner, which SPC will release stateside, is a demanding period piece, with Spall playing an artist who is more interested in the light than the people around him, someone who communicates mostly through guttural harrumphs. Spall is sure to be put forward as a prospective best actor, and the movie's technical elements -- especially Dick Pope's cinematography -- are impeccable.

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Tommy Lee Jones, who received a standing ovation before The Homesman even screened at its Palais debut May 18, could also find himself on the awards season circuit. Starring alongside Hilary Swank in the movie, which he also wrote and directed, he's turned in an original take on the traditional Western, telling the story of a claim jumper and a prairie spinster who join forces to transport three woman who have gone crazy on the frontier back to civilization. As a respected industry veteran, he could find himself juggling multiple nominations.

Past Oscar nominee Julianne Moore turns in a tour de force as an aging actress watching her career slip away in David Cronenberg's Map to the Stars, but the blacker-than-black Hollywood satire is likely to send Academy members rushing for the exits.

Outside of the official selection, Harvey Weinstein, a past master of using the Cannes circus to ignite early awards season buzz, didn't add too much clarity to the picture when he offered up a preview of coming attractions from The Weinstein Co. on May 16. Relatively subdued, he introduced trailers for upcoming TWC movies that mixed together commercial fare like Paddington, a live-action/animated hybrid about Paddington Bear, with a new Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender. "I think it's going to be an exciting year," Weinstein said. "From commercial fun like Paddington, which is artistic in its own right, to the challenges of Macbeth."

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Weinstein didn't single out individual awards possibilities, although the release dates tell part of the story: The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the Englishman who cracked the Enigma Code during World War II, opens Nov. 11. And Big Eyes, Tim Burton's semicomic look at the artists Walter and Margaret Keane, starring Academy favorites Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, opens Dec. 25. TWC has yet to date Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel, and Suite Francais, another World War II drama, this one starring Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas. So whether or not they will ultimately figure in the 2014 race is still up in the air.

Elsewhere, Dreamworks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg used an out-of-competition screening of How to Train Your Dragon 2 to position that film as one of this year's major animation entries. With no Pixar movie arriving in theaters this year, Drago 2 could become an early frontrunner.

Several foreign-language films -- Ceylan's Winter SleepDamian Szifron's Wild Tales from Argentina -- have scored well with critics and could resurface as foreign-language Oscar submissions if they meet the various hurdles for Academy consideration.

For others, though, a quick Cannes thumbs-down has put an end to any awards talk. Ryan Reynolds demonstrated admirable acting chops, playing a dad whose daughter has been missing for eight years in Atom Egoyan's The Captive. But reviewers panned the movie as a whole, knocking it out of the conversation. And Grace of Monaco, the opening-night film, ran into a critical buzz saw, so the handicappers quickly scratched Nicole Kidman from their tout sheets.

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But while Cannes can be cruel when it doesn't love a movie, it can be rapturous when it falls in love with a film. Foxcatcher, which will be released Nov. 14, may ultimately prove to be a tricky sell when awards season heats up: Carell's tightly wound character doesn't deliver the sort of showy speeches that are often rewarded with trophies, and the movie itself is told in a deliberately muted fashion that some audiences could find off-putting. But as the filmmakers arrived for their official Cannes press conferences, they were nonetheless greeted with cries of "Bravo!"

Previewing what could inevitably become talking points if their movie does pick up awards traction, Carell said working in a drama wasn't all that different from performing in a comedy: "I don't think characters in films know that they're in a comedy or a drama."

And when one questioner compared the dramatic transformation that Carell undergoes in Foxcatcher to what the late Philip Seymour Hoffman underwent in Capote, Miller was almost overcome by emotion. Collecting himself, he said, "To work with actors who are willing to put faith in me is -- you have to be grateful for the rest of your life."

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