Early Oscar Contenders?

Last year's Cannes played like veritable spring training for the Academy Awards.

Last year, the Cannes Film Festival played like veritable spring training for the Oscars, providing a launchpad for eventual Academy Award winners The Artist and Jean Dujardin as well as best pic nominees Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life. But don't look for history to repeat.

Michael Haneke's Amour, starring veteran French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, got the imprimatur of the Palme d'Or, making it a front-runner for the foreign-language Oscar, though the co-production will first have to be submitted by France or Austria to be considered. But Sony Pictures Classics plans to release the film in the U.S. this year, so it will be eligible in other categories. The big question: Will the Academy embrace a movie that goes out of its way to avoid conventional sentimentality? If so, then original screenplay and directing nominations are possibilities, while acting noms for Trintignant and Riva are much more of a long shot.

There were lots of other serious-minded films that drew the sort of applause at the Palais that doesn't necessarily translate into awards recognition in the States. Marion Cotillard's raw performance in Rust and Bone as a woman who loses her legs would be automatic Oscar bait if it appeared in an American feature, but SPC will have to entice Academy members into checking out the French-language feature.

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, a whimsical fable about young love, probably won't have the same appeal for older Academy voters as Midnight in Paris. But it did open to record-breaking numbers in four U.S. theaters, and if it maintains momentum, it could be hard to ignore.

One film that did improve its awards cred is Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild. Winner of two prizes at Sundance, it picked up the FIPRESCI critics prize after playing the Un Certain Regard sidebar. It already was sure to earn attention at the Spirit Awards, but now some Oscar love also is a possibility.

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