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Will the Oscar contenders please stand up?
The 87th Academy Awards are more than nine months away, and right now the feverish speculation along the Croisette is all about who will capture the Palme d’Or. Still, it’s never too early to start placing Oscar bets, even if as the fifth day of this year’s Cannes Film Festival draws to a close, only a handful of credible awards hopefuls have so far emerged.
Certainly, Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner made a strong first impression, and initial reactions to Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman were mostly upbeat. But the awards potential of the Cannes class of 2014 still remains hazy, with a number of prestige titles like Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Search still to screen.
Harvey Weinstein, a past master of using the Cannes circus to ignite early awards season buzz, didn’t add any clarity to the picture when he offered up a preview of coming attractions from The Weinstein Co. at the Majestic Hotel on May 16.
Three years ago, Weinstein used the occasion to enthuse about his latest discovery The Artist, which went on to win the best picture Oscar. Two years ago, he talked up Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained, which both captured best pic nominations. And last year, he teased such awards players as August: Osage County and Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
But this year, a relatively subdued Weinstein introduced a reel of trailers for upcoming TWC and Dimension movies that mixed together fare like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which Dimension opens in August, and Paddington, a live-action/animated hybrid about Paddington Bear, coming in December, with the kind of year-end movies that could conceivably develop awards traction like 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.”
Weinstein didn’t single out individual awards possibilities, although their 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 semi-comic 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 Francaise, another World War II drama, this one starring Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas and based on the novel by Irene Nemirovksy. So whether or not they will ultimately figure in the 2014 race is still up in the air.
In the case of movies that have begun screening in the Palais as part of the festival itself, the goods are now available for inspection.
Leigh’s two-and-one-half hour Mr. Turner, a portrait of the British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner starring Timothy Spall (known to younger viewers as Wormtail in the Harry Potter movies), has gotten some of the best reviews to date. In fact, it’s currently atop Screen International’s critics’ rankings, tied only with Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep. Awardsdaily.com’s Sasha Stone quickly proclaimed it “a film to keep an eye on for end of the year voting.”
The movie, though, could present some challenges for its distributor Sony Pictures Classics. While the Academy likes to invite Leigh to its party — he’s earned five writing nominations and two directing noms — Mr. Turner is a demanding period piece, with Spall’s Turner, an artist more interested in the light, rather than the people, around him, communicating mostly through grunts and harrumphs. Still, Spall is sure to be put forward as a prospective best actor — his chances may depend on how strong the surrounding field is; and the movie’s technical aspects — especially Dick Pope’s cinematography — are impeccable.
Jones, who received a standing ovation before The Homesman even screened at its official red carpet unveiling at the Palais on May 18, could also find himself on the awards season circuit. Starring alongside Hilary Swank in his 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 mad on the frontier back to civilization. It’s only the second feature he’s directed: the first, 2005’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, earned him best actor honors at Cannes but failed to register outside of the Spirit Awards. But Homesman, by honoring Hollywood Western traditions while also finding a new, feminist spin, could have bigger impact on the awards front. Although it doesn’t yet have an American distributor, its producers a looking to make a deal that guarantees a strong awards-season rollout.
For some, though, a quick thumbs-down at Cannes means any awards hopes they may have harbored have already been dashed. Grace of Monaco, this year’s opening night film, ran into a critical buzz saw. The Nicole Kidman starrer has already been struck from the handicapper’s tout sheets.
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Melvin Van Peebles