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The Cannes Film Festival was the obvious place to premiere a France-set movie made by a famous Francophile, which is why Searchlight and Wes Anderson decided to hold off on unveiling The French Dispatch until the festival’s 2021 edition after the 2020 edition at which it was originally slated to premiere was canceled due to the pandemic. And, sure enough, the film, which premiered on Monday night, played like gangbusters at the Palais, garnering a nine-minute ovation (best of the fest so far), and potentially positioning it for a run at the Palme d’Or.
But will The French Dispatch — which will next screen at the New York Film Festival on Sept. 24, en route to a U.S. release on Oct. 22 — also contend for Oscars? I could see things going either way, given that Anderson’s peculiar track record with the film.
Academy members ate up 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel across the board — it received nine noms, including picture, director and original screenplay, and won costume design, makeup/hairstyling, original score and production design. But they almost entirely shunned his other live-action films, including 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums and 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom (each received only an original screenplay nom), even though those two were comparably well received by critics and audiences.
(Anderson did receive best animated feature noms for 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and 2018’s Isle of Dogs.)
Anderson’s films all have a very specific style and sensibility, which is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. The French Dispatch is as Anderson-y as any of them, with a large ensemble that includes many members of his stock company (Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, etc.); with incomparable production value (incredibly detailed sets, miniatures, models, etc.); and with an offbeat and eccentric story (this one is a love letter to slightly pretentious journalism and journalists of the New Yorker variety).
For Academy members who enjoy Anderson’s movies, the film will certainly be engaging and amusing — but is it an across-the-board achievement, in the way they seemed to feel The Grand Budapest Hotel was? Structured in sections, like a magazine, The French Dispatch is, as The Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney put it in his review, “episodic by nature and less nourishing in narrative terms than some of Anderson’s through-line features.”
The one thread holding everything together is Anderson, whose calculated imprint is on every frame of the film. The members of his cast who were at the Cannes premiere seemed to recognize this, insisting that he alone stand for the first few minutes of the post-film ovation. This is not to say that the performances are not also first-rate — several are, particularly that of Jeffrey Wright, a newcomer to the Anderson pack — but the actors are, essentially, Anderson’s marionettes, as I think they would be the first to admit, and this is Anderson’s show.
It’s only July, so a lot can and will still change in the months between now and when Academy members begin picking Oscar nominees. But my sense is that The French Dispatch will wind up somewhere between The Grand Budapest Hotel and Anderson’s other films, in terms of how the Academy responds to it. It’s hard to imagine its production design, costume design and makeup/hairstyling not receiving noms, and probably its original screenplay and original score (by Alexandre Desplat), too. In a year in which the Academy will return to a guaranteed 10 best picture nominees, it could wind up nominated in that category, too — but I suspect that the film will face a steep climb to fully break through, in the way that Grand Budapest did, into the categories that recognize the sum of all parts.
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