Cannes: Actresses Drive Oscar Buzz on the Croisette

Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Emily Blunt star in films that are garnering early awards buzz.

As Cannes sets the stage for the 2015 Oscar race, one thing is guaranteed: Unlike last year, when awards-worthy performances by best actress contenders were scarce, this year, it’s les femmes who are dominating Cannes’ screens.

At the top of the list is Todd Haynes’ luxe romance Carol, starring two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (previously nominated for 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). As the fest heads into its final stretch, it’s holding its own as the best-reviewed competition entry. And it immediately got Oscar-watchers swooning. “Strong contender for awards @cannes15 & beyond,” tweeted IndieWire’s Anne Thompson. Predicted’s Jeff Wells, “Two years ago after winning her second Oscar for Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett could well claim her third for playing another woman in crisis in Carol.

When awards season does roll around, the question will be whether Blanchett and Rooney both contend for best actress, or will Rooney be positioned as supporting. That decision, says Harvey Weinstein, who is distributing the film, has yet to be decided.

As for the other women making a big impression, Emily Blunt got applause at the press screening Tuesday of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, in which she plays an FBI agent drawn into a cross-border campaign to bring down a Mexican drug lord, with THR critic Todd McCarthy judging her performance “first-rate.” By general agreement, Charlize Theron as a tough woman road warrior stole Mad Max: Fury Road from its titular character, played by Tom Hardy. Even though the action-pack Fury Road falls outside the usual parameters of what’s considered Oscar-worthy, the New York Post’s Lou Lemenick insisted in a tweet, “I can see Charlize Theron getting an Oscar nod for Mad Max: Fury Road. She owns it.”
And while Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth doesn’t screen until May 23, Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard could also be thrust into the conversation, since advance word is that as the ruthlessly ambitious Mrs. Macbeth, she delivers a show-stopping “Out, damned spot!” monologue.
Weinstein, who’s also distributing Macbeth, promised that Cotillard and fellow star Michael Fassbender deliver “two of the most extraordinary performances of the year.” And, as he touted TWC’s upcoming releases, he also predicted that Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as a boxer in Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw would earn him the nomination that eluded him last year for Nightcrawler.

Back among the competition titles, the Carol halo should extend to the film’s creative team — Haynes (who’s yet to earn a best director Oscar nom), screenwriter Phyllis Nagy; cinematographer Edward Lachman; composer Carter Burwell; and costume designer Sandy Powell (who could score dual nominations since she’s already earned raves for her extravagant outfits in Disney’s Cinderella.)

Sicario also could have awards coattails — especially for Roger Deakins striking cinematography. With 12 Oscar noms (including one for Villeneuve’s 2013 Prisoners) but no wins to date, the admired cinematographer is more than overdue.
If there has been a genuine discovery in the competition, it is first-time Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes for Son of Saul, a harrowing tour of Auschwitz from the point-of-view of a Jewish prisoner. A favorite for fest honors here, the film was quickly snapped up by Sony Classics Pictures even as the Hollywood agencies began besieging Nemes with offers of representation. Assuming the movie becomes Hungary’s foreign-language Oscar entry, it could well secure a nom.

There’s no question that Inside Out, which debuted out of competition Monday night, is assured an animated feature nom. Pete Docter’s follow-up to 2009’s Oscar-winning Up, the movie was universally praised as Pixar’s best in years.

And on the documentary front, Asif Kapadia’s Amy, a portrait of troubled singer Amy Winehouse, made a strong impression, which bodes well for its theatrical release by A24 on July 3, as well as its future awards prospects.