Cannes: Bookies Predict Palme d'Or Winner

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Jury president Jane Campion

"Winter Sleep" from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is seen as a favorite before any films even screen, while a regional newspaper predicts that Tommy Lee Jones "The Homesman" will win the top award.

Everybody speculates on who will win the Palme d'Or, but now the professionals are getting involved. Not a single frame of a single Cannes competition film has screened yet, but bookmakers are already giving odds and taking gamblers' money on this year's likely winner.

The bookies' favorite is Winter Sleep from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Irish betting site Paddy Power gives it the best odds – at 5/1 – to take home the Palme.

Neil Young, a former racing bookies who runs the cinema site Neil Young's Film Lounge (and writes reviews for The Hollywood Reporter) has been handicapping the festival for years. He also tips Winter Sleep to take the top prize, giving it even better odds: at 11/4.

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Ceylan is seen by many as overdue for a Palme after having won a series of awards on the Croisette in recent years including two runner-up Grand Jury awards (for Distant in 2002, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia in 2011) and a best directors' prize for 2008's Three Monkeys.

But local newspaper Nice Matin, after analyzing Cannes winners since 1946, has crowned Tommy Lee Jones' hardscrabble Western The Homesman this year's winner. Buzz from insiders who have seen Jones' second directorial effort confirm the pioneer drama starring Hilary Swank is a contender.

A closer look at the backgrounds of the jury throws up a few other possibilities. Jury president Jane Campion has a penchant for period drama -- see her Palme d'Or winner The Piano and Cannes Competition entry Bright Star – which could be good news for Mike Leigh's biopic Mr. Turner. Gael Garcia Bernal's taste for politically-tinged drama (Motorcycle Diaries, the Oscar-nominated No!) may tip the scales for Michel Hazanavicius' Chechen war drama The Search. Chinese helmer Jia Zhangke, whose gritty portrayals of modern-day China have won him acclaim and last year's best screenplay honor for Touch of Sin, may favor Leviathan, Andrei Zvyaginstev's take on modern-day Russia.

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Cannes juries, however, have a way of confounding expectations and throwing out surprises. This year's jury is a rare one in having both a female president in the form of Campion and a majority female voting block. Campion, still the only female director to win Cannes' top prize, may look to make a statement by handing the prize to one of the two femme-directed Competition titles.

Here the smart money is on Naomi Kawase's Still the Water. "There is nothing I want more than the Palme d'Or. I have my eyes on nothing else," said Kawase, who won the Grand Prix in 2007 for The Mourning Forest, ahead of this year's fest. “(and) there is no doubt that this is my masterpiece.”

We'll all have to wait until May 24 to see if the jury agrees with her.