Cannes: Forecast of Palme d'Or Race at Mid-Point of Fest (Analysis)

Le Passe The Past Film Still - H 2013

Le Passe The Past Film Still - H 2013

The 66th Cannes Film Festival is about half over now, so I thought I'd scrape together a few minutes, in-between shooting interviews with the filmmakers and casts of most of the major films here, to share with you my assessment of the way things are going over here.

The question on everyone's mind along the Croisette is, of course, which of the 20 films in the main competition will be awarded this year's Palme d'Or, one of cinema's greatest badges of honor, by arguably the highest-profile festival jury ever assembled. Those deciding the outcome include Steven Spielberg, the jury president, as well as Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Cristian Mungiu, Lynne Ramsey and Christoph Waltz.

Right now, the general consensus is that, of the 10 in competition films that have had their official screenings, there is no slam-dunk front-runner.

Instead, there seem to be four movies that are generating a bit more buzz than the others, The Past, a French-language drama about inter- and intra-family revelations from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose similarly-themed last film A Separation (2011) won the best foreign language film Oscar; Inside Llewyn Davis, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen's latest wry dramedy, this one about American folk singer in the 1960s, brilliantly played by Oscar Isaac, the breakthrough star of the fest thus far; Hirokazu Koreeda's Japanese drama Like Father, Like Son, a tearjerking dramedy that went over very well at its Palais premiere; and the hometown favorite at the moment, Fracois Ozon's French drama about sex Young & Beautiful, which has won strong notices for its young star Marine Vacth.

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There are also two movies that elicited widespread derision and therefore seem like they can be counted out, Amat Escalante's depressing Mexican crime drama Heli and Frenchman Arnaud Desplechin's strange but true drama Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian).

Buzz is more mixed about the other four films that already have screened: Jia Zhangke's A Touch of Sin, a Babel-esque look at modern-day China; Alex van Warmerdam's Borgman, a playful Dutch thriller; Takashi Miike's Shield of Straw, an action-packed road movie; and Italian-Frenchwoman Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's A Castle in Italy, a French drama about the disintegration of a family.

Of course, there are 10 other in-competition films still to come. The most highly anticipated among them are Alexander Payne's Nebraska, a black-and-white road movie pairing SNL's Will Forte and Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, as well as character actress June SquibbNicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives, a violent and foul-mouthed thriller that reunites Refn with his Drive (2011) muse Ryan Gosling and appears to feature a plum part for Kristin Scott Thomas; Roman Polanski's Venus in Fur, an adaptation of a Broadway play; French favorite James Gray's The Immigrant, a period piece crime drama that stars French star Marion Cotillard; and Steven Soderbergh's supposed swan song Behind the Candelabra, an HBO-bound look at the life and loves of Liberace (which I have already seen).

We are also still awaiting Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty; Mahamat-Saleh Haroun Grigris; Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive; Arnaud des Pallieres' Michael Kohlhaas; and Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is the Warmest Color.

If I had a gun to my head, I would bet at this moment, considering only what already has been screened, that the Palme d'Or will go to The Past, best actor will go to Isaac for Inside Llewyn Davis and best actress will go to Vacth for Young & Beautiful.

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Of course, there's also the Un Certain Regard competition, featuring 18 additional films that didn't quite make it into the competition lineup and/or demonstrate promising work from up-and-coming filmmakers and/or have played at another fest before Cannes.

Of them, I have seen Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, a fun but disturbing contemporary piece starring an ensemble of young actresses re-enacting a recent Los Angeles crime spree; Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station, an American indie based on a real case of police brutality, which previously won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance; Rebecca Zlotowski's Grand Central, a French romantic tragedy starring Tahar Rahim and Lea Seydoux; James Franco's As I Lay Dying, which he adapted from a William Faulkner novel and both directed and stars in; and Hany Abu-Assad's Omar, a Palestinian film about three childhood friends and a young woman, and only Abu-Assad's second film since his Paradise Now (2005) received a best foreign language film Oscar nomination.

Awarded since 1998, the Prix Un Certain Regard has never gone to an American film, but I think this could be the year that changes, as Fruitvale Station seems to be going over very well here.

We will see!

Just as much fun to monitor: out-of-competition and special screenings.

The former group includes this year's opening night film The Great Gatsby (which I liked more than most and which had a relatively mild reception for a Cannes opener); All Is Lost (which teamed Margin Call scribe/director J.C. Chandor and star Robert Redford in a reportedly wordless drama about a man lost at sea -- it screens on Wednesday); veteran Claude Lanzmann's latest The Last of the Unjust; hometown boy Guillaume Canet's Blood Ties, a film that The Weinstein Co. will release in the U.S., which stars Canet's partner Marion Cotillard plus Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Mila Kunis and Matthias Schoenaerts; and this year's closing night film, Jerome Salle's Zulu.

The latter group includes James Toback's doc about Cannes -- meta! -- Seduced and Abandoned (which premieres tonight) and Stephen Frears' half-narrative/half-doc Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight, both of which are HBO-bound.