The Cannes Film Festival can be a feeding frenzy that can make or break a film. It isn’t easy to use the hype from Cannes to keep a film alive long enough to still have impact much later in the year, especially if that film hits the other festivals along the way. Hype won’t cut it. That’s the plain truth. The film itself really has to have the stuff or else it will never capture the attention of Oscar voters by the time December rolls around.
The hype part of it is getting much worse. More journalists are flooding the festivals, sharing their opinions on Twitter – and a film can rise and fall long before it ever even hits theaters. With Sundance in the can, Cannes is the next big stop for international films – most of which will get nowhere near the Oscar race. Many films that end up being foreign language nominees will play there and will be reviewed there, for better or worse.
The films that have managed Best Picture nominations out of Cannes in the past ten years include:
Mad Max: Fury Road – 2015
Nebraska – 2013
Amour – 2012
The Tree of Life – 2011
Midnight in Paris – 2011
The Artist – 2011 ++
No Country for Old Men – 2007 ++
With an expanded Best Picture slate, obviously it’s much easier to find a film that lands a nomination. 2011 was probably the record for most Best Picture nominees that played at Cannes, and one of the two ended up winning BP.
Even when a film that does well at Cannes doesn’t finish out the year with a Best Picture nomination, the buzz around it can help propel acting and writing contenders, like Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol, or Steve Carell in Foxcatcher. Last year Ruth Negga made it in for Loving, though that film had a harder time staying afloat after Cannes, probably because it is so understated.
From a critic’s perspective, their experience at Cannes will ideally be more aligned with the art of cinema than the Oscar race, but I suspect many fall into that way of thinking anyway, as they do with most festivals in the lead up to the Oscars.
Keeping the hype alive is tricky. Being underestimated out of Cannes is probably better than being over-estimated. Even the booing of a film, as happened with Tree of Life, didn’t stop Oscar voters from nominating that movie and its director. Probably the booing helped, in fact, because it set up lower expectations.
Where expectations are concerned, some films meet them and some don’t when it comes to the minds of voters. No Country for Old Men and The Artist were films whose support never dampened. They more than lived up to any hype that surrounded them. Amour was a surprise Best Picture nominee, but Midnight in Paris and Nebraska were considered shoo-ins from the Cannes fest onward.
What is coming up in the next few days to pay attention to, in terms of the race for Best Picture? Keeping in mind that any film by any director can pop into consciousness if it’s good enough, the ones that seem to be potentially in the conversation for the Oscars would be:
The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola – this is the big one we’re all waiting for, of course. Starring Nicole Kidman as one of a house full of women who capture a soldier.
Wonderstruck, Todd Haynes – directed by the brilliant Haynes. “The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection.” Stars Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, and Amy Hargreaves.
Le Redoutable, Michel Hazanavicius – a film about Jean-Luc Godard falling in love with and later marrying Anne Wiazemsky. Very meta. Very cool idea. I am envious not to be seeing this one.
You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay – “A war veteran’s attempt to save a young girl from a sex trafficking ring goes horribly wrong.” Starring Joaquin Phoenix.
The Meyerowitz Stories, Noah Baumbach – “An estranged family gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father.” Adam Sandler and Dustin Hoffman. Big enough star power to push it through and yet …
Happy End, Michael Haneke – “A drama about a family set in Calais with the European refugee crisis as the backdrop.” Sure to be brilliant and bleak beyond words.
We’ll be watching, reading, and listening, but taking it all somewhat with a grain of salt. Remember, when it comes to Oscar, nobody knows anything. Sure, they can guess but even the best of them can be wrong. Things change. The film can be swallowed up by an unexpected controversy. Critics aren’t Oscar voters.