The Oscar race has evolved dramatically in the years I’ve been observing and covering it. The one thing that remained consistent throughout that time was that the Cannes Film Festival was a distant planet to the Oscar race. They existed in completely different worlds. Even when I was attending the festival as recently as 2014 if you mentioned the Oscars to any of them (except the small cabal of journalists and critics who knew or cared) they would laugh in your face. Nothing seemed more ridiculous to them than the Oscars. Now that Parasite has become the first film since Marty to win both the Palme and the Oscar they might have to rethink their position.
The Oscars have been forced to become more global. That’s because films that come from foreign lands are often superior to the American made films, where studios have mostly abandoned the “Oscar movie” but for a few niche projects here or there. We like to liken it to the salad at McDonald’s. They sell the salad. No one really eats the salad. But the salad is there to remind the masses that McDonald’s kind of, sort of still cares about the health of you and your planet. The ‘Woke’ revolution has given all corporations an easy way out of the mess by simply offering up an inclusion statement. That serves as a kind of “salad” to give the appearance that they are “listening” and “striving for change.” (For reference, see Bo Burnham’s “Brand Consultant” on Netflix’s Inside).
All of this to say that, by necessity, the Oscars have become more global. In fact, if you look at their recent membership press announcement that broadcasts the hashtag #wearetheacademy half of that message is about how international they are. So why would that matter? Well, in every country except America money is not the end goal when it comes to making movies. Sure, money helps. It always helps. They need their films to make money so they can make another movie. But in general, storytelling matters more. In America, I think we can safely conclude, it no longer really does. Either it must deliver an activist message (please god no) or else it must make a bucketload of cash at the box office – and sometimes even both (PLEASE GOD NO).
So here we are. Cannes is rolling out. We have a general sense of what movies we think MIGHT go to the Oscars. With way too many people covering the race, even in Cannes as we speak, and (sad to say) not enough movies to warrant coverage you have a Splooge Extraordinaire situation unfolding each time a movie drops. There isn’t really even the lag time there used to be in terms of allowing a movie to be a movie before it is assessed and dismissed as “Oscar-friendly” or not, by those who think in those terms. Really the conversation should simply be: is the movie good? Parasite was a movie everyone knew was good. They just didn’t know if the Oscar voters would go for a non-English language film for Best Picture. But now, the idea is loosening that there is one kind of Oscar voter and that imaginary voter may or may not like this particular movie.
Publicists have the job of selling the movie via the bloggers and the critics. If they can get them to watch the movies maybe they will write about the movies and maybe there will be SOME buzz generated so people watch the movies. Actually, in the era of streaming platforms, where Cannes is concerned, they’re really just looking for people to BUY the movies, except when the movies are already there representing a specific studio. What we generally do is look at which studios already have movies there. Like Searchlight. Then we listen for what movies are generating real buzz.
Sometimes the buzz takes you absolutely nowhere and can even backfire (Blue is the Warmest Colour). Sometimes it’s legit, as it was with The Artist and No Country for Old men and Midnight in Paris. And of course, Parasite. It is hard to know which movies are the real deal — and not just films that will play well at Cannes and then evaporate stateside.
Either way, the main movie people are keeping an eye on now is, of course, The French Dispatch by Wes Anderson, which was meant to be released in 2020 but will be in play this year. It won’t screen until next week but I expect we’ll get the usual round of “is it Oscar-friendly” – and yay or nay on that. What you’re looking for, instead, is if the movie is good.
Take, for example, Nicolas Cage’s performance in the movie Pig. He’s being praised for his work in this film, without him having been sold as an Oscar contender first. This is actual buzz. Thus, it’s worth paying attention to Cage as a potential Best Actor nominee. The French Dispatch already has a placeholder in many of the predictions on the blogs, so all it has to do is live up to the hype.
Paul Sheehan wrote up a late June Best Picture report, prior to Cannes. Two of the films on this list, Annette and Stillwater, have been seen in Cannes already. No one was jumping up and down over them, despite their lengthy standing ovations — which are pretty much the standard for gala premieres with celebrities in attendance.
So for now, we’ll put these in the “seen” category.
Director: Leos Carax
Writers: Ron Mael, Russell Mael
Cast: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard
Plot: A stand-up comedian and his opera singer wife, have a 2-year-old daughter with a surprising gift
Writer/Director: Sian Heder
Cast: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant
Plot: As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family who is torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré
Cast: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Deanna Dunagan
Plot: A father travels from Oklahoma to France to help his daughter who has been arrested for murder.
“In the Heights” (Warner Bros. – June 26)
Director: John Chu
Writer: Quiara Alegría Hudes, who adapted her book for the musical of the same name.
Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Jimmy Smits
Plot: A bodega owner has mixed feelings about closing his store and retiring to the Dominican Republic after inheriting his grandmother’s fortune.
“The French Dispatch” (Searchlight Pictures)
Writer/Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Steve Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson.
Plot: A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch” magazine.
Not yet seen, maybe showcased at Fall Festivals:
Writer/Director: Andrew Dominik who adapted the novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates.
Cast: Ana De Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson
Plot: A fictionalized take on the life of Marilyn Monroe.
“Canterbury Glass” (New Regency)
Writer/Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, Robert De Niro Rami Malek, John David Washington, Zoe Saldana
Plot: A doctor and a lawyer form an unlikely partnership.
“C’mon, C’mon” (A24)
Writer/Director: Mike Mills
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Woody Norman, Artrial Clark
Plot: An artist (Phoenix) left to take care of his precocious young nephew (Norman) forge an unexpected bond over a cross country trip.
“The Courier” (Lionsgate – March 19)
Director: Dominic Cooke
Writer: Tom O’Connor
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley
Plot: The true story of the British businessman who helped the CIA penetrate the Soviet nuclear programme during the Cold War.
“Don’t Look Up” (Netflix)
Writer/Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Chris Evans, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance
Plot: Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn humankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.
“Don’t Worry Darling” (New Line)
Director: Olivia Wilde
Writers: Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Florence Pugh, Gemma Chan
Plot: A 1950’s housewife living with her husband in a utopian experimental community begins to worry that his glamorous company may be hiding disturbing secrets.
“The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” (Amazon)
Director: Will Sharpe
Writers: Sharpe, Simon Stephenson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrea Riseborough, Claire Foy
Plot: The story of the prolific English artist who rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century.
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (Amazon)
Director: Jonathan Butterell
Writers: Dan Gillespie Sells, Tom MacRae, who adapted their stage musical of the same name.
Cast: Max Harwood, Lauren Patel, Richard E. Grant
Plot: A teenager from Sheffield, England wants to be a drag queen.
“The Eyes Of Tammy Faye” (Searchlight Pictures)
Director: Michael Showalter
Writer: Abe Sylvia
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Vincent D’Onofrio
Plot: Televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker seek redemption after their religious empire and marriage crumbles.
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: Craig Luck, Ivor Powell
Cast: Tom Hanks, Caleb Landry Jones, Samira Wiley, Laura Harrier, Skeet Ulrich
Plot: An ailing inventor, who is the last man on Earth, builds an android to keep him and his dog company and goes on a cross-country journey.
“Last Night in Soho” (Focus)
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Edgar Wright
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessie Mei Li, Matt Smith
Plot: A young girl, passionate about fashion design, is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters her idol, a dazzling wannabe singer.
“The Many Saints of Newark” (Warner Bros.)
Director: Alan Taylor
Writers: Lawrence Konner, David Chase
Cast: Billy Magnussen, Vera Farmiga, Jon Berntha, Leslie Odom Jr., Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta
Plot: A look at the formative years of New Jersey gangster, Tony Soprano.
“Next Goal Wins” (Searchlight Pictures)
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Iain Morris and Waititi, who adapted the documentary of the same name.
Cast:: Michael Fassbender, Elisabeth Moss, Kaimana, Beulah Koale, Rachel House, Armie Hammer.
Plot: A coach takes the American Samoa national football team to the World Cup.
“Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: del Toro and Kim Morgan, who adapted the novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham.
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins
Plot: A corrupt con-man teams up with a female psychiatrist to trick people into giving them money
“The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
Director: Jane Campion
Writer: Campion, who adapted the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage.
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons
Plot: A pair of brothers who own a large ranch in Montana are pitted against each other when one of them gets married.
“Red, White, and Water” (A24)
Director: Lila Neugebauer
Writer: Elizabeth Sanders
Cast; Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Samira Wiley
Plot: A US soldier suffers a traumatic brain injury while fighting in Afghanistan and struggles to adjust to life back home.
“Good Joe Bell” (Solstice Studios)
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Writers: Diana Ossana, Larry McMurtry
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller, Connie Britton, Maxwell Jenkins, Gary Sinise
Plot: The true story of a small town, working class father who embarks on a solo walk across the U.S. to crusade against bullying after his son is tormented in high school for being gay.
“A Journal for Jordan” (Sony)
Director: Denzel Washington
Writer: Virgil Williams, based on the memoir of the same name by Dana Canedy
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tamara Tunie, Robert Wisdom, Chanté Adams
Plot: 1st Sgt. Charles Monroe King, before he is killed in action in Baghdad, authors a journal for his son intended to tell him how to live a decent life despite growing up without a father.
“Soggy Bottom” (UA – December 25)
Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Cooper Hoffman, Bradley Cooper, Alana Haim and Benny Safdie
Plot: Set in 1970s San Fernando Valley, the film follows a high school student, who is also a successful child actor.
“The Starling” (Netflix)
Director: Ted Melfi
Writer: Matt Harris
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Kevin Kline
Plot: After Lilly suffers a loss, a combative bird takes nest beside her quiet home.
“Swan Song” (Apple)
Writer/Director: Benjamin Cleary
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Glenn Close, Adam Beach
Plot: When a loving husband and father is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he’s presented with a controversial alternative solution to replace himself with a carbon copy clone.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24)
Director: Joel Coen
Writers: Coen, who adapted William Shakespeare’s play of the same name
Cast: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Brendan Gleeson
Plot:A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power.
“The Whale” (A24)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Samuel D. Hunter
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton, Ty Simpkins
Plot: A 600-pound middle-aged man tries to reconnect with his 17-year-old daughter.
Director: Nora Fingscheidt
Writers: Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, Courtenay Miles, Sally Wainwright
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal
Plot: Ruth Slater, a woman released from prison after serving a sentence for a violent crime, re-enters a society that refuses to forgive her past.
Big Studio Releases that will likely skip the festivals – just a guess, they still might end up at a festival or two.
“Cry Macho” (Warner Bros. – October 22)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Nick Schenk, N. Richard Nash adapted the novel of the same name by Nash.
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Dwight Yoakam, Fernanda Urrejola
Plot: A one-time rodeo star and washed-up horse breeder takes a job to bring a man’s young son home and away from his alcoholic mom.
“Dune” (Warner Bros.)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts and Villeneuve, who adapted the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert.
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin
Plot: The son of a noble family is entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.
Director: Chloe Zhao
Writers: Matthew K. Firpo, Ryan Firpo, Chloe Zhao
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden
Plot: The saga of the Eternals, a race of immortal beings who lived on Earth and shaped its history and civilizations.
“House of Gucci” (UA)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Roberto Bentivegna
Cast: Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Lady Gaga, Jeremy Irons
Plot: The story of how Patrizia Reggiani, the ex-wife of Maurizio Gucci, plotted to kill her husband, the grandson of renowned fashion designer Guccio Gucci.
“King Richard” (Warner Bros.)
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Writer: Zach Baylin
Cast: Will Smith, Jon Bernthal, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton.
Plot: A look at how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams.
“The Last Duel” (Disney)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener who adapted the novel of the same name by Eric Jager.
Cast: Damon, Affleck, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer
Plot: In 14th century France, the friendship of two knights is put to the test by a young woman.
Director: Liesl Tommy
Writer: Tracey Scott Wilson
Cast: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Tate Donovan
Plot: The life story of legendary R&B singer Aretha Franklin.
“West Side Story” (20th Century – December 10)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner, who adapted the stage play of the same name by Arthur Laurents
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, Corey Stoll, Brian d’Arcy James, Rita Moreno
Plot: Teenagers Tony and Maria, despite having affiliations with rival street gangs, the white Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks, fall in love in 1950s New York City.
The Academy will have ten Best Picture nominees for the first time since 2010. That means, when you are thinking about Best Picture you have to think: PGA. We did not used to think that way because of the flexible ballot they had in place where only their top five counted. Now, it should be broader and more inclusive, as it was in 2009 and 2010, and could potentially include animated films, genre films, and anything you might think about when you think about the PGA.
In 2009, all but one matched (the Academy swapped Star Trek for The Blind Side).
In 2010, all but one matched (The Academy swapped The Town for Winter’s Bone).
Number one films are still going to matter. But in both 2009 and 2010 an animated film was nominated for Best Picture, Up and Toy Story 3. So I imagine, given the strength of animated films of late, that is a potentially gettable nod. Although it’s worth noting that last year’s wildly popular Soul didn’t make it in for PGA or for Oscar. So I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
My own totally pointless Best Picture 10, sight totally unseen and thus mostly useless, would look something like:
The French Dispatch
In the Heights
The Many Saints of Newark
The Last Duel (or House of Gucci, probably not both)
The Power of the Dog
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Belfast, The Eternals, Don’t Look Up, Blonde are other movies worth watching. Who knows how this will all shake out but for now, all eyes on Cannes and French Dispatch.