By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 30, 2013 at 2:40PM
While it's a more diverse celebration of film of all kinds, few could argue that Cannes hasn't provided a major launching pad for awards movies over the years. From "No Country For Old Men" and "Inglourious Basterds" to "The Artist," "Midnight In Paris," "Amour" and "Beasts Of The Southern Wild," barely a year passes without something popping up at Cannes which makes a big splash with the Oscars come the following February.
We've had a few blessed months off from thinking about awards, but as our Cannes coverage wraps up, we thought we'd crack out the old crystal ball and examine what, if any, of this year's Croisette crop are looking good as far as the awards season goes.
It hopefully goes without saying that we're still nine months away from the Oscars, that there are a ton of contenders to come, and that any number of things could change. But it's certainly useful to take the temperature of the major movies from the festival (one notable exception is "Behind the Candelabra," which though it's getting a theatrical release in some parts of the world, will only be eligible for Emmys due to its HBO premiere in the U.S. -- look for it to be a huge player there when nominations are announced in July), and their awards potential. Check out our thoughts below, and thanks to Cannes correspondents Jessica Kiang and Kevin Jagernauth for their help.
Of everything at the festival, this looks likely to be the heaviest player in the awards season at year's end. Once awards misfits, the Coens have become ever more acceptable to the Academy since "Fargo," and three of their last four movies were best picture nominees, with "No Country For Old Men" winning Best Picture and Best Director. And from the buzz on the Croisette, their latest, "Inside Llewyn Davis," should be joining them. Though the film's gained comparison to some of their darker, tricksier work like "A Serious Man" and "Barton Fink," it also won absolute rave reviews; it's very difficult to find anyone with much of a bad word to say about it, and Steven Spielberg's jury agreed, awarding the picture with the Grand Prix runner-up award. As such, this seems like it has a very good chance to be among the Best Picture nominees come year end, with Director and Screenplay nominations also likely (though as ever, it'll depend on the competition that's yet to unspool). Our Cannes correspondents agreed that Oscar Isaac has a good chance of earning his first Best Actor nomination for the title character (Jess said he's "as much a lock as possible"), but there doesn't seem to be an obvious supporting nominee among the mix; Carey Mulligan and John Goodman have been mentioned in some circles, but their roles are likely to be too brief here. Nevertheless, expect a fistful of nominations here, including below-the-line categories like Cinematography, Costume Design and Best Original Song (the film only has one non-cover, but it brought the house down in Cannes). The only possible stumbling block is distributor CBS Films, who've never run a serious awards campaign before.
The competition section's other major American movie was, on the whole, warmly received, even if it didn't go on to the same kind of consensus raves as "Inside Llewyn Davis." Alexander Payne's black-and-white road movie got some very glowing notices -- one awards watcher called it "next year's best picture winner or a very strong contender," and like the Coens, Payne is now firmly within the establishment, with Screenplay wins for "Sideways" and "The Descendants." That said, we might be being influenced by Jess' middling notice for the film, and several others along the same lines, but we're not 100% convinced that this could go all the way; it's a more modest lo-fi film than "The Descendants," without George Clooney's star power to carry it, and its early unveiling at Cannes could see it overshadowed by the time it makes it to theaters, especially with higher-profile competition to come, including from its own studio Paramount, who also have Jason Reitman's "Labor Day" and Martin Scorsese's "Wolf Of Wall Street" to look after. So it's still up in the air whether Best Picture can happen but Bruce Dern looks likely to be a serious contender for Best Actor, if only as a kind of career recognition. That said, three major possibilities for the category emerged at Cannes alone, with many more to come, and we think if any seem likely to slip out, it could be him.
Speaking of that third Best Actor possibility, Robert Redford won glowing notices for this one-man survival show directed by "Margin Call" helmer J.C. Chandor. Many critics were surprised that the film played out of competition -- there was a certain feeling that Redford might have taken Best Actor if he was eligible. But that aside, the veteran won some of the best reviews of his career for the picture, and given that he only has one previous acting nomination (for "The Sting" 40 years ago), the narrative's already falling into place. Whether the film follows him is another question; Chandor picked up a Screenplay nomination for "Margin Call," and the film in general has very good notices, but our correspondent's feeling is that the film is too spartan in its narrative to get much traction for the big prize, and we've always suspected that the one-man-show nature of the film will make it a performance piece in the Academy's eyes. That said, the similarly survival-at-sea-themed "Life of Pi" was a big player last year, and Chandor's certainly going places, so if the fall field proves to be disappointing, don't count it our yet, even if Roadside Attractions will have a fight on their hands to make it happen.
One of the best reviewed films of the festival -- no huge surprise, given the critical adulation that greeted "A Separation," which won Best Foreign Language film two years ago, as well as picking up a screenplay nomination -- it was widely touted for the Palme d'Or, and while it didn't win, it did pick up Best Actress from the jury from Bérénice Bejo. All that said, the film doesn't quite have the reviews to match, or even excel, "A Separation," and we suspect that in order to break out of the foreign language ghetto, it probably needed them. However, it's probably the closest thing this year's festival offered to "Amour," and we're sure Sony Pictures Classics will hope to repeat their success here. If Iran enter a Foreign Language film and don't have qualms about a film shot and made in France (which they might well), it should be competitive there, and a Screenplay nomination looks very viable. Both of our Cannes correspondents tipped Bejo as a Best Actress possibility, and given that she's been a nominee once before, it's certainly not unthinkable. That said, the category looks tougher this time around -- perhaps she'll fair better with some category fraud shifting her to Supporting?
Marion Cotillard was originally intended to take Bejo's role in "The Past," but she's got her own performance in contention, with James Gray's "The Immigrant." The filmmaker is yet to have his awards breakthrough, and while he's got a period piece this time around and Harvey Weinstein in his corner, the divisive reaction to his latest (which had some wildly hostile notices from some corners, though we liked it quite a bit) suggests that this isn't going to be the film that makes the Academy welcome Gray into their arms. That said, Harvey knows how to push an actress in a picture even if the film isn't a critical favorite, and so Cotillard, who won good reviews even from those who didn't like the film, shouldn't be dismissed. The actress only just missed out this year for "Rust & Bone," and could well again be shut out by more Academy-friendly competition, especially with Bejo in contention. But we suspect she'll be hovering around the season, and the potential could be here for technical awards -- cinematography, production design etc -- if the relevant branches take to the film.