Gosh, it feels like only yesterday we were talking about the 2011 Oscar season, with films like "The Artist," "Hugo," "The Descendants," "The Help" and "Moneyball" jostling for position in the chase for little gold statues. And that's because, well, it basically was yesterday: we're only a little over three months since Oscar season wrapped up. But time marches on, and with the arrival of the Cannes Film Festival, we've got some of the first indications of what might come into play in the awards season by the end of this year.
Last year, after all, saw the emergence of "The Artist" on the Croisette, a film that virtually no one was aware of before, but was swiftly picked up the Weinstein Brothers, became a crowd-pleaser, and went on to become an awards season juggernaut, winning Best Picture, Director and Actor. Palme d'Or winner "The Tree of Life" and Woody Allen's opener "Midnight in Paris" both went on to earn Picture and Director nominations, while "We Need To Talk About Kevin," "Drive," "Melancholia" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene" were all on the fringes of the conversation, and Israeli film "Footnote" went on to become a Best Foreign Language Film nominee.
This year didn't seem to be the same kind of proving ground for Academy fare in the same way, but that being said, in the days after the festival closed last year, not everyone thought that "The Artist," "Midnight In Paris" and "The Tree of Life" would be Best Picture contenders either. And even if no obvious Best Picture nominees emerge out of Cannes, we're bound to see some of the films that premiered there crop up in other categories. So what are we likely to see in the awards conversation this year from the Croisette? And what films can be essentially counted out after their initial reaction?
Wes Anderson has never been an Oscar favorite, minus an animation nod for "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and one for screenplay on "The Royal Tenenbaums." But "Moonrise Kingdom," which opened the festival, is his best-received film since "Rushmore" (indeed, it's got his highest score on Rotten Tomatoes, for what that's worth). It's certainly more audience friendly and less insular than some of his pictures, even if it does still take place firmly in Wes World. And crucially, it looks like it's going to be a big summer crossover hit, opening with the highest live-action screen average of all time last weekend. Unless it drops off (and the indie/arthouse theaters are relatively starved for decent fare this summer), it should at least match the $56 million haul of "Midnight in Paris," and may come closer to "Dreamgirls" or "Brokeback Mountain," which opened with similar averages, and come close to $100 million. If that's the case, like the Woody Allen film last summer, it may become a real Best Picture prospect. Like 'Midnight,' it'll benefit if some of the fall films fail to live up to expectations, especially if Focus Features' other hopefuls, "Anna Karenina" and "Hyde Park On Hudson," don't turn out to be big awards players beyond acting nominations. If nothing else, a screenplay nod for Anderson and Roman Coppola looks likely.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Some of the biggest awards buzz at Cannes revolved around a film that actually premiered four months earlier: Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which was the talk of Sundance when it bowed there back in January. The film won huge acclaim in Park City, but some thought it would be a bit too small and weird for the Academy. But as it rolled out on the Croisette, many started to change their minds. Winning over more and more fans, it picked up the top prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar to add to the Grand Jury Prize it won in Park City, and also got a special mention from the FIPRESCI lot. It's building buzz nicely and while comparisons have been drawn with "The Tree of Life," Benh Zeitlin's film has a more obvious beating heart to it, and "The Tree of Life" did, after all, get a Best Picture nomination and it's arguably even more enigmatic. It's got a long road ahead of it still, and if it disappoints at the box office when it opens later this month, that road may get even longer, but this stands a very good chance at being the little-indie-that-could this year. And in what's looking like a weakish year in the best actress category, the door is open for 8-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis to become the youngest nominee in history for the film, should Fox Searchlight campaign for it.