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Cannes: Winners and Losers

by Anne Thompson
May 31, 2009 3:02 AM
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Who came out ahead and behind on their Cannes jaunt this year?

Disney


The studio won big by using Cannes as the European launch for Pixar’s Up. John Lasseter and Pete Docter had the time of their lives being treated seriously by the most prestigious festival in the world, which gave them some auteur cred they wouldn’t get any other way. At Disney’s after-party on the Carlton pier, Lasseter got misty-eyed. “It’s one of the greatest things to happen in our careers,” he said. The often stuffy festival stepped up to the times, passing out 3-D glasses to the opening night black-tie glitterati at the Palais.

Disney also took advantage of the global media to introduce the motion capture pic Christmas Carol, bringing director Bob Zemeckis and Jim Carrey to the Croisette for a snowy photo opportunity. (I remember meeting Carrey for the first time when he came to Cannes to promo The Mask.)

Miramax


On the other hand, it’s utterly depressing that Disney may be putting its specialty subsidiary Miramax on the block. Studio boss Robert Iger wants to stick to his family-movie brand/theme park mandate, and Miramax doesn’t fit with its other businesses. While the studio denies the unit is for sale, their asking price is said to be $1.2 billion; buyers are interested, especially in the Tiffany library built by the Weinsteins, but are waiting for the price to come down.

Miramax topper Daniel Battsek has done a solid if not spectacular job, including Oscar winners Tsotsi and No Country for Old Men. But many projects were too pricey to turn a profit in the tough specialty market. Battsek kept a low profile on the Croisette this year, with no buys announced. As Harvey and Bob Weinstein struggle in a sour economy to keep their company afloat, the irony is that if they had not only raised but made some money, they might have been able to afford to buy their company back.


Harvey and Bob Weinstein


15 years after Pulp Fiction, the brothers brought Quentin Tarantino to the Cannes main competition with the raucous World War II drama Inglourious Basterds. Loaded with expectations (always a dicey position) the movie played fine for the global press, especially with its top-notch European cast, but will face a tougher time at home in a challenging environment for specialty pictures. To Tarantino’s credit, he shot it in four languages, French, Italian, German and English. The movie breaks out French actors Denis Menochet (who stars in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood) and Melanie Laurent as well as German actors Daniel Bruhl, Diane Kruger and language whiz Christoph Waltz (who won best actor). Here's Hollywood Wiretap.

Less interesting in some ways are the titular Basterds, led by a one-note Brad Pitt as a Nazi hunter, supported by Eli Roth and Til Schweiger. It feels like this part of the movie was given short shrift. Tarantino, who was in a rush to Cannes, now has some time to fine-tune his film. Irish actor Michael Fassbender (who also scored in Fish Tank) may get a new scene when Tarantino returns to the editing room. At two hours and 27 minutes, Tarantino has final cut.

The Weinsteins also debuted for buyers and press a featurette made by Rob Marshall of his musical Nine, which was adapted by the late Anthony Minghella from the Broadway musical inspired by Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. In the role of the womanizing director having a midlife crisis (played on-stage by Raul Julia and Antonio Banderas) is Daniel Day Lewis, who looks handsome and charismatic in the movie. (Yes, he sports an Italian accent. And sings. And dances.) Much of the story, like Marshall’s Oscar-winning Chicago, unfolds in the director’s mind as he muses over the women in his life: his mother (Sophia Loren), the village prostitute (Fergie), lover (Nicole Kidman), wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penelope Cruz), interviewer (Kate Hudson) and costume designer (Judi Dench). The movie looks sumptuous, elaborate, visually dazzling. It also looks expensive, and was shot in London and Cinecitta (estimates range from $80 to 90 million). The risk for the Weinsteins: is there a market big enough to pay back the cost of a studio-scale all-stops-out musical? The movie opens during awards season, November 25.

There’s good advance word on John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron, but it looks like a narrow niche up-market film. While the Weinsteins may get what they want: renewed cred from a series of well-reviewed movies that might make it into the Oscar race, these days, that can be as much a curse as a blessing, as Oscar campaigns can turn a profitable movie into a money loser.

Bob Berney, Bill Pohlad, Jane Campion


Ex-Picturehouse chief Bob Berney and his new partner Bill Pohlad made official their new distribution combine, which will enter the middle ground between art-house distributors Sony Pictures Classics, IFC and Magnolia and remaining studio subsidiaries Fox Searchlight, Miramax and Focus Features. Berney and Pohlad (who are waiting for their company name to clear) boldly acquired all U.S. rights to Jane Campion’s Bright Star sight unseen ahead of the fest (for about $2.5 million). They saw the film two weeks ahead of Cannes, where it played well, but won no prizes. While Berney plans to target young women (it will also score with Anglophiles, Jane Austen fans, and the Academy), the movie is an austere and tragic love story that lacks mainstream appeal. But the two stars, Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish, are potential breakouts. After a six-year-gap, Campion reestablishes herself as a major director. But she has never been a particularly commercial one.

Sony Pictures Classics and Pedro Almodovar


Steady as they go, Michael Barker and Tom Bernard came out of Cannes having landed the top two prize winners, Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet. They came into the fest with Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces, starring Penelope Cruz, which is not the best of the Spanish auteur’s films, but is more fun to watch than most flicks. It was not a factor with the jury, either. But it wasn’t hurt by being in the festival, which sorely needed the combined star power of the director and Cruz.


While American art-house audiences don’t pay much attention to Cannes prizes, they do push the films' countries of origin to submit them for the foreign language Oscar. Thus SPC now has two more potential Oscar submissions for next year, from Germany and France. The Envelope looks at how Cannes impacts the Oscar race.


Word from the Cannes jury is that the votes were often split along director vs. actor lines. (UPDATE: Actress-director Asia Argento said it was more male vs.female; well, except for her, the directors were male.) This makes sense, as actors, writers and directors think very differently. As the reportedly fractious group, led by French actress Isabelle Huppert, talked over the selections (in English) three times during the fest--they saw 20 films-- they eliminated certain films that didn't raise enough votes, like Bright Star and Broken Embraces. Inglourious Basterds and Antichrist were more admired by the actors than the directors, while Fish Tank and Thirst were directors' pictures--and split the jury prize. The votes on the top two films, The White Ribbon and A Prophet were very close. But no award was unanimous. The most contentious debate was over best director Brilliante Mendoza, for Kinatay, which critics despised. The jurors weren't allowed to talk to anyone, and during deliberations, they even gave up their cell phones.


Focus Features and Ang Lee


The decision to bring a filmmaker to the fest is a calculation that, in the case of Focus and Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, backfired. I enjoyed the movie thoroughly and with some marketing fixes it could play well in the United States. It is an utterly American movie, culturally sophisticated, sweet and tender, mood-shifting, and fun. Screenwriter James Schamus (and Focus topper) and Lee nail the period. “It was a time when people had t-shirts that didn’t have logos on them,” Lee says.


Schamus and Lee explore the cultural moment that Woodstock crystallized—the ways that old and new were clashing and changing. This behind-the-scenes drama focuses on a family dynamic: two uptight Jewish parents (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton) and their vibrant, closeted gay son (Demetri Martin) who, when shoved up against the counterculture, breaks out of their world. Comedy Central star Martin never dreamed of a movie career, but the real discovery is radiant theater actor Jonathan Groff as Michael Lang. Most of the time, Lee and Schamus found that lingo from the period didn’t play, and cut much of it out. But when Groff said words like “groovy” and “far out,” he did so with such conviction that they left them in.



Taking Woodstock is not the sort of movie that goes over well at Cannes. It isn’t even what you’d call a critics’ picture. Lee must have wanted to come to the festival that had always treated him well. He probably wishes now that he hadn’t.

UPDATE: Focus came out ahead with its other Cannes entry, Park Chan-Wook's jury-prize-co-winner Thirst, which is already a hit in South Korea and will likely be a strong genre contender when Focus releases it stateside later this year. Focus Features International continues to be one of the strongest foreign sales companies, because it boasts the A-list projects (like Almodovar's Broken Embraces and the latest pics from Sam Mendes, Roberto Begnini, Zhang Yimou, Sofia Coppola and Noah Baumbach) everyone still wants to buy. "We're flying on all cylinders," says Schamus. "We've got our fingers in so many little pies all over the world."


Alejandro Amenabar's Agora


This Egyptian period drama cost $50 million Euros--and needed Cannes support. It didn't get it. The reviews were mixed, although Rachel Weisz managed to survive. The buyers waited on the sidelines for the price to decline. Clearly, even name stars and a big budget do not guarantee an American sale. Producers can't count on North American money any more. The Wrap looks at the Cannes economy.


IFC: Lars von Trier and Ken Loach


IFC came into the fest having bought the three-part Red Riding Trilogy, and then picked up Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, which built up a swell of want-to-see from Cannes controversy. IFC will show the movie uncut in a few U.S. cinemas and then trim it—working with the director—to show it on VOD. Honestly? It’s a movie-as-therapy that helped to pull Danish director von Trier out of a bout of depression that threatened to keep him from making movies. He indulged himself completely; the movie is a well-made, manipulative mess. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg give their all; she totally deserved the best actress prize. Any student of von Trier will want to see the movie. The distrib also picked up the feel-good movie of Cannes, Ken Loach's Waiting for Eric, starring soccer player Eric Cantona.

Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus


The reviews were kind (here's Variety), suggesting that Gilliam returned to form with his latest film--despite losing Heath Ledger in mid-shoot, replaced by Johnn Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. American buyers, who saw the film in L.A. and NY before the festival, or attended an early screening in the market, were playing a waiting game. Nobody is taking risks any more.


Oscilloscope


Adam Yauch's neophyte distrib Oscilloscope Labs bought North American rights to a Cannes film in the official selection, a doc, natch, Michel Gondry’s look at his own family, The Thorn in the Heart.

Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro

Finally, Francis Ford Coppola is rebuilding his career and used a little Cannes pixie dust to help him do it. No, he didn't pull Tetro into the competition. But he opened the Director's Fortnight and was welcomed there. The movie, which he wrote himself with an autobiographical flair, was deemed an improvement over his last, Youth Without Youth, and more accessible and personal than anything he has done in some time. You can sense a filmmaker testing his chops, feeling his way. The next one could be even better. Hopefully he'll stay away from Vincent Gallo. He's toxic.

My Cannes Ten Best Films:


1. Up (check out Rotten Tomatoes reviews)


2. Mr. Hulot's Holiday


3. Fish Tank


4. Drag Me to Hell


5. Bright Star


6. The White Ribbon


7. Taking Woodstock


8. Humpday


9. Samson and Delilah


10. Inglourious Basterds

Disappointments:


11. Broken Embraces


12. Antichrist


13. Tetro


14. I Love You Philip Morris

UPDATE: Here are the results of IndieWire's poll of 16 English-language film writers. And IFC rounds up the Cannes wrap-ups.

Originally posted on Variety.com

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