Though awards season doesn’t kick off in earnest until the fall, two big film festivals from the first half of the year typically supply their fair share of eventual Oscar contenders. Back in January, the Sundance Film Festival teed up worthy dramas like Call Me by Your Name and Mudbound, and now it’s time for the Cannes Film Festival to weigh in. Several Cannes premieres figured into the last Oscar race, including Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water, Best Actress also-rans Isabelle Huppert (for Elle) and Ruth Negga (for Loving), Original Screenplay contender The Lobster, and Best Foreign Language Film winner The Salesman. Has this year’s Cannes crop produced as strong a group of competitors? Let’s look over the field so far and see which Oscar races have become more interesting.
One of the strongest all-around contenders will be the Todd Haynes film Wonderstruck, adapted from a Brian Selznick book that flits between a deaf girl in the 1920s and a 1970s boy whose hearing has been stripped from him after a lightning strike. Haynes, a consummate stylist, has mounted a very handsome film that ought to contend in several tech categories, including Best Cinematography for Ed Lachman (nominated recently for shooting the Haynes film Carol), Best Costume Design for three-time winner Sandy Powell, and its strongest shot at a win, Best Score for Carter Burwell, who does a titanic job with a movie that goes for long stretches with no spoken dialogue.
Nominations are possible in Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, and Editing as well, and since the Academy is always a sucker for old-age makeup, a late reveal of Julianne Moore in a fake nose and prosthetic crinkles could help Wonderstruck contend for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Moore herself, in a dual role, is still not in the film enough to present a significant Best Supporting Actress challenge; ditto Michelle Williams, who’s in and out as the mother of the 1970s boy. But the two big categories that Wonderstruck has its sight set on are surely Best Picture and Best Director. I don’t think either one is a slam dunk: Carol earned six nominations but missed out on those two key nods, and Wonderstruck, while well-received, has not inspired quite as much passion on the Croisette as its predecessor. Still, deep-pocketed Amazon Studios, emboldened by Oscar success this past season with Manchester by the Sea, will likely push Wonderstruck hard.
Another potential threat is The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola’s remake of a 1971 Clint Eastwood film where an injured Civil War soldier, recuperating at an all-girls boarding school in Virginia, sets off a fraught chain reaction among the women there. The film’s painterly compositions absolutely deserve a nomination for Best Cinematography, and DP Philippe Le Sourd scored his first Oscar nod a few years ago for Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster. I suspect Stacey Battat’s costumes could also contend, as they play an important role throughout and the Academy loves a well-frocked period piece.
Anything more will depend on whether The Beguiled, a summer release, has the legs to make it through the fall onslaught of awards contenders. Though I liked The Beguiled more than Wonderstruck, I think Academy voters might find it to be more of an “entertainment” than an Oscar movie (a weird distinction, I know, but an important one), and that could limit Coppola’s chances at the top two categories unless the Cannes jury gives her their imprimatur. I do hope, though, that people will consider Kirsten Dunst’s supporting performance throughout the year. She is subtle and heartbreaking as the teacher who’s most taken in by Colin Farrell’s soldier, and it’s the best big-screen work she’s done in ages.
Nicole Kidman is also very good in The Beguiled as the school’s headmistress, but I suspect her Oscar chances are better for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a comedic thriller from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who was nominated last year for co-writing The Lobster. He could score in that category again, though this superbly chilly movie about a family torn apart by a sinister teenage boy is sure to polarize: It’s hardly in the feel-good mold that Oscar likes, and some Cannes-goers found its comedy downright cruel. Still, Kidman plays her matriarch with fascinatingly modulated ambivalence, and she anchors the movie. The 49-year-old actress is having one of her best years ever with Big Little Lies, Top of the Lake: China Girl, and a host of big-screen bids, and when Deer comes out in November, impressed voters could decide to back her here as a cumulative reward for her comeback.
Will any other actors from Cannes pop during Oscar season? You could make a case for Dustin Hoffman, who’s very good in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories as an artist resentful that he never got more acclaim, but the film will debut on Netflix, which limits its Oscar chances. (Hoffman’s co-stars Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller have also gotten good notices, but I think critics were simply relieved to see them make a decent movie for once.) Diane Kruger could try to get in the game for Fatih Akin’s In the Fade, where she plays a woman bent on revenge after a terrorist attack, but the movie wasn’t acclaimed in the same way Elle was last year and a foreign-language performance really needs strong critical support if it hopes to break through a crowded Oscar field.
Still, In the Fade will likely be among the contenders for Best Foreign Language film, and depending on what each country decides to submit, you might also see nominations in that category for the Russian downer Loveless, the superb French ACT UP drama 120 Beats Per Minute, or Sweden’s The Square, an art-world comedy from Ruben Östlund, whose acclaimed film Force Majeure nearly made the Oscar cutoff a few years ago.
And then there are the films we haven’t seen. Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here screens Friday night at Cannes, and it stars Academy favorite Joaquin Phoenix as a war veteran seeking justice in a seedy world of sex trafficking. Phoenix also popped up in a reel screened by Focus Features here on the Croisette, where they teased several of their upcoming films that have Oscar potential, like the Judi Dench royalty dramedy Victoria and Abdul, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, and the most intriguing entry, Mary Magdalene, a rough-hewn biblical drama starring Rooney Mara as the title character. That one is directed by Garth Davis, whose film debut Lion was a major contender this past year, and it co-stars Phoenix as Jesus, whom the 42-year-old actor plays as sort of a bemused California hippie. Expect it to premiere at the fall film festivals, where we’ll pick this Oscar thread back up.