The Jury Gets It (Mostly) Right In A Terrific Lineup Of Competition Films, But What Impact Will 2023 Cannes Film Festival Have On Oscar?

At least once, I can say the winners of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival competition are actually the right ones. Maybe not exactly in the order I would have put them, but still, out of the 21 movies competing, it is hard to argue about almost all of the choices made by the Ruben Ostlund-led jury that, among others, included Americans Brie Larson and Paul Dano. I said almost.

I was a little worried as I watched the red carpet arrivals to tonight’s ceremony at the Grand Lumiere Theatre, because you can always tell who is getting a prize and who isn’t by who is actually showing up. The fest’s Thierry Fremaux gets the list late from the jury and then informs those who may be getting an award that it would be wise to show up.

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When I saw Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan very prominently photographed, I thought, “Oh no. Not him again.” After submitting over the years to his deadly slow films, most of which somehow won a prize at Cannes (he has a director, two Grand Prix, and a Palme d’Or), I vowed “never again,” though I realize others see his works as masterpieces (viva le difference!).

So though I saw most of the films over the past 11 days, and personally reviewed 8 of them for Deadline, I purposely skipped his latest 3:17 opus, About Dry Grasses (a title that seems appropriate). Life is too short and his movies too long. In a bit of a shocker, his leading lady, Merve Dizdar, took the Best Actress award over the likes of incredible work from Sandra Huller, Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, and Juliette Binoche, to name a few. She may well be deserving. But that meant nothing else for Ceylan, who actually seemed a little crestfallen when cameras caught him on screen in the audience after the Actress prize was announced. He knew that was it.

I couldn’t be more pleased about the others who won, though. The Actor award went to the wonderful Japanese star, Koji Yakusho, of Wm Wenders’ Perfect Days, a melancholic look about the ordinary days in the life of a Tokyo worker who cleans public toilets. A lowly job, yes, but a proud man whose life is to be celebrated like anyone elses, no matter what station. It was a great choice, although I also would have been happy with Josh O’Connor, acting completely in Italian, in Alice Rohrwacher’s wonderful La Chimera, which sadly was shut out after screening the same day as Perfect Days at the end of the festival. Her film’s omission was the biggest miss to me.

The screenplay award to Sakamoto Yuji for Hirokazu Kore-eda’s terrific Monster (the first competition film screened), was well-chosen and significant as the first script Kore-eda has not written for one of his films since the very first movie he made). I also enthusiastically applaud the Best Director prize going to Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung for the sumptous French film, The Pot Au Feu, with superb work from Binoche and Benoit Magimel, and luscious cinematography of cooking so intense and prevalent it borders on the equivalent of a foodie porno. At its heart, it is a gorgeous love story set around two masters of the kitchen who are also very married. It melted my heart as much as the butter on screen. The director appropriately thanked “my wife and cook” in the audience.

Maybe my personal favorite of all the films this year was the irrepressible Finnish master Aki Kaurismaki’s Fallen Leaves, the story of a last-chance, star-crossed romance that won the Jury Prix (3rd Place). It also was among the most critically acclaimed at the fest, and I would not have complained if it finally brought this great director his long-deserved Palme d’Or, but so happy it was recognized.

For the Palme d’Or, it really clearly came down to two films, both instantly tipped to win it after their screenings. In the end though, another key favorite of mine, Jonathan Glazer’s flat-out brilliant The Zone Of Interest, a holocaust film from the POV of the German family of the Auschwitz commandant who lived in the lap of luxury and beauty just outside the gates of the Nazi’s most horrific death camp. Had it won the Palme, it would have continued the unprecedented run of A24 awards-wise this year (after Oscar success with Everything Everywhere All At Once, and The Whale). But instead, it settled for the Grand Prix (2nd place).

The Palme went for the third time to a woman, Justine Triet, and back to a French film with the courtroom drama, Anatomy Of A Fall, which starred German actress Sandra Huller, as did The Zone Of Interest, in a spectacular performance as a woman on trial accused of killing her husband. Although very dialogue-heavy, it is a riveting film that keeps you on edge for its entire two-and-a-half hour running time. NEON has the film for North America at the very least, and continues its uncanny ability to somehow grab the eventuall Palme d’Or winner before it is even announced. They have now had the Palme winner four years in a row (!), with Parasite (which became only the second film to win both the Palme and Best Picture Oscar — the first being Marty in 1955) — Titane, The Triangle Of Sadness, and now, Anatomy Of A Fall. Deadline recently dubbed them, “The Palme d’Or whisperer.” I believe Anatomy Of A Fall may also may be the first film to win both the Palme d’Or and the Palme Dog in the same year. No arguments about the latter honor going to the border collie costar of the film, Messi, who played Snoop, and who has a dramatic near-death moment that would be a triumph of acting for human or canine. Congratulations, Messi.

As for the impact this Cannes competition will have on Oscar, there is no doubt this festival that tops all film festivals in terms of glamour and prestige will set the table in the Best International Film race. My biggest question is if France enters its new Palme d’Or winner, and if it actually qualifies under Academy rules that say the film must be at least 51% in the language of the country. This one is in French, for sure, but is also heavily in English, as that is what is mostly spoken by Huller’s character They may have to put a stopwatch on it to decide (they probably already have). There may be no category for Messi at the Oscars, but you can bet there is for Huller, who is an instant Best Actress contender for this (she was seen in the top two winning Cannes films this year, speaking her fluent German in Zone Of Interest, and both French and English in Anatomy Of A Fall). NEON will certainly also push this in director, screenplay, and picture races, and with past experience of sweeping those categories to wins for Parasite, and to be triple nominated most recently for Triangle Of Sadness, they know how to do it and appeal to the AMPAS ever-growing global voting body.

As for A24’s The Zone Of Interest, it will be a MAJOR contender at the very least for International Film, although just which country will be entering it remains a question. The Polish Film Institute was involved in the production, the setting takes place in Poland, the director/writer is British, the language is mostly German (but that country not otherwise involved). How far it can also go is to be determined. But a more powerful film was not on display in Cannes this year.

If Anatomy Of A Fall fails to qualify for France, The Pot-Au-Feu would be a crowd pleasing choice for Oscar voters, or maybe that could be Vietnam (?) because of director Tran Anh Hung? Binoche and Magimel should be considered in acting races, too. There is no Oscar for Food in a film, but this would be the front- runner if there were. Fallen Leaves is a no-brainer for Finland’s entry, and the prolific Kore-eda looks to return to the race for Japan with Monster for the first time since his Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters in 2017. However, though from a German director in Wm Wenders, the aforementioned Perfect Days would be an ideal entry for Japan, to be sure.

Italy has Rohrwacher’s A Chimera, despite its awards shutout at Cannes. But I also got a kick out of another competition entry, Nanni Moretti’s A Brighter Tomorrow, which could play well for Oscar voters, as it has many amusing things to say about making movies, including some scathingly funny bits about Netflix and streamers. I am assuming Netflix won’t be picking this one up. Todd Haynes’ wonderful May December, with Moore and Portman, was picked up in an unusual North American rights-only deal for Netflix, and the streamer is certain to be campaigning both stars, and the well-received and smart movie itself for some serious Oscar love.

It could be though that the greatest Oscar impact we will see out of this Cannes could be coming from a film OUT of competition, and that was by choice for Martin Scorsese’s epic 3 hour and 26 minute Killers Of The Flower Moon. It is the first “western” for the quintiessential New York director, but it is mostly cars instead of horses, but will be a major player for the Academy, not least because of its historic and significant contribution by the Native American community. Also you can bet stars Leonardo Di Caprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone will be major acting contenders, as will Scorsese in Picture, Screenplay (with Eric Roth), and Director, plus a load of crafts categories. Despite this not opening theatrically until October (thru Paramount) and later on streamnig by Apple which financed the $200 million film, the decision was made to go to Cannes after last year’s festival had such huge success at the Oscars for Out Of Competition screenings of Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick which earned Best Picture nods and 14 nominations between them (ultimately winning only one for Top Gun’s sound team).

I think Focus Features may have been hoping to super-charge Wes Anderson’s latest, but not greatest, Asteroid City with its Cannes World Premiere ahead of June 16 stateside opening, and certainly the large starry cast made a splash on this competition film’s red carpet, but it was completely ignored by the Jury just like Focus’ Armageddon Time was last year. The latter went on to no Oscar attention for Universal’s specialty unit, though Venice premiere of Tar did land them in the Best Picture race. For me this was a misfire, almost seeing the enormously talented Wes Anderson doing an imitation of Wes Anderson, a real disappointment from the man who gave us the likes of The Grand Budapest Hotel , and animated gems like Isle Of Dogs and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. He certainly knows how to get a cast, but here gives them little of interest to do, and it is all set up as essentially a play about this place rather than the place itself. Anderson is showing us it is all show, all artifice. The best it can hope for Oscar-wise is a Production Design nomination. At least that is how I see it now. We will see if it can gain any traction come June, but I doubt it.

Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny got an out of competition launch at Cannes pre its June 30th release. Reviews were mixed but I had a great time with it, but I doubt it can do what Top Gun or Avatar did in getting sequels into the Best Picture race. You might recall that only happened with the 1981 original , Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but the visual effects are excellent, and the film reminds us what a true treasure Harrision Ford, at 80, still is. Time for an Honorary Oscar for this man? Yes. The reel shown as he was given an Honorary Palme d’Dor showed what an amazing career he has had.

Finally, the animation race should get some heat from Cannes 2023, the most obvoius being tonight’s closing film, Elemental from Disney and Pixar and you know that means a very big Oscar campaign. Reviews are mixed at best so far. For me however the sleeper could be an Out of Competition charmer called Robot Dreams from Spanish director Pablo Berger (Biancanieves) about a dog who adopts a robot as a best friend. It is almost Chaplinesque, no dialogue or voice over actors needed, and wonderfully animated in the OG style of 2D animation. Robot Dreams is a dream itself, a real discovery at Cannes ’23. NEON picked up and this is that indie darling’s ticket to the Oscar race.

Now with Cannes 2023 in the history books we will see what its ultimate impact is once the movie awards season gets into gear around Labor Day, but I have to congratulate Thierry Fremaux and team for what was a very impressive, varied , and exciting two weeks in the South of France for, lets call it, Cinema Dreams.

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