Thursday, June 13, 2024

Oscar Contenders From Cannes 2024

For the first week of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, unanimity was hard to come by, especially for some of the festival’s biggest names. New films by Andrea Arnold (“Bird“) and Jia Zhangke (“Caught by the Tides“) were received warmly by some critics and tepidly by others. While Paul Schrader’s “Oh, Canada and David Cronenberg’s The Shrouds had some prominent defenders in Bilge Ebiri and David Ehrlich, respectively, their reception was decidedly mixed on the whole. When there were raves, as with “Emilia Peréz and “The Substance, they were matched by equally passionate pans. While there were no laughable flops like “The Sea of Trees or “The Last Face, it seemed as though this year’s Cannes might come and go without a buzzed-about victor.

Then, in the second week, there were three electrifying debuts. The first was “Anora, Sean Baker’s tragicomic tale of a sex worker’s love affair with a Russian oligarch’s son. Critics were delighted by how well it struck its “screwball comedy meets ‘Uncut Gems‘” tonal balance and Mikey Madison’s performance as the titular character was highly touted. Two days later came “All We Imagine As Light, Payal Kapadia’s intimate character study of three Indian women struggling with their place in society; the first Indian film in decades to appear in competition at Cannes, it received rapturous acclaim and became an instant Palme d’Or contender. Finally, there was Mohammad Rasoulof’s “The Seed of the Sacred Fig, a film the Iranian director was arrested for earlier this year by his government before fleeing to Europe: as a symbol of resistance against autocracy, its importance was established even before its quality as an outstanding, painfully tense domestic drama became known.

Now that all the award results are known, it’s time to unpack what all of this may mean for the rest of the year as we look ahead to the Oscars.

“Anora Becomes An Instant Oscar Contender
The path from the Croisette to the Oscars has grown straighter in recent years, but this year’s Palme d’Or winner promises to have a particularly direct route to a Best Picture nomination. Not only is “Anora the first American film to win the Palme since “The Tree of Life, it comes from a beloved indie director who has been on the verge of a mainstream breakout for almost a decade and stars a rising young actress in Mikey Madison (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Scream 5“). Almost every aspect of the film has received praise from critics, and with the golden seal of approval from the Cannes jury (headed by Greta Gerwig, herself no stranger to offbeat New York-set dramedies), “Anora is ready for prime time.

It’s true that Sean Baker hasn’t gotten much love from the Academy despite his acclaim: “The Florida Project received only a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Willem Dafoe, and “Red Rocket was blanked entirely. “Anora will be distributed by the Cannes whisperers at NEON, and they know a good thing when they have it. Their tendency to heavily prioritize one or two films at the expense of the rest of their slate may be frustrating to Ava DuVernay and fans of “La Chimera alike. Still, after their stellar campaigns for “Anatomy of a Fall last year and other previous Palme d’Or winners “Triangle Of Sadness” and “Parasite,” the results are undeniable. Expect nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay, at the very least, with room to grow.

More Reasons To Do Away With The International Submission Process
In a perfect world, Grand Prix winner “All We Imagine As Light and Special Jury Prize winner “The Seed of the Sacred Fig would immediately enter the Oscar conversation. But unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. Both films are sharply critical of their respective countries’ governments, which makes for compelling, incisive art – but also ensures that their countries’ submission committees will never sign off on them. The submission process for the Best International Feature Oscar is inherently political, even in countries that aren’t run by autocratic strongmen, and it does nothing but limit the spread of challenging, politically conscious cinema. “Anatomy of a Fall overcame its snub from France, but that was a relatively approachable courtroom drama, half in English, set in Western Europe, whereas these other two, unfortunately, will have a steeper hill to climb.

Other films from this year’s competition may have an easier time getting to the Oscars. “Grand Tour, Miguel Gomes’ dreamlike travelogue, won the prize for Best Director, which could encourage Portugal to select it for their Best International Film submission; “Three Kilometers to the End of the World, which won the Queer Palm for Emanuel Pârvu, could be Romania’s submission; “The Girl with the Needle went home empty-handed, but was received well enough and remains a possibility for Denmark. In other areas of the festival, “Armand (Norway), “The Story of Souleymane (France), and even the Farsi-language “Universal Language (Canada) are films to watch out for.

“Emilia Peréz Takes Cannes By Storm
Emilia Peréz was the festival’s first shot of adrenaline: an irreverent, melodramatic musical about a Mexican cartel leader transitioning into a woman; it was embraced by some and scorned by others. But the day of its premiere, for good or for ill, just about everybody was talking about Jacques Audiard’s ambitious swing for the fences musical – and the jury clearly liked what they saw. It took home the Jury Prize (not to be confused with “The Seed Of The Sacred Fig’s” Special Jury Prize), and most intriguingly, won the Best Actress prize for all four of its female leads: Karla Sofia Gascon, Zoe Saldana, Selena Gomez, and Adriana Paz.

The film was recently acquired by Netflix, which will doubtlessly give it a rather high profile leading into awards season, but it remains to be seen how much of a priority it will be for the streamer. It’s a polarizing film, after all, and discourse around its handling of hot-button issues will heat up once more people have access to it. But it would be eye-catching enough even without Selena Gomez as a member of its cast, and that can take you pretty far.

What Oscar contenders do you think emerged from this year’s Cannes Film Festival? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account.

You can follow Joe and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @HoeffnerJoe

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