Notes On The Season:  How Cannes Began The Oscar Race  Top Gun, Elvis, Triangle Of Sadness And More; Plus Emmys Heating Up

Notes On The Season: How Cannes Began The Oscar Race Top Gun, Elvis, Triangle Of Sadness And More; Plus Emmys Heating Up

06/03/2022

A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.

Just two weeks to go before nomination balloting begins for the Emmys and there can be no doubt this year feels fully back to normal with so many FYC events going on all over town it is as impossible for Television Academy members to keep track of them, just as it is to actually watch the shows they are pushing. And if you need help reminding you of what you need to see, the swag arriving daily will do that for you. Arriving home from spending much of May on the road, first in NYC, then in Cannes, there was everything from a box of candy touting the Hulu limited series called, well, Candy to another limited series about the making of The Godfather called The Offer which offered an appetizing horses head cookie to chew on while watching the show. For sports activities Apple TV + sent along a Magic Johnson basketball to tout their docu on the hoops great, while this week more cookies were the order of the day, this time touting all the shows from MTV Entertainment Studios, each one branded into a cookie of their own. Oh and if you are into Schmigadoon! like I am, a picnic basket with ingredients to make “Corn Puddin’” was all there along with sheet music for the signature musical number of the same name. That series on Apple TV+ is one of the more original offerings on view this Emmy season, a takeoff on the 1954 MGM musical Brigadoon that has been turned into a wacky six episode comedy series. I haven’t seen anything official on a renewal for a second season yet on the show which stars Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong, but on this week’s episode of The Actor’s Side Martin Short, who plays the Leprechaun, tells me it is indeed coming back for more – and so is the Leprechaun.

Emmys aside (and we will be getting into those more closely as voting nears), as aforementioned I have spent much of last month at another event that was fully back to normal after being cancelled in 2020 and dialed down in 2021, and that of course is the Cannes Film Festival where I, and our Deadline team, turned out one review after another of the myriad of cinematic offerings on display at the world’s most famous festival. Now that I am back it’s time to assess whether this 75th anniversary edition of Cannes was a movie feast in and of itself, or as it proved in 2019 a major indicator of which way the nascent Oscar winds may be blowing. You recall that year where Cannes discovery Parasite went all the way from the Croisette after winning the Palme d’Or to the Best Picture Oscar, a feat achieved only once before in the fest’s history when 1955’s Marty did the same thing. On top of that Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was also unveiled first in Cannes and went on to ten nominations and two wins. And even at the truncated 74th Cannes last July Japan’s then-little heralded competition entry Drive My Car won praise and the Screenplay Palme before going on to an unprecedented four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and International Film, the latter it actually won. There was a time when it was thought that premiering your movie in Cannes might dim its chances to go on to Oscar glory ten months later, but that seems to be changing. So what coming out of this year’s just-concluded fest has real potential to show up at the 95th Academy Awards?

Let’s start with Palme d’Or winner, Triangle of Sadness, which marks the first English-language film from Swedish director Ruben Ostlund and actually his second Palme d’Or after first winning in 2017 for The Square. This wild and hilarious satire on the foibles of a disparate and very rich group gathered together on a holiday on a $250 million yacht turns into a fascinating and pungent commentary on class and wealth when the tables are eventually turned. Its director says his inspiration was the absurdist cinema of Luis Bunuel, but I would also throw in Billy Wilder and Monty Python for this 2 1/2 hour stew that is as funny as it is pertinent. Will Oscar voters agree? NEON which won the bidding war for it has a lot of experience in this realm having steered Parasite with its similar divide between upper and lower class, and clearly by paying $8 million they see the potential for their third Palme d’Or winner in a row. True that Oscar dreams didn’t work out for their second Palme d’Or winner, last year’s Titane, but it was obvious that extremely violent French film was too much to stomach for the Academy’s international film committee which didn’t even put it in the top 15 semi-finalists.

Triangle of Sadness has the goods to compete in several categories including Picture, Director, Screenplay, and without question, Best Supporting Actress for Filipino star Dolly DeLeon who playing the yacht’s Toilet Manager gets a chance to turn things upside down by film’s end and in so doing at this point has to be a front-runner to win. The downside for the film is some troubling comments Ostlund made after winning last weekend that in fact he plans to make the theatrical release longer, meaning not the cut that took Cannes by storm. Tonally the film is already teetering on the edge so disturbing that balance could be risky, and making it longer than the current already long cut is dicey but this guy is so talented you have to have faith. However there is one scene towards the end involving a donkey who is about to become dinner that is way off the mark and briefly popped the air out of the balloon, at least with the packed Cannes crowd with whom I saw it. If you want my two cents, cut the whole donkey scene while you are back in the editing room.

For all its brilliance Triangle of Sadness was my favorite, but a close second and another film I think has enormous Oscar potential is Belgium filmmaker Lukas Dhant’s moving and masterful Close, a story of the friendship between two young boys that turns tragic. This one not only has to be Belgium’s selection for International Film, but ala Drive My Car, could well find its way into several other major categories including Best Picture and even Best Actor for its 15 year old lead Eden Dambrine. It has the emotional weight Oscar voters gravitate towards and that is important, plus AMPAS has quite a few more members from around the globe these days. It tied for the Grand Prix (second place) and, trust me, it has Oscar written all over it, and A24 which picked it up will know just how to position it. Ironically it has to compete for the International berth with another Belgium Cannes prize winner, Tori and Lokita from Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. The Belgian brothers are frequent winners at Cannes but have never landed in the Oscar race. Were it not for Close, this devastating look at a pair of West African young people caught up in Belgium’s bureaucratic immigration system would be their ticket to the Dolby. Tough decision time ahead in Belgium (which also had another prize winner this year with the very fine 8 Mountains) and further proof the Academy should amend their entry rules and allow more than one worthy film from each country to compete.

Bottom line, no matter what the year, Cannes generally sets the table for other festivals and especially the Oscars when it comes to the International Film race. This year there was a banquet of films likely to be entered for Oscar including Poland’s EO, Romania’s RMN, South Korea’s Decision To Leave from the legendary Park Chan-wook, Iran’s Leila’s Brothers, Japan’s Broker (a film set in South Korea but directed by Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda), and many more across the other competitions. Ironically it was France that came up short with not-so-hot entries in the official competition including a disappointing Arnaud Desplechin film called Brother And Sister and the dreadful Forever Young from Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. On the other hand there was some excellent French films on display in the other sections, most notably Mia Hansen Love’s wonderful romance, One Fine Morning that appeared in Directors Fortnight and starred Lea Seydoux in her most luminous performance to date (Sony Pictures Classics bought it), as well as yet another excellent French offering in Fortnight called Paris Memories from Alice Winocur that dealt with a survivor of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. And in Un Certain Regard there was Emily Atef’s terrific More Than Ever (Plus Que Jamais) poignantly representing Ulliel Gaspard’s final film after tragically dying in a ski accident earlier this year, and with a performance from Vicky Krieps that deserves serious Oscar consideration (she actually won the acting prize at Un Certain Regard but inexplicably for the lighter Corsage). All three of the aforementioned French films are directed by women and all three would have been much better than France’s films in the main competition, as well as being potential entries into the Oscar race. We’ll see what happens. Politics can enter big time into all this so it can be frustrating.

Among the English-language films at Cannes from high profile directors I would expect James Gray’s wonderful memoir of growing up in Queens circa 1980, Armageddon Time to make an impression on Academy voters when it is released this fall. The film stars Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, and features a typically fine and beautiful performance from Anthony Hopkins. It got no prize at Cannes despite being Gray’s fifth time around the block. He has yet to also conquer the Oscars but maybe Focus Features can turn this memory play into another Belfast and get him the recognition he deserves (2016’s The Lost City of Z remains my favorite Gray film, as haunting as anything I have ever seen).

George Miller, an Oscar winner for the animated Happy Feet whose Mad Max: Fury Road received 10 nominations and won six, had the out-of-competition Three Thousand Years of Longing at Cannes. It opens through Amazon and MGM on August 30 and may not be to everyone’s taste, but I have to say I fell under its spell and its two wonderful stars Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. I wouldn’t be shocked to see it play even better for the Academy should Amazon give it a real push. The story of a Genie released from his bottle after 2500 years is decidedly intellectual and quite talky in its first half, but it grabs you by the heart before end credits roll. On the opposite scale David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future is the most Cronenbergian (and actually fun) of his films in a while, and actually opens today, but as in Cannes I see no prizes come Oscar time.

Critics Week winner Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun with Paul Mescal certainly had its admirers in Cannes and was picked up by A24 but seems to too slight to eventually get a lot of Oscar love. However Mescal was in another film at Directors Fortnight, God’s Creatures (also the very busy A24) that I think will deservedly put the always great Emily Watson smack back into the Best Actress conversation once it is released stateside. She can say more with her eyes in one close up than some actors can with 120 pages of dialogue.

And finally what about Oscar chances for the two major studio splashes at Cannes this year: Elvis and Cruise? Baz Luhrmann, who has made only five movies yet saw great success in getting Oscar nominations (and some wins) for Moulin Rouge and Gatsby after they both premiered in Cannes, will, if Warner Bros has anything to say about it, do it again with Elvis, a sweeping look at the life and career of Elvis Presley as seen through the eyes of his shady manager Colonel Tom Parker. Both below the line for its luscious visuals, and above the line for the performance of Austin Butler as the King, this would seem to be a big Oscar player coming in the first six months of the year (it opens June 24). As for Tom Hanks who plays Parker, reviews were mixed from critics who couldn’t get over his weird Dutch accent, but for me I think he nailed who the real Parker actually was and, not least because it was a risk realized, remains in my head ever since seeing the movie. Hanks is a great character actor if we will just let him be one.

Finally there was the pomp and Cannes circumstance of Top Gun: Maverick. This one actually debuted in late April at CinemaCon where I immediately waxed rhapsodic about its Oscar chances, something no one saw coming until the film was actually seen. Its San Diego World Premiere cemented the sentiments that this was a serious Best Picture contender, and a movie likely to bring star Tom Cruise his fourth Oscar nomination, and maybe even a win this time. By the time it hit Cannes, with a 97% Fresh Critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and now an undeniable box office phenomenon with an A+ Cinemascore to boot, this sequel 36 years in the making, looks like it has true Oscar mojo. It just simply has to hang on to it for another six months. However I got a clue of its impact on your average veteran Oscar voter at the Netflix premiere of Hustle (which features an exceptional Adam Sandler turn) Wednesday night. The streamer had invited its list of Academy members to attend the movie in Westwood and after party at a Brentwood restaurant where a longtime member of the actor’s branch simply brought Top Gun Maverick up out of the blue when we were talking. “I can tell you this right now. Tom Cruise has my vote,” they said. Yes, that is just one person, but actually a person who has over the years really had their finger on the pulse of the way those Oscar winds can blow. The unexpected emotional hook of this film appears to be taking hold and this blockbuster will undoubtedly be one of the young Oscar season’s most interesting stories to follow.

Did I just say Oscar season? Let’s take a pause until September. Now on with the Emmys and Tonys, even the MTV Movie & TV Awards this weekend. It never ends.

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