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Halftime Report Card on Films’ Awards Prospects — for Fest and Fall Prizes

Halftime Report Card on Films’ Awards Prospects — for Fest and Fall Prizes

As the 77th Cannes Film Festival (May 14-25) arrives at its halfway point, here is THR executive editor of awards Scott Feinberg’s assessment of the awards prospects — at the Cannes closing ceremony and later in the fall — of the films that have screened at the fest so far.

The Two That Popped

One cannot know what the specific preferences and priorities of the Greta Gerwig-led main competition jury are, but one can categorically state that two competition films — both of which are so original and out-there that they have to be seen to be believed — have been particularly well received. Both garnered nine-minute standing ovations and rave reviews, including particular praise for their leading lady.

The first is The Substance, a body-horror flick from French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat that might be described as Sunset Blvd. meets Freaks, and an instant classic. Demi Moore, in a gutsy career-best turn that could bring her the fest’s best actress prize — and perhaps even the first Oscar nomination of her career, if her film’s U.S. distributor MUBI can put together a real campaign — plays Elisabeth Sparkle, a movie star and fitness guru who begins to be spurned as she ages. Offered an injection that promises to transform her into “a better version” of herself, she takes it, and begins to spend every other week as a younger and more “desirable” woman (Margaret Qualley) — but not without consequences.

The film balances commentary on sexism and ageism with voluminous amounts of blood and gore — I mean, enough to make David Cronenberg blush — and would be right up there with 2021 Palme d’Or laureate Titane as one of the festival’s most dark and twisted award winners.

Demi Moore in The Substance

Cannes Film Festival

And then there’s Emilia Perez, a Spanish-language trans gangster musical (yes, you read that correctly) from past Palme d’Or winner Jacques Audiard (2015’s Dheepan), which stars the trans actress Karla Sofia Gascón as a biological male who is a ruthless cartel leader, Selena Gomez as his wife and Zoe Saldaña as the frustrated lawyer he recruits to facilitate his secret wish: to leave his life of crime and live as a woman.

I could see the jury presenting the best actress prize to Gascón, which would be a Cannes first for a trans performer; or sharing that prize amongst all of the film’s principal actresses (as was done with 2006’s Volver and a few other films); or perhaps even doing what the 2013 jury did in awarding the Palme d’Or not only to a film (Blue Is the Warmest Color) and its filmmaker, but also to its leading ladies.

As for fall awards season prospects, the film will first need to find a U.S. distributor — I know of several that are interested, not least because of the film’s star-power and international appeal — but even once it does, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Selena Gomez in Emilia Perez

Cannes Film Festival

The Possibility

I’d also keep an eye on Bird, a coming-of-age tale from indie filmmaker Andrea Arnold — a three-time past winner of Cannes jury prizes — that stars ‘It’ guys Barry Keoghan (Saltburn) and Frank Rogowski (Passages) as the neglectful father and unlikely surrogate father, respectively, of a 12-year-old girl (newcomer Nykiya Adams). Arnold, an auteur’s auteur, is always a threat to snag a top Cannes honor. And as we head into a big-budget/big-studio-heavy awards season, her little fairy tale, should it land in the right U.S. distributor’s hands, could find some traction.

Nykiya Adams in Bird

Cannes Film Festival

The Long Shots

After the aforementioned films, there is a considerable drop-off in enthusiasm for the rest of the field, according to virtually every industry insider with whom I’ve spoken.

Kinds of Kindness, which reunites Poor Things filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, stars Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Qualley, and distributor Searchlight (which celebrated its 30th birthday at the fest), is a triptych about… well, it’s hard to say. It’s still largely engaging, thanks especially to a magnetic performance — well, performances — by Jesse Plemons. But, while Academy members were willing to go to some weird places with Lanthimos on Dogtooth (which won Cannes’ Un Certain Regard prize in 2009), The Favourite and Poor Things, I think Kinds of Kindness may wind up alongside his other films The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer as a bit too weird for most.

Margaret Qualley, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe in Kinds of Kindness

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Paul Schrader brought to the fest Oh, Canada, his first film in competition since 1988’s Patty Hearst, which reunites him with Richard Gere 44 years after American Gigolo. Unfortunately, this adaptation of the 2021 novel Foregone, about a dying writer who agrees to be interviewed about his life for a documentary, doesn’t quite work. The man’s life, at least as depicted, was not interesting enough to justify the suggested level of interest on the part of the doc filmmakers or the arrogance of the subject himself. Nobody in the cast, which also includes Uma Thurman, Michael Imperioli and Jacob Elordi, is likable, and the whole thing is resolved in a rather anti-climactic way, all of which will make the film’s search for U.S. distribution all the harder.

Richard Gere and Uma Thurman in Oh, Canada

©Oh-Canada-LLC

But I suspect that no film will have a harder time finding a U.S. distributor than Francis Ford Coppola’s long-gestating, self-financed $120 million passion project Megalopolis. Yes, the sci-fi/fantasy/crime-drama/love story, which stars Adam Driver, Nathalie Emmanuel and Giancarlo Esposito, got a lengthy standing ovation, but that was more about showing respect for Copola and his distinguished ensemble — which also includes Aubrey Plaza, Laurence Fishburne, Talia Shire and Jon Voight — than love for his film, which, to many, is incomprehensible, and has landed at an abysmal 52 percent on Rotten Tomatoes’ critics meter.

Adam Driver and Nathalie Emmanuel in Megalopolis

American Zoetrope/Mihai Malaimare

The Wild Cards

It should not go unmentioned that Warner Bros. unveiled at the fest — out of competition, and therefore ineligible for awards — two soon-to-be-released epics, or to use their preferred nomenclature, “sagas”: George Miller’s action-packed sequel Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (out in America on May 24) and Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 (June 28), the first installment of what is intended to be a four-film series Westerns.

Miller, of course, has been making Mad Max films for 45 years now, none of which were better received than his last one, 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road (which was nominated for 10 Oscars and took home six, all for below-the-line categories), so anticipation for Furiosa was through the roof and comparisons were inevitable. Unfortunately, the consensus is that the new Anya Taylor-Joy/Chris Hemsworth installment, while technically brilliant and sure to gross a fortune, is not quite up to the level of Fury Road, and will face a much steeper awards season climb.

Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

As for Horizon, Costner is out on a big limb: he spent millions of his own money to finance it, and whether or not the first chapter draws moviegoers in June, the second chapter is coming out in theaters in August. So far, many reviews have not been kind, but the fact of the matter is that people who have bet against Costner westerns — from Dances with Wolves to Open Range to Yellowstone — have almost always lost.

Kevin Costner in Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter One

Cannes Film Festival

The Back Half

As the fest enters its back half, buzzy titles to keep an eye on include Anora, Sean Baker’s latest film related to sex work, which will be distributed in the U.S. by Neon, the U.S. distributor of the last three Palme d’Or winners (Parasite, Titane and Anatomy of a Fall); Ali Babbasi’s The Apprentice, an origin story, of sorts, about Donald Trump, played by Sebastian Stan; Paolo Sorrentino’s Italian/French co-production Parthenope, the cast of which includes Gary Oldman; and the aforementioned Cronenberg’s The Shrouds, a sci-fi/horror flick starring Vincent Cassel, Diane Kruger and Guy Pearce.

And hopefully, there will also be a surprise or two!

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