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Cannes 2023: A Look at the Potential Oscar Contenders Playing at the Fest



For most of the 75-year history of the Cannes Film Festival preceding this year’s edition, which kicks off Tuesday, relatively few films that premiered at Cannes went on to Academy Award recognition outside of the Oscar category that we now call best international feature. Indeed, only twice has the winner of Cannes’ top prize, the Palme d’Or, and the winner of the Academy’s top prize, the best picture Oscar, been the same film: 1955’s Marty and 2019’s Parasite.

Cannes was a place for art house films in a wide variety of languages, while the Academy Awards celebrated English-language films from America or the UK. But in recent years, that gap has begun to close — Cannes has occasionally screened more mainstream fare, and Oscar voters have increasingly embraced artier pics, not least because the Academy, once largely a club of Hollywood-based members, has deliberately become a much more international organizations.

Consider, for example, the last four editions of Cannes (spread over the past five years, since the 2020 fest was lost to the pandemic). During that time, seven films that screened at Cannes went on to best picture Oscar nominations (2018’s BlackKlansman2019’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Parasite2021’s Drive My Car and 2022’s Elvis, Top Gun: Maverick and Triangle of Sadness). The directors of six films that screened at Cannes went on to best director Oscar noms (Spike Lee for BlackKlansman and Pawel Pawlikowski for 2018’s Cold War, Bong Joon-ho for Parasitewho won, and Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Ryūsuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car and Ruben Östlund for Triangle of Sadness). And six performances featured in films that screened at Cannes went on to act Oscar noms (Adam Driver for BlackKlansman, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywoodthe latter of whom won, Antonio Banderas for 2019’s Pain and Glory and Austin Butler for Elvis and Paul Mescal for 2022’s Aftersun).

All of which makes one wonder how many — and which — of the films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival might be Oscar-bound…

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The prime suspect — sight unseen, but pedigree undeniable — is Killers of the Flower Moon, a film about murders in the Osage Nation during the 1920s. Directed by Martin Scorsesewho co-wrote it with Eric Rothit stars his two muses, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niroplus Brendan Fraser — Oscar winners all — as well as Lily Gladstone and a host of other Native American actors. The film’s budget ($200 million) and length (well over three hours) are a bit disconcerting, but backers Paramount (US theatrical) and Apple (worldwide streaming) are certainly bullish about it. And with Scorsese — whose 1976 film Taxi Driver won the Palme d’Or — having opted to screen it out of competition rather than in it, it is shooting not for festival prizes, but for the sort of buzz that Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick got when they screened out of competition at last year’s fest en route to best picture Oscar noms.

Wes Anderson is back at the fest with another huge ensemble film playing in competition, Asteroid City, which is set at a Junior Stargazer convention in 1955, and which Focus will release in June. In terms of awards bait, Anderson is very hit (Grand Budapest Hotel) or miss (last Cannes’ The French Dispatch).

The same might be said for Todd Hayneswhose May/December, another competition title, is one of the fest’s most anticipated sales titles. It’s the story of an actress (Oscar winner Natalie Portmanalso an EP) who visits the woman she is set to play in a film (Oscar winner Julianne MooreHaynes’ repeat collaborator, most notably on 2002’s Far from Heaven).

Jonathan Glazer doesn’t have an Oscar track record at all — his last film, 2013’s Under the Skinwas embraced by many critics, but not awards groups — but that won’t keep many from speculating about his competition entry. The Zone of Interestwhich is adapted from Martin Amis’ 2014 novel of the same name about a Nazi officer infatuated with the camp commandant’s wife, played by Sandra Huller (Palme winner Toni Erdmann). Given that Huller is starring in another competition film, as well, Justine Triet‘s Anatomy of a Fallas a woman trying to prove her innocence after her husband’s murder, she may be one to watch in the best actress race.

The competition field also includes the latest — and reportedly final — kitchen-sink drama from 86-year-old British master and past Palme winner. Ken Loach. It apparently looks at how globalization, immigration and the like impact a small British town. Loach’s films have always gone over better with critics than with Academy members, but never say never.

Other English-language films to keep an eye on: Karim Ainouz‘s Firebranda film about Katherine Parr (Oscar winner Alicia Vikander), the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII (Jude Law), which is still seeking US distribution; Jessica Hausner‘s Club Zeroabout a teacher and five students at an elite school, with a cast that includes Mia Wasikowska and Elsa Zylberstein; and Black Flies, Jean-Stephane Sauvaire‘s thriller about a young man preparing for medical school (Tye Sheridan) and a veteran paramedic (Sean Penn), which is based on a script that was featured on The Black List, and which has already been acquired by Open Road.

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Among the non-English-language notables in the competition are three films from the directors of past Palme winners: Monster, Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s first Japanese-language film since his 2018 Palme-winning and Oscar-nominated Shoplifters; About Dry Grasses, Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s Turkish-language portrait of a teacher accused of abusing a student; and Perfect Days, Wim Wenders‘ Japanese-language assemblage of four short stories.

Finnish master Aki Kaurismäki returns to compete with Fallen Leavesa tragicomedy that marks the latest installment in his “Proletariat” series.

Two Italian-language films are also in the running: La Chimerastarring Josh O’Connor and Isabella Rossellini and directed by Alice Rohrwacherwhose live-action short that premiered at last year’s Cannes, Le Pupille, went on to an Oscar nom; and the dramedy A Brighter Tomorrowwhich was co-written, directed by and starring Nanni Morettiand which has already theatrically released in Italy.

And France itself is in the race with both Catherine Breillat‘s first film in 10 years, Last Summera remake of the 2019 film Queen of Hearts, about a stepmother-stepson relationship; and Tran Anh Hung‘s French-language The Pot-au-Feustarring Juliette Binoche as a cook who falls in love with the chef she works for.

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Strong non-fiction films occasionally come out of the fest, such as 2002’s Bowling for Columbine2003’s The Fog of War2010’s Inside Job and 2015’s Amyall of which went on to win the best documentary feature Oscar.

This year, it feels like one should keep an eye out for Occupied Cityan epic chronicle of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, which was directed by the Oscar winner Steve McQueen and will be distributed by A24 (it is not in competition); and the Arabic-language Four Daughtersin which actresses play the two missing daughters of a Tunisian mother (it is).

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Animated films almost never screen in competition at Cannes, and Elemental, this year’s fest closer, is no exception. Directed by Peter Sohn, it is the 27th feature from Pixar — which was last at the fest with Inside Outand which almost always lands at least one film in the best animated feature Oscar category — and will be theatrically released by Disney in June.

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Finally, one cannot ignore any film by Pedro Almodóvar, who returns to the fest with Strange Way of Life, a short starring Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal that marks his second English-language outing. For this film, which Sony Classics has already acquired the rights to, might he follow Rohrwacher into the best live-action short Oscar race?

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