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Which Films Are Potential Oscar Winners?


Song Kang-ho in Broker, Austin Butler in Elvis, and Vicky Krieps in Corsage.
Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos courtesy of studios

Will any of this year’s Cannes offerings follow in the footsteps of films such as Parasite, Drive My Car, or The Worst Person in the World? Consensus from the Croisette is that, after the stacked 2019 lineup and the double-stuffed 2021, 2022 was a slight down year with plenty of solid films but none that blew everyone’s chaussettes off. But buzz often shifts once the conversation moves Stateside; last summer, the title that everyone at Cannes wanted to talk about was not Drive My Car but Titane, in which a woman does something very different to a car. With that in mind, let’s look into the festival offerings that hold the possibility of making some noise this Oscars season.

We’ll start with the film that won the Palme: Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, an outré class satire that skewers barrel-dwelling fish such as influencers, male models, and Russian oligarchs. Though critics were divided on the film, with many finding it overlong and obvious, Sadness was the closest thing the Competition lineup had to a pure crowd-pleaser, boasting gross-out set-pieces and an acerbic political POV that fits the curdled mood of our times. The film is being handled by Neon, which shepherded Parasite’s Best Picture campaign three years ago and will surely have its sights on an Original Screenplay nod. Could it aim even higher? Buzz is reportedly building about a potential Best Picture spot, though count me skeptical about Östlund’s particular brand of humor scoring with the Academy at large.

Neon’s ancient rival A24 was well represented in the jury’s picks as a pair of its films tied for the second-place prize: Lukas Dhont’s Close and Claire Denis’s The Stars at Noon. The latter, a love story set amid geopolitical intrigue in Nicaragua, is probably not an Oscars player — the crowd at my press screening broke out in giggles at the turgid dialogue — but Close is the current odds-on favorite for the potential Cannes breakout. The Belgian project tracks an idyllic friendship between two young boys that cracks as they enter adolescence. While some critics side-eyed its second-act turn, Dhont’s film seems primed to pluck at voters’ heartstrings as well as inspire scores of op-eds about nurturing our sons’ sensitivity.

What other International Film contenders could potentially break out of that box to compete across the ballot? My favorite movie of Cannes was Best Director winner Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave, a Hitchcockian romance between a detective and the widow he suspects of murder. The film lacks the extreme sex and violence of Park’s Oldboy or The Handmaiden, but that may help it go down better with squeamish Academy members, and its bevy of twists should play well with future festival audiences. However, Park might be competing for South Korea’s spot with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker, which won Best Actor for Song Kang-ho. (It’s possible Broker may also be eligible to be submitted by Japan.) Broker, too, proved divisive: Depending on whom you ask, this tale of baby-nappers who become a makeshift family was either a welcome respite from the bleakness that presided elsewhere or schmaltzy nonsense. But as we’ve seen before, it doesn’t matter how many people hate you as long as enough people love you, and Broker has the warmth to attract its share of fans.

Cristian Mungiu’s Palme winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was a surprising Oscars snub in 2008, but his latest dismal look at Romanian society, R.M.N., could make up for it: It’s a Zeitgeist-y take on the intersection between economic anxiety, racism, and misinformation. The true-crime thriller Holy Spider, about a religious, misogynistic serial killer who became a cause célèbre in Iran, will absolutely not be submitted by the Islamic Republic, but it probably will be by Denmark, where director Ali Abbasi lives. And I’d love it if Jerzy Skolimowski’s Jury Prize winner EO (say it aloud) turned out to have legs. The Academy nominated A Yak in the Classroom, so why not a donkey in Poland?

On the acting front, two lead-actress performances stood out. Vicky Krieps and Léa Seydoux feel like the kind of actors who’ll get nominated at some point in their careers, and each had a showcase part in a sidebar. Krieps plays empress Elisabeth of Austria in the offbeat costume drama Corsage, which played Un Certain Regard, and she sinks her teeth into the type of meaty regal role that’s often catnip for voters. Seydoux stars in Mia Hansen-Løve’s well-regarded Directors’ Fortnight entry One Fine Morning, playing a single mom dealing with her father’s declining health by starting a new romance that’s heartbreakingly (and at times hilariously) ill conceived. The small film will have to overcome the odds to become France’s official selection, but it had the good fortune to have been bought by Sony Pictures Classics, which just got Penélope Cruz nominated for Parallel Mothers in a similar situation.

There were fewer standouts on the male side. Anthony Hopkins is on an Oscar hot streak, and in James Gray’s Armageddon Time, he gets the kindly grandpa part that there’s always room for in Supporting Actor. Still, Gray’s films are famous for being overlooked come Oscars time — indeed, it’s kind of his thing. On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Paul Mescal earned great reviews in the father-daughter drama Aftersun, but for the up-and-coming Irishman, this feels more like the role that gets him the role that gets him the nom.

Let’s close by talking about the heavy hitters, the big Hollywood films that made the journey to France. Having caught up with George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, I don’t see this August release going the distance: While the fairy-tale love story and copious nudity invite comparisons to The Shape of Water, the movie it most resembles in practice is Tarsem’s The Fall, a sumptuous visual feast that nevertheless feels cloistered and small. I’m more bullish on Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, especially for star Austin Butler, who gave the buzziest performance of the festival’s second week and was hailed as a standout even by critics who disliked the film. The 30-year-old Butler is younger and hunkier than Oscar usually goes for in Best Actor, but when voters make an exception, it’s for situations exactly like this: a fresh face who impressively fills the shoes of a musical legend. At the very least, you can bet Team Elvis is hoping the Golden Globes manage to get themselves uncanceled between now and January.

As for Top Gun: Maverick, the film’s record-breaking box office has fans harboring hopes it’ll manage to snag the tenth Best Picture spot. But didn’t we just do this with Spider-Man? When it comes to blockbusters, the Academy requires either industry-advancing technical wizardry or a whiff of social relevance. Otherwise, the pleas for Best Picture recognition invite a famous Don Draper catchphrase: That’s what the money’s for! Maverick will take its handful of craft nominations and like it.

Finally, there’s David Cronenberg, returning to sicko mode with Crimes of the Future after his dalliance with Oscars-friendly dramas in the mid-aughts. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers, but I predict this tale of organ-removing performance artists may be a touch too out there for Oscar. But if there were a prize for Best Stomach-Vagina, it would be a shoo-in.


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