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Cinema Chat: Cannes Film Festival, Cinetopia, Godzilla And More

May 15, 2014

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Cannes: The 5 Films With The Most Oscar Potential (And Why)

Sometimes awards season starts in September, but as this article points out, sometimes it starts in Cannes. Over the next 11 days, we'll get our first looks at the films hoping to become the next "The Artist" or "Inglorious Basterds" (and not the next "Lawless" or "This Must Be The Place") as they premiere on the Croisette. And there's definitely plenty with considerable potential.   

Previous Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, Hilary Swank, Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, and director Michel Hazanivicius are all premiering films at the fest alongside past nominees like Mike Leigh, Bennett Miller, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Jessica Chastain, Hailee Steinfeld, Berenice Bejo and Ryan Gosling (though the latter is sitting in the director's chair this time).

Not all of them are in films that are going into the fest with those kinds of ambitions (as good as Julianne Moore looks in the trailer for "Maps To The Stars," calling it a film that looks like an Oscar contender is a stretch -- though we sure hope it ends up becoming one anyway), but that's what's great about Cannes. It's not some kind of Oscar speculation-fueled fest where that's what everybody is taking about all the time. It develops a bit more naturally and it's often pretty surprising (no one would have thought "The Artist" would end up a Best Picture contender before the fest started). But there's always gonna be favorites, so with the unpredictability of the next 11 days in kept in mind, here are five films most likely to succeed in this regard:


Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave

U.S. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Cannes Premiere Date: May 19th

Why It Might Be An Oscar Contender: "Foxcatcher" was a highly anticipated potential fixture in last year's awards race. But it was pushed to 2014 at the last minute because director Miller ("Capote," "Moneyball") didn't want to rush things. But considering how crowded the Oscar race was, maybe it was for the best. And it gives us something to very much look forward to in 2014 -- potentially with Cannes kicking things off. Starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Sienna Miller and Vanessa Redgrave, the film tells the true story of Olympic Wrestling Champion brothers Mark (Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Ruffalo) and their relationship with the eccentric John du Pont (Carell), heir to the du Pont Chemical fortune that led to murder. Written by E. Max Frye and "Capote" scribe Dan Futterman, if it were to work out a little less than a year from now, it would be Bennett Miller's third straight film to receive a Best Picture nomination.

Why It Might Not Be: Certainly heading into Cannes with the Oscar question most dominantly placed on it, "Foxcatcher" thus has the most to lose in that regard. If reviews are less than stellar, it could sink pretty quickly. Though it's hard to imagine Sony Classics would put it under this kind of pressure it didn't have the goods...

Tm Roth and Nicole Kidman in "Grace of Monaco."

Director: Olivier Dahan

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Milo Ventimiglia, Parker Posey, Derek Jacobi, Frank Langella

Cannes Premiere Date: May 14th

Why It Could Be An Oscar Contender: Another film pushed back from last year, "Grace of Monaco" has a lot going for it on paper: It's a biopic from a director that's already won his leading lady an Oscar (Marion Cotillard for "La Vie En Rose") starring an Oscar winner (Nicole Kidman) who is playing an Oscar winner (Grace Kelly). And the last three films to open Cannes -- "Midnight in Paris," "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Great Gatsby" -- all went on to receive Oscar nominations.

Why It Might Not Be: While "Foxcatcher" seemed to genuinely get pushed back because its director needed more time, the external narrative behind "Grace" is not so promising. There was a massive feud between Harvey Weinstein and director Dahan going on behind the scenes, with Weinstein wanting a tighter cut and Dahan refusing. This reportedly is what pushed the film off the Weinsteins' slate earlier this year, until Cannes' decision to open the festival with it changed their tune. But just a few weeks ago, Harvey & Co. were once again considering not even distributing the film, which isn't exactly a vote of confidence from such an Oscar-hungry gang. We'll have a good idea by the end of Wednesdayhow good the film behind all the drama actually is, and whether the Oscar hopefuls of "Grace" are more than just good-on-paper.

The Homesman

Director: Tommy Lee Jones

Cast: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Grace Gummer, Meryl Streep, Miranda Otto, James Spader, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson

U.S. Distributor: Still looking (should be a major buy at the fest)

Cannes Premiere Date: May 18th

Why It Could Be An Oscar Contender: Tommy Lee Jones brings one of the few wholly American films to Cannes' competition with "The Homesman," starring a pretty impressive group of Oscar winners and/or nominees in Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow, and Jones himself.  A tale of a claim jumper and pioneer woman who travel from Nebraska to Iowa with three mentally ill women, the film clearly has the potential to come out of Cannes with Oscar stamped all over it, or not...

Why It Might Not Be: Tommy Lee Jones's directorial debut "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" made its way to competition in Cannes (and Jones ended up winning the Best Actor award at the festival for it), but it made absolutely no dent in the awards race. And Westerns are often tough sells. For every handful that break into Oscar's good graces, there's a dirty dozen that fall by the wayside.

Mr. Turner

Director: Mike Leigh

Cast: Timothy Spall, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Jamie Thomas King

U.S. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Cannes Premiere Date: May 15th

Why It Could Be An Oscar Contender: In addition to being a consistent fixture at Cannes, Mike Leigh has done pretty well for himself at the Oscars, too -- especially considering how his work generally doesn't bait such attention. He's received screenplay nominations for four of his last five films ("Topsy-Turvy," "Vera Drake," "Happy-Go-Lucky" and "Another Year") and saw his Palme d'Or winning "Secrets & Lies" manage the rare feat of both winning Cannes' top prize and getting an Oscar Best Picture nomination. So there's no reason to count him out for this biopic about the life of controversial 19th century British painter and printmaker J.M. Turner (frequent Leigh collaborator Timothy Spall).

Why It Might Not Be: We did say four of the last five. 2002's "All or Nothing" was nowhere on Oscar's radar, so Leigh isn't entirely fail safe.

The Search

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Cast: Berenice Bejo, Annette Bening, Nino Kobakhidze

U.S. Distributor: Also still looking (but can't imagine it won't get picked up by festival's end)

Cannes Premiere Date: May 21st

Why It Could Be An Oscar Contender: Michel Hazanavicius is coming off "The Artist," and we all know how that played out with Oscar. His follow-up -- said to be much darker and heavier -- takes us through war-town Chechnya where a woman working for a non-governmental organization forms a bond with a young boy. It also reunites him with Oscar-nominated "Artist" actress (and his wife) Berenice Bejo, who stars in the film alongside longtime Oscar bridesmaid Annette Bening, who oddly enough just lost the Best Actress prize twice to someone she'll be competing against at Cannes: "Homesman" star Hilary Swank.

Why It Might Not Be: It all sounds up Oscar's alley, but Hazanavicius's victorious first time out with Oscar might just have been beginner's luck.

Cinetopia, June 4-8.

It’s Detroit and Ann Arbor’s ode to Cannes -- it’s the best films, from the world’s best film festivals.

For a complete list and listing of films go to CinetopiaFestival.org

Here is a sample of not to be missed films:

1.      1982 -- Hill Harper (He Got Game) stars and the legendary Ruby Dee plays his mother in a compelling family drama.  Director Tommy Oliver and several cast members will be at Cinetopia

2.      The Skeleton Twins -- SNL’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, was well as Ty Burrell and Luke Wilson star in a sibling comedy that won Best Screenplay award at Sundance.

3.      The John Sayles Symposium -- June 4 at North Quad.  John Sayles himself, Mary Cybulski (Script Supervisor), Mason Daring (Composer), Maggie Renzi (Producer), and David Strathairn (Actor: Good Night and Good Luck, Lincoln). We will play three Sayles films Go For Sisters (his latest), Silver City and Lone Star

4.      Special private Spike Lee screening being held on Friday, June 6.

5.      To Be Takei -- Fun documentary on the actor George Takei, who played Sulu in Star Trek, is a social media rock star and gay activist

6.      Obvious Child -- Jenny Slate is a stand-up comedian with problems, but comedian’s problems are always funnier!  A Sundance standout

7.      A Touch of Sin -- a fabulously popular Chinese film

8.      Finding Mr. Right -- a Chinese Comedy

9.      Coherence -- a much buzzed about Sci Fi film

10.  Jingle Bell Rocks -- a documentary about a sub-culture of people who collect (mostly bad) Christmas music.

Opening at the Multiplex:

It started as an acclaimed Japanese film in the 1950s.  It was adapted, voiced over and released in the USA and became a cult classic. Now “Godzilla,” the world's most revered movie monster, is unleashed in a new film with state of the art computer graphics.  Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger says, “If you really don't ask for anything more than a solid hour or so of giant creatures beating on each other, well then, this new ‘Godzilla’ is for you - just the way all the old ones were.” Starring David Strathairn (who is coming in person to Cinetopia, June 4-8), Elizabeth Olsen and Bryan Cranston, “Godzilla” opens Friday.

"Million Dollar Arm" follows JB Bernstein (the “Mad Men” man Jon Hamm), a once-successful sports agent who now finds himself edged out by bigger, slicker competitors. Late one night, while watching cricket being played in India on TV, JB comes up with a radical idea: find the next baseball pitching sensation among the Indian cricket “bowlers” (pitchers). Setting off for Mumbai with nothing but a gifted but cantankerous scout (Alan Arkin), JB stages a televised, nationwide competition called "Million Dollar Arm" and 40,000 hopefuls compete. JB brings two 18-year-old finalists to the United States with one goal: get the boys signed to a major league team. "Million Dollar Arm" opens Friday.

Opening Downtown: 

“Finding Vivian Maier” sets out to answer the question: Who is Vivian Maier? Now considered one of the 20th century’s greatest street photographers, Vivian Maier was a mysterious nanny who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that went unseen during her lifetime. Since buying her work by chance at auction, amateur historian John Maloof has crusaded to put this prolific photographer in the history books. Maier’s strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never-before-seen photographs, films, and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her. Tom Long of the Detroit News says, “Every time one of her photos flashes on the screen, the woman's genius is undeniable.” “Finding Vivian Maier” opens Friday at the Michigan Theater.

In “Alan Partridge” Steve Coogan reprises the titular role as a guy who’s had many ups and downs in his life. This film finds Alan at the center of a siege, when a disgruntled fellow DJ (Colm Meaney) decides to hold their station hostage after learning that he’s getting sacked by the new management. “Alan Partridge” plays May 18 to the 20 at the Michigan Theater.

In “Just a Sigh,” actress Alix (Emmanuelle Devos) meets a mysterious Irishman (Gabriel Byrne) on the train to Paris, where she is headed for an audition. Immediately drawn to him, she follows him and falls for him, before facing what could be a new life. Marci Schmitt of the Minneapolis Star Tribune says “’Just a Sigh’ charms, with its scenes of street musicians, philosophical debates and headstrong romance, as much as it poses dilemmas of fate and desire.” “Just a Sigh” plays May 20 and 22 at the Michigan Theater.

Hitchcock Special Screenings:

In “The Manxman,” despite their differing backgrounds, fisherman Pete and lawyer Philip have been lifelong friends. Pete wants to marry Kate; however, Kate’s father doesn’t think he is good enough. When Pete leaves the island to seek his fortune abroad and entrusts Kate to Philip, they start to be attracted to each other. “The Manxman” plays Sunday, May 18 at 4 PM at the Michigan Theater.

In “Family Plot” a phony psychic/con artist and her taxi driver/private investigator boyfriend encounter a pair of serial kidnappers while trailing a missing heir. Starring Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, and William Devane,”Family Plot” plays Tuesday, May 20th at 7PM at the Michigan Theater.

Special Screenings Downtown

The video-remixing titans at Everything Is Terrible! are back and have outdone themselves yet again! The psychedelic soldiers of the discarded video realm will show not one, but two new movies: Comic Relief Zero! and Everything Is Terrible! Does The Hip-Hop!, plus a pile of their favorite, rarely seen gems.  Everything Is Terrible! plays at the State Theatre on Saturday, May 17 at 7:30 PM.

“My Neighbor Totoro” follows Satsuke and Mei, two young girls who find that their new country home is in a mystical forest inhabited by a menagerie of mystical creatures. They befriend O Totoro, the biggest and eldest Totoro, who is also the king of the forest. As their girls’ mother lies sick in the hospital, O Totoro brings the sisters on a magical adventure but also helps them to understand the realities of life. “My Neighbor Totoro” plays Sunday, May 18th at 1:30 PM at the Michigan Theater. Free for kids 12 and under!

Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (“Skyfall,” “American Beauty”) returns to the National Theatre of Great Britain to direct Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear.” The aged king decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, according to which of them is most eloquent in praising him. His favorite, Cordelia, says nothing, and Lear’s world descends into chaos. “National Theater Live: King Lear” plays Wednesday, May 21 at 7 PM. Presented in partnership with UMS.