Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cannes Awards Predictions

Another year, another Cannes. Over the past ten days, the eyes of the cinephile world have all been centered on the South of France for the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival. Long known as the prime launching pad for new work from the world's best auteurs, this year's fest was no different, with many familiar names returning to present their films in the various sections.

And by most accounts, these auteurs proved why they have been invited back time and time again. Reports from the press claim that it was one of the strongest competition slates in years, aside from a few late-breaking flops (like Xavier Dolan's It's Only The End of the World and Sean Penn's The Last Face). Among these faves were a number of films from the nascent Amazon Studios, who made a big statement with the success of their Palme d'Or contenders The Handmaiden, Paterson and The Neon Demon, as well as the new Woody Allen (Cafe Society) which played out of competition. It remains to be seen how well these films will play to general audiences, but Amazon is certainly making its presence felt.

One film we'll definitely be hearing about this fall is Jeff Nichols' Loving, seemingly the only major Oscar player to emerge from this year's slate. Based on a true story about a prohibited interracial marriage that became a landmark Supreme Court case, this quiet drama is said to feature an outstanding performance by Ruth Negga, alongside co-lead Joel Edgerton. Hers was just one of the various showcase roles for women, in yet another strong year for actresses at Cannes. Though the festival still has a long way to go in terms of opening the doors for more female auteurs in the elitist Palme d'Or club, there was much to celebrate in front of the camera. Other celebrated actress performances include: Sandra Hüller in Toni Erdmann, Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper, Sonia Braga in Aquarius and newcomer Sasha Lane in American Honey.

The competition for the Best Actress award should therefore be quite stiff, providing a real challenge for this year's George Miller-led jury. And with the high quality of the overall slate, we would expect some heated discussions for all the other prizes too. With a typically eclectic jury this year - ranging from esteemed actors like Kirsten Dunst and Donald Sutherland, to rising directors like László Nemes of Son of Saul fame - it's always fun to speculate this group's collective taste. As such, Awards Circuit continues its tradition of predicting the winners from afar. So without further ado, here are my blind (and probably wrong) predictions for the major prizes for Cannes 2016:

Palme d'Or
American Honey American Honey

Much like the Oscars, the Palme d'Or is often susceptible to an "overdue" narrative. Among this year's lauded auteurs, Andrea Arnold is one of the festival's favorites, having won the Jury Prize twice (for Red Road and Fish Tank), in addition to serving on the jury in 2012. Critics praised the film's cinematography and the performances of its young cast, and its experimental style sounds like just the kind of distinctive filmmaking that Cannes likes to champion. If Arnold does win, she would be only the second female director (after Jane Campion for The Piano) in history to win the Palme d'Or, and that sort of history-making feels like an enticing opportunity that the jury would seriously consider. Perhaps I'm going out on a limb here since the film wasn't universally beloved, but hey, that didn't stop Dheepan last year.

Grand Prix
Toni Erdmann Toni Erdmann

I toyed with the idea of predicting Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann for the Palme d'Or, but considering the fest's highbrow reputation I couldn't quite see a comedy taking the top prize. That being said, this nuanced portrait of a father-daughter relationship was handily the most well-received film in competition. Toni Erdmann is only Maren Ade's third feature film and may therefore be passed over for more established directors. But considering the acclaim, the "runner-up" prize feels like a worthy consolation. Call it wishful thinking, but I think we could have female directors claiming the top two prizes this year.

Jury Prize
I, Daniel Blake I, Daniel Blake

Often seen as the "honorable mention" spot, I predict Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake for the Jury Prize. With his long relationship with the festival and the sentimental value of this possibly being his last film, I figure the jury may want to give Ken Loach a parting gift for this tearjerker centered around a 59-year old man struggling to survive in the British welfare system. Most critics seemed to agree that the film was strong but not up to par with his best work, so this relatively smaller prize seems like the best fit.

Best Director
Cristian Mungiu - Graduation Cristian Mungiu - Graduation

If there's anything we've learned from previous editions of this festival, whenever Cristian Mungiu is in the competition, you better pay attention. In 2007, he won the Palme d'Or for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and then his 2012 film Beyond the Hills won both the screenplay award and dual Best Actress prizes, an increasingly rare feat considering the strict rules prohibiting multiple awards for a single film. This year, Mungiu garnered raves once again for his socially relevant Graduation, which could see him add the Best Director prize to his ever-expanding trophy cabinet.

Best Screenplay
Jeff Nichols - Loving Jeff Nichols - Loving

When the curtain came down on this moving historical drama from Jeff Nichols, there was instant talk of Oscar buzz. Indeed, one could envision many options for awarding this film, including Best Actress and even the Palme d'Or. But I think the film's plot-driven nature and its gravitas would make it most logical as a screenplay winner. Loving seems destined to win something at Sunday's ceremony and I think Best Screenplay is where it will ultimately triumph.

Best Actor
Adam Driver - Paterson Adam Driver - Paterson

Like Loving, Jim Jarmusch's Paterson could conceivably take almost any of these prizes. Critics were ecstatic about this Adam Driver starrer, which sees the actor continue his steady rise to stardom after winning the Volpi Cup at the 2014 Venice Film Festival and of course, his Star Wars involvement. There didn't seem to be much chatter about great male performances this year, but most critics agreed on this one.

Best Actress
Sonia Braga - Aquarius Sonia Braga - Aquarius

While the red carpet protest staged by the film's cast and crew got the most attention in international news, those in attendance at the screening of Kleber Mendonça Filho's Aquarius were more excited about the actual film. Getting some of the best reviews of the festival, the film shone a spotlight on veteran actress Sonia Braga, with some even declaring the performance a career peak. If the jury are anywhere as enthusiastic as the critics, Braga will surely be walking away with this year's Best Actress prize.