Cannes 2012: Does the Palme d'Or Race Come Down to Naughty vs. Nice?

Day 11: It's (almost) all over but the voting, and the two frontrunners in the Palme d'Or race appear to be the quiet, emotional "Amour" and the loud, crazy "Holy Motors"

"Amour" or "Holy Motors?" Michael Haneke or Jacques Audiard? Marion Cotillard or Nicole Kidman?

The race for the Cannes Film Festival's awards is in the homestretch, and as usual only nine jurors really know what's liable to happen. But that doesn't stop others from guessing. Eric Kohn of indieWIRE, for instance, says the top five contenders for the Palme d'Or are "Amour," "Holy Motors," "On the Road," "Like Someone in Love"  and "Rust and Bone." (Three of the five – "Amour," "Holy Motors" and "Rust and Bone" – seem reliable bets, the other two significant longshots.)

Holy MotorsOn the Guardian website, meanwhile, writers Xan Brooks, Peter Bradshaw, Charlotte Higgins and Andrew Pulver rehash the festival and make predictions. Their consensus: Leos Carax's wacky "Holy Motors" (left) winning out over Michael Haneke's more subdued "Amour."

Also read: Cannes 2012: 'Holy Motors,' Holy S#*!

On Screen International's "Jury Grid" – in which the jury is made up of film critics, not actual jury members – the decided edge goes to the Haneke, which has an average score of 3.3 (out of a possible 4) to a 2.0 for "Holy Motors." Cristian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills" ties "Amour" for the top with another 3.3, while Jacques Audiard's "Rust and Bone," Thomas Vinterberg's "The Hunt" and Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly" all score 2.9 averages.

(Those scores did not include rankings for David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" or Sergei Loznitsa's "In the Fog," but neither film seemed likely to break into the top tier.)

AmourAs of Saturday morning, only two movies remained to be seen. One is Jeff Nichols' "Mud," the director's return to Cannes after winning the Critics' Week and FIPRESCI awards for "Take Shelter" last year. The director agrees with Nigel M. Smith that this is his most lighthearted and mainstream work, and adds, "I hope the buyers think it is."

The final film to screen will be Im Sang-soo's "The Taste of Money," an erotic drama from South Korea.

Once those screenings have concluded, it'll be in the hands of the  jury. Five men and four women; five directors, three actors and one fashion designer. Average age: 50. 

With the caveat that Cannes juries are always difficult if not impossible to predict, here's TheWrap's take on some potential outcomes:

THE SAFE CHOICE: "Amour"

Michael Haneke's understated look at aging and dying has been generally acclaimed as the festival's best film, and Haneke is a proven commodity who won the Palme d'Or three years ago for his last film, "The White Ribbon." On the other hand, only one of the six previous two-time winners (who include Francis Ford Coppola, Bille August and the Dardenne brothers) won with back-to-back films, "Pelle the Conqueror" and "The Best Intentions" – and even then, he'd done a TV miniseries version of "Best Intentions" in between.

Still, the themes of Haneke's film could resonate with a jury that contains only one member under 40. If the jury doesn't opt to reward Haneke's actors and give the Palme d'Or to something flashier, its chances look good.

Also read: Cannes 2012: Do We Have a New Leader in the Palme d'Or Race?

Alternate: "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet." Most viewers seemed underwhelmed, but director Alain Resnais is a French cinematic icon still making movies at the age of 90. Respect and sentiment could get it an award somewhere.

THE DARING CHOICE: "Holy Motors"

One of two films that gave Cannes a serious mid-week jolt (the other being "The Paperboy"), Leos Carax's weird, wild, experimental fever dream both excited and enraged critics when it screened. It got booed, but everybody agreed that you haven't seen anything like this before – and as the week went on, sentiment slowly changed to the point where the film was seen less as a crazy Palme longshot than an epically strange work so invigorating that it has to win.

The problem with strange, divisive movies is that it's hard to tell which side of the divide most jury members will fall on – but the strange and divisive "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" won over Tim Burton's jury and took the top prize two years ago, and "Holy Motors" should win points simply for the energy it brought to a soggy festival.

Alternate: "The Paperboy." Yeah, right. But remember, the jury did not see it at the press screening where it was mocked and booed, but at the premiere where it was greeted with a lengthy standing ovation.

Rust and BoneTHE COMPROMISE CHOICE: "Rust and Bone"

Three years ago, Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet" lost to Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon"; until "Holy Motors" came along, the directors seemed to be the two favorites again this year. If the jury thinks Carax is too wacky and Haneke won too recently, Audiard could take it for his well-received, emotional tale of a woman (Marion Cotillard) who loses her legs in an accident.

Alternate: "Killing Them Softly." Andrew Dominik's gangster movie didn't win unanimous raves, but its use of a 1974 crime novel to take a hard, violent look at American greed and the financial collapse could seem particularly pertinent.

Beyond the HillsTHE SURPRISE CHOICE: "Beyond the Hills"

Director Cristian Mungiu's tale of two young women whose friendship is tested when one enters a convent is not as universally acclaimed, but it has quietly remained one of the top-ranked films of the festival in most critics' polls. Mungiu won in 2007 with "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."

Alternate: "The Hunt." Thomas Vinterberg's Danish drama screened late and in the wake of noisy, divisive films like "Holy Motors" and "The Paperboy," but its admirers are passionate, and Mads Mikkelsen won widespread praise.

Final screenings are Saturday. Awards are handed out on Sunday. At this point, it is likely that some filmmakers and actors have been quietly told that they should probably stick around for the awards ceremony, but nobody's talking.