Cannes Recap: Can Any of This Year’s Movies Crash the Oscar Race?

Cannes movies won nine Academy Awards in February, but the next crop looks a lot thinner

Last Updated: May 23, 2016 @ 2:19 PM

Three months ago, seven movies that screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival ended up landing Academy Award nominations, and four of them won Oscars: “Inside Out” won Best Animated Feature, “Amy” won Best Documentary, “Son of Saul” won Best Foreign Language Film and “Mad Max: Fury Road” won six awards, the biggest haul of the night.

This year, though, we shouldn’t expect the same kind of Cannes/Oscar correlation. Even though the president of the Cannes jury was George Miller, the director of “Mad Max,” his panel gave awards to the kinds of movies that are unlikely to get much if any traction from Oscar voters.

The Palme d’Or winner, for instance, is Ken Loach‘s “I, Daniel Blake,” which is such a small slice of British working-class life that it’ll probably have trouble being noticed in the crowded awards season — and because it’s in English, it won’t be eligible in the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film competition, where Cannes titles most often show up.

Here are a few categories, and the 2016 Cannes titles that might show up there:

BEST PICTURE
The best bet is Jeff Nichols‘ “Loving,” the true story of a 1960s couple in Virginia who sued the state after they were arrested for violating laws against interracial marriage. But Nichols, whose previous films include “Take Shelter” and “Mud,” is a resolutely understated director, and a subject matter that might lend itself to a classic awards-bait movie is dealt with so subtly that it might well be overlooked.

Focus Features will no doubt wage an aggressive awards campaign for a worthy movie, but its best chance probably lies in the acting categories, particularly Best Actress.

Among the other high-profile English language films, Jim Jarmusch‘s “Paterson” is even smaller and subtler, while Andrea Arnold‘s “American Honey,” with Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough, is so raucous and over-the-top as to likely prove off-putting to many awards voters, as are the transgressive likes of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s “The Neon Demon”and Paul Verhoeven‘s “Elle.”

“I, Daniel Blake” has a remote chance if voters take its political message to heart, but that seems extremely unlikely.

BEST DIRECTOR
Again, Nichols is the best bet for “Loving” – and again, that would require voters to embrace a movie that seems like awards bait on paper but is far more understated than that on screen.

ACTING AWARDS
Ruth Negga, the star of “Loving,” is one of the likeliest Oscar nominees at Cannes this year. While her co-star Joel Edgerton did a great job playing a near-monosyllabic character, she is the heart of the film and will almost certainly be in any Best Actress conversations.

Kristen Stewart won strong reviews for her performance in “Personal Shopper,” but a cerebral horror movie that deliberately never delivers what its audience wants is hardly Academy fare.

Among international stars looking to crash the field, the never-nominated Isabelle Huppert might have a chance with adventurous voters who can accept the darkly, uncomfortably comedic “Elle,” while Brazilian actress Sonia Braga deserves a longshot campaign for her brave and touching role as an aging woman determined to hang onto her self-worth and sexuality in “Aquarius.”

On the male side, Dave Johns and Adam Driver will find admirers for “I, Daniel Blake” and “Paterson,” respectively, but those small movies will have to work hard to get voters’ attention.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
This is the category where Cannes films most often show up – being chosen for the festival can go a long way toward making a movie its home country’s official Oscar submission.

The festival sensation “Toni Erdmann” has a strong shot at being nominated if Germany opts to submit it; others that seem likely to be their home country’s choices, and likely to find Academy admirers if they are, include Brazil’s “Aquarius,” the Philippines’ “Ma’ Rosa,” Belgium’s “The Unknown Girl” and Iran’s “The Salesman.”

OTHER CATEGORIES
Steven Spielberg‘s “The BFG,” which screened out of competition, could be in contention for its special effects. Michael Dudok de Wit’s “The Red Turtle,” from the Un Certain Regard section, will almost certainly be a major player in the Best Animated Feature race. Laura Poitras’ “Risk,” a documentary about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks from the Oscar-winning director of “Citizenfour,” will be in the doc conversation, though it’ll hardly be the favorite her last film was. And the showbiz documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” will benefit from an HBO push and the voters’ fondness for Hollywood stories.

OTHER AWARDS SHOWS
Matt Ross‘ Sundance title “Captain Fantastic,” which played in Un Certain Regard, could make a case at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. So could David Mackenzie‘s “Hell or High Water,” if the American-set film from a British director qualifies as a U.S. production.

Oh, and Sean Penn‘s “The Last Face” might get a few Razzie nominations.

THE BOTTOM LINE
Ruth Negga, “The Red Turtle,” “Toni Erdmann” and “The Salesman” will be players. And not much else.