CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

Predictions reach high pitch for Cannes awards

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Unlike the Grammys  or the Oscars, the Cannes Film Festival awards keep things simple and the numbers low. At the 66th closing ceremony tonight, main competition jury president Steven Spielberg and his illustrious colleagues (Nicole Kidman, Christoph Waltz, director Ang Lee and five others from around the world) will reveal their selections in a handful of categories—seven, if past festivals are any guide, with the option for a special award if Spielberg and company see fit.

Three categories – the Jury Prize, de facto third place; the Grand Prix, or second prize; and the crowning Palme d’Or, the top prize—recognize individual films. Then there are awards for best actress and best actor. In some years, more than one performance has received an award in the performance categories. Additional festival awards go to best director and best screenplay.

In the festival’s closing weekend the predictions have reached a high pitch that can be heard clearly only by French dogs.  For the Palme, speculation has settled on a half-dozen titles or so. This is not like last year; last year, the minute Michael Haneke’s “Amour” finished its first screening, it felt like a highly likely winner (it was, in the end) with the emotional impact it generally takes to win the foreign-language Academy Award (it won that, too). 

And now, some baseless speculation. Among the generally hardy crop of English-language pictures, James Gray’s artful 1921-set Ellis Island tale “The Immigrant” feels like a good bet to win something tonight. The Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” same thing.  “Behind the Candelabra,” which premieres in the U.S. on HBO Sunday, may well hand the best actor award to Michael Douglas as Liberace. With, perhaps, a citation for Matt Damon’s complementary performance as Liberace’s assistant and lover Scott Thorson.

The French coming-of-age drama “Blue is the Warmest Color” surely will not go home without a prize or two, if not THE prize. Its rangy, three-hour and sexually explicit depiction of a teenager’s lesbian awakening has drawn an enormous range of admirers.

Other maybes tonight?  I’d expect something for “The Past,” from “A Separation” director Asghar Farhadi; “The Great Beauty,” from Paolo Sorrentino; and “Like Father, Like Son,” from Kore-Eda Hirokazu.  Or swap one of those out and slot in “Grigris,” from Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. Personally I’d love to see the directing prize go to Jia Zhangke for “A Touch of Sin,” but is the langorous storytelling rhythm Spielberg’s thing?

On Saturday the festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar competition awarded top prize to largely animated “The Missing Picture” from Cambodian director Rithy Panh. “Omar” won the jury prize; “Stranger by the Lake,” featuring a ton of gay sex as a counterweight to “Blue is the Warmest Color” in the main competition,” won for best director. The ensemble cast of “La Jaula de Oro” won the “Certain Talent” prize; Ryan Coogler’s Sundance Film Festival hit (a very good film, too), “Fruitvale Station,” was recognized with the Avenir Prize.

Also Saturday, the International Federation of Film Critics, FIPRESCI, cited “Blue is the Warmest Color” with its top prize in the official competition category. With same-sex marriage legalized earlier this month in France, “Blue” may well be the film of the moment, and of the 66th Cannes festival.

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