Not much time before I have to motor, so forgive me if I skip the throat-clearing on this final entry and just proceed to my annual awards predictions and suggestions. (The actual awards will be announced on Sunday; no doubt Newswire will have the skinny. I’ll be on planes the whole day.) Rather than write separate reviews of the last few films I saw, I’ll fold them into this rundown—very easy to do in one case, since it’s my choice for the festival’s second-highest honor. Keep in mind that we’re talking only about the Competition slate here; some of the best and/or most interesting films I’ve written about, like All Is Lost, Bastards, Stranger By The Lake, and The Selfish Giant, aren’t eligible. Also keep in mind that I have almost never been right about anything when doing this in the past.
Will win: Lots of possible contenders this year, and most people seem to be predicting that it’ll go to either Blue Is The Warmest Color (which has the highest ratings in the two big trade polls since I began attending in 2002) or Inside Llewyn Davis. But I feel Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty may have an irresistible pull for jury president Steven Spielberg, who grew up during the age when its unmistakable influences—Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Roma—represented the pinnacle of cinema as art. It’s also arguably this year’s most visually sumptuous film, and almost certainly its most ambitious.
Should win: The Past was the only truly great film I saw here this year. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s followup to his masterful A Separation isn’t quite as devastating, due to familiarity plus narrative gears that can occasionally be heard grinding, but he has an understanding of both human nature and dramatic structure that’s virtually unmatched in the modern era. And he pulls off the festival’s most unexpected and deeply moving finale, which is all the more powerful for arriving out of nowhere.
GRAND PRIX (basically second place)
Will win: If memory serves, while Cannes juries are strongly encouraged to share the wealth among as many different films as possible, they don’t need a dispensation to give two awards to a single picture so long as one of them goes to an actor. (When the ’03 jury gave Elephant both the Palme d’Or and Best Director, by contrast, permission had to be granted.) With that in mind, I’ll go ahead and predict that Blue Is The Warmest Color will take the silver, even though I have another prize in mind for it as well. Given its rapturous reception from all corners, for it not to win either one of the two biggies seems unthinkable.
Should win: For nearly an hour, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive looked as if it was shaping up to be not merely the best film of Cannes 2013, but one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. Granted, I’m not sure how Jarmusch could have sustained what he was doing much longer, as the initial movement is essentially Woody Allen’s list of reasons why life is worth living (as enumerated by his alter ego in Manhattan) disguised as a vampire movie. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, both ravishingly bedraggled, play a pair of amorous bloodsuckers (living in Detroit and Tangier, respectively, when the film begins) whose undead state has seemingly only whetted their appetite for beauty in all its forms; the movie functions for an amazingly long time as a catalogue of their passions, which include everything from vintage guitars to scientific nomenclature to seeing the house where Jack White grew up. I realize that may sound in bald description like the worst kind of hipster bullshit (which was more or less my reaction to much of The Limits of Control), but Jarmusch, Hiddleston, and Swinton pour so much uninhibited ardor into each and every moment that the movie constantly feels as if it’s about to burst from an excess of feeling. There’s zero irony here. What’s more, the vampire conceit, while superficially silly (the film is more or less a comedy, albeit an unusually heartfelt one), has the salutary effect of throwing human mortality into stark relief, creating a carpe diem sensation without actually saying anything so banal. Eventually, Jarmusch feels obligated to toss in some vague plot elements—Mia Wasikowska shows up as Swinton’s troublemaking sister—and while the rest of Only Lovers Left Alive is plenty of fun, it also, paradoxically, starts to seem frivolous, just a series of mildly amusing riffs. That’s exactly how many critics, even those who quite liked the film, seem to perceive it. But it clearly aspires to something more, at least for a while, and comes tantalizingly close to achieving it. Grade: A-
JURY PRIZE (basically honorable mention)
Will win: I’m guessing Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son, which many seem to find deeply moving, will get something, and this seems the most likely slot by process of elimination. However, this is always the most unpredictable category, often awarded to films that were ignored or even despised by most critics e.g. The Angels’ Share last year and Polisse the year before that. So you never really know. They may well hand it to A Castle In Italy specifically to spite me.
Should win: Nebraska. Opinion seems sharply divided on Alexander Payne’s latest, with many of the folks who loved The Descendants finding this follow-up extremely slight by comparison. For my money, it’s his best “serious” film to date, perhaps precisely because it’s not anchored/shanghaied by a showy star performance from the likes of Nicholson, Giamatti, or Clooney. Which is not to say that Will Forte and Bruce Dern don’t do fine work, just that they better blend into their movie’s unemphatic milieu, allowing the pathos to sneak up on you gradually rather than clobbering you between big yuks.
Will win: Michael Douglas, Beyond The Candelabra. It’s just too dramatic a transformation (and too strong a performance—not usually the case when celebs play other celebs) to be overlooked, and the knowledge that it’s ineligible for an Oscar will surely influence the American jurors. A joint award to Douglas and Damon is also possible, but I’d give that about a 4 percent chance of actually happening.
Should win: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis. For a musician with limited acting experience (he’s probably best known for playing Carey Mulligan’s husband in Drive), the lead role in a Coen Brothers movie must have been unbelievably daunting.But you’d never guess it from Isaac’s relaxed anti-charisma as this film’s titular fuckup. He’s in practically every shot, but hiscommitment to the character’s genial self-justification never wavers; it’s one of those star-is-born performances that seem to rejuvenate the medium’s tired blood. And he sings like a hungry hobo.
Will win: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue Is The Warmest Color. Though there’s a fair amount of competition this year, including Young & Beautiful’s Marine Vacth, The Past’s Bérénice Bejo, The Immigrant’s Marion Cotillard, and—to my considerable surprise—Venus In Fur’s Emmanuelle Seigner. Like Carnage, Roman Polanski’s new film, which screened this morning, it was adapted from a single-set play, in this case by David Ives; Seigner plays an uncouth actress who shows up late for an audition, yet persuades the director (Mathieu Amalric) to read her for the part anyway. The play-within-the-play(-within-the-film) is adapted from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella of the nearly same title, involving a great deal of frank debate about the nature of dominance and submission; those with more interest in that subject than myself (here we go again!) will get a bigger kick out of the way that Ives playfully merges the actor-director relationship with their text, culminating in a lurid, proudly feminist upheaval. (It’s certainly a much better play than Carnage.) But what’s most impressive is the speed and dexterity with which Seigner, who stank up Polanski’s Frantic a quarter-century ago, moves back and forth between the multiple personae this role provides/demands. If you stay married to a world-class director long enough, and keep being cast in his films, I guess you eventually learn how to act. Grade: B
Should win: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue Is The Warmest Color. Another star is born. There’s a danger that too much will be made of her willingness to go all-out in the film’s prolonged, graphic sex scenes, and not enough credit given to her unforced naturalism in an extremely demanding role that runs the gamut from passive observation to crazed histrionics. I was strongly reminded of the very young Juliette Binoche, back in the ‘80s—Exarchopoulos has a similar blend of strength and fragility, and the same emotional fearlessness. (And to back up to “will win,” hijacked by my Polanski review, there’s again a chance for a joint award that includes her co-star, Léa Seydoux. I’d consider that likely if not for the fact that Best Actress was awarded jointly just last year to the stars of Beyond The Hills, which also features an implied lesbian relationship. Do juries pay much attention to previous juries? Do they even remember what won last year? Do they look it up? I honestly don’t know.)
Will win: Asghar Farhadi, The Past. Even though this film is more script-driven than formally daring, I don’t think it’s likely to be “relegated” to Best Screenplay, which is somehow seen as a lesser award. And it’s entirely possible that The Past will win the Palme d’Or and Sorrentino will get Director. That makes more sense, really. But my gut feeling (which, again, is usually wrong) is that it’ll be the other way around.
Should win: Jia Zhang-Ke, A Touch Of Sin. I often find Jia’s direction more impressive than his films as a whole, since their didacticism lies elsewhere (script, concept). And he demonstrates a wider range here than he has since his early comedy Xiao Wu, punctuating his usual static tableaux with staccato bursts of extreme violence. Let me also note, by way of finding somewhere to include it, that I was more impressed than most by Arnaud des Pallières’ work in the historical drama Michael Kohlhaas, starring Mads Mikkelsen as a 16th-century trader whose rigid principles lead to a guerrilla war when a Baron mistreats him and the law won’t support his case. It’s a staid, overly sedate film that every so often erupts with controlled intensity (most notably in a lengthy scene featuring the great Denis Lavant as an argumentative cleric), and one could argue that the highs wouldn’t be nearly as effective were they not offset by corresponding lows. I think the Pixies wrote that brief. Grade: B-
Will win: Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis. This seems like a slam-dunk, unless the jury gives it something bigger instead. I still think the screenplay gets lazily random at a certain point, but the only person I’ve found who agrees with me is Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman. Certainly there’s no film in Competition this year that’s remotely as quotable—stay tuned for memes featuring the Impact-fonted question, "WHERE IS HIS SCROTUM?!?"
Should win: In a vacuum, The Past, but I’m playing the game in which no film gets more than one major (non-acting) prize. That doesn’t leave me with much, actually, since most of my other choices have also already been accounted for above. Guess I’ll pretend hand it to François Ozon for Young & Beautiful, which is extremely well written thanks to everything he deliberately leaves out.
BEST THING IN THE HISTORY OF THINGS
Will win: Nobody. This is not a category. I made it up.
Should win: Adam Driver, as the Jewish cowboy musician “singing” backup on Inside Llewyn Davis’ novelty number “Please, Mr. Kennedy.” Trust me, you’ll see. UH-oh! Outer SPACE!
Okay, I have to go grab my suitcase from left luggage before it closes, at which point I can no longer get into the Palais (so might as well head for the airport). It’s been my pleasure and privilege to report from world cinema’s front line once again—hopefully I’ve given everybody something to look forward to, even if you’ve determined that your taste is antithetical to my own. And to those bummed that I didn’t get to a film they were curious about (Lav Diaz’s acclaimed four-hour Un Certain Regard entry, the new Jodorowsky picture), my apologies. There are only so many hours. Only three months ‘til Toronto!