You have to have some sympathy for Thierry Frémaux. Like his counterparts, the creative head of a major film festival will never make everyone happy. Especially in his case with only 49 slots and over 200 potential countries eligible to submit. Throw in the fact it’s the 70th edition of what is considered the greatest film festival in the world (depending on the year, some of us may disagree) and you’ve got even more external pressure to satisfy as many countries, filmmakers and pesky members of the press as possible. Yeah, the gig has its drawbacks, but those highs are pretty damn high and overseeing this historical occasion has to be one of them.
The 70th Festival de Cannes is already setting itself up to be the Nicole Kidman show with four different titles starring the Aussie Oscar winner screening on la Croisette including two in competition (and there’s nothing wrong with giving Kidman her due). The bigger surprise to many is that two episodes of “Twin Peaks” will be shown as a special event. Showtime has been pretty tight lipped about “Peaks” across the board, but it looks like the first impressions on the new season will be made on the Croisette.
There are at least two other films that will be added to the official competition, but here are some other initial thoughts on the festival’s offerings so far.
This Netflix theatrical controversy is not gonna go away
Sure, Netflix topper Ted Sarandos has pissed off theater owners in the states with his comments about exhibition, but the streaming service is still making sure it does token theatrical releases (assuming it can book theaters) for some of its major filmmakers. The problem is that it hasn’t necessarily done that in the past for those same films overseas which means they only were available on the streaming service. This meant that the second question for Frémaux was from a reporter asking how he could include two Netflix films that would never screen in theaters in France (let alone Europe). Honestly, Frémaux had an awkward time answering this inquiry. In one case he made the argument that because Scott Rudin produced Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” and Netflix acquired it after production the picture was somehow in a different category. He also tried insisting Bong Joon-Ho’s “Okja” with Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal was a similar case, but sort of danced around his own reply. So, basically, is a movie a movie if it only “screens” at a film festival? How is a movie different from a TV movie if they both debut on streaming services or television? Expect this to be a running theme during various official press conferences during Cannes and it might not make Frémaux and the festival happy.
Amazon Studios returns and no one has a problem with it
Both Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck” and Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here” will screen in competition this year and because Amazon acts like a traditional distributor across the globe, releasing its films in theaters first, no one has a problem with it. Imagine that.
Hollywood’s major studios aren’t crossing the pond this year
It’s rare that any of the major studios let their films screen in competition, but the past few years have alternated with Pixar or DreamWorks Animation films out of competition along with titles such as “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” getting a moment on the famous Cannes red carpet. In fact, last year three studio films took part: “The BFG,” “Money Monster” and “The Nice Guys.” Out of that trio, the only film to suffer from participating might have been Steven Spielberg’s “BFG” due to some unkind reviews, but those would have happened anyway. It’s always about timing and the right movie, but considering its Cannes’ 70th, the fact Hollywood isn’t bringing over at least one major title is somewhat shocking.
Oscar is coming to Cannes if you look in the right direction
You can guarantee a number of Cannes premieres will earn nominations in the foreign language film category (this year’s winner “The Salesman” debuted at Cannes), but the question is whether any other film will have the sort of awards season impact “Mad Max: Fury Road” (which got a huge boost of cinephile love even after its American premiere), “The Tree of Life,” “Nebraska” or “Amour” received from Cannes (or even “Carol” without a Best Picture nod). Before last year’s festival everyone’s money was on Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” to be the festival’s major awards player, but instead it turned out to be a less heralded thriller, “Hell or High Water,” which represented la croissette at the Dolby Theater. This year’s potential Best Picture contenders are likely Haynes’ “Wonderstruck” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” In theory, Baumbach’s “Meyerowitz Stories” and Joon-Ho’s “Okja” could be in the mix, but were not sure even Rudin’s influence can get Academy members to consider a Netflix “release” (although if there is anyone who can, it’s him). And before you ask, buzz is “The Beguiled” might be a good thriller but that it’s not an awards movie and the fact John Cameron Mitchell’s “How To Talk to Girls At Parties” is debuting out of competition is not a good sign (the movie has also been done for some time). Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River,” which found mixed to positive reviews at Sundance, is screening in Un Certain Regard (and that means Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner likely walk the red carpet).
Don’t look now but A24 has three films at the festival
Netflix, Amazon and Focus will get a lion’s share of the initial press attention for their Cannes titles, but don’t ignore the studio behind this year’s Best Picture, “Moonlight.” A24 has the aforementioned “Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “How To Talk” as well as the Safie Brothers “Good Time” with Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. All three films are partnerships with European distributors, but the studio has never been afraid to use Cannes to its advantage from “Amy” to “The Bling Ring” to “American Honey” (and for those playing at home “The Lobster” and “Sea of Trees” were late acquisitions after their festival debuts).
Look for more on the 70th Festival de Cannes as we get closer to opening night on May 17.