Cannes Analysis: Jury Prize Winners and Losers to Watch for Come Oscar Season

Nobody can see everything that screens in competition at the Cannes Film Festival — there were 21 titles in the mix this year — and I certainly didn’t. So, without passing judgment on all of the titles that were recognized with prizes on Saturday, I must say that I am struck by the fact that all five of the eligible English-language titles — Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s Black Flies, Karim Aïnouz’s Firebrand, Todd Haynes’s May December and Ken Loach’s The Old Oak — were completely passed over by the jury.

Needless to say, it is not the mandate of the Cannes jury — which this year included the likes of Paul Dano, Brie Larson and recent Palme d’Or winners Ruben Östlund (2017’s The Square and 2022’s Triangle of Sadness) and 2021’s Julia Ducournau (Titane) — to try to presage the Oscar race. But it is still noteworthy, to me, that after several years in a row of considerable overlap between the picks of Cannes jurors and the picks of the Academy — most notably when Parasite won the top prizes of both — it seems unlikely that there will be much, if any, this year.

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The Academy, of course, primarily gravitates toward English-language work, even as it becomes a more international organization. And there is a lot of Academy-friendly work in the five overlooked English-language titles, especially the outstanding performances of Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore as an actress and the woman she is set to play, respectively, in May December, which Netflix bought for $11 million at the fest and plans to push for awards; Alicia Vikander and Jude Law as Katherine Parr and King Henry VIII, respectively, in Firebrand, which is still seeking U.S. distribution; and Tye Sheridan and Sean Penn as a young man preparing for medical school and a veteran paramedic, respectively, in Black Flies, which Open Road will distribute in America.

Two other English-language films that played at the fest, albeit out of competition, that will surely receive major Oscar pushes: Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, from Paramount and Apple TV+, which features standout turns by Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons (Scorsese and his backers opted to not screen it in competition); and Pixar’s latest, Elemental, which closed the fest.

What of the films that were honored?

The one with the greatest Oscar potential might be Grand Prix winner The Zone of Interest, British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer’s German-language portrait of the Höss family’s life just outside the gates of Auschwitz, a real study of the banality of evil. It will certainly get an Oscar push from A24, which also handled Glazer’s most recent prior film, Under the Skin, a decade ago; as was the case with that project, I have no doubt that this one will be widely embraced by critics — but I am not totally sold on it being the Academy’s cup of tea. Even the way it begins, with several minutes of a blank screen, struck many with whom I conferred as pretentious, and could lose the interest of Academy members who try to watch it at home on the Academy’s members-only streaming service.

It strikes me as unlikely that Germany would choose to submit, as its entry for the best international feature Oscar race, a film by a non-German filmmaker and/or a film that reflects this poorly on the behavior of the German populace during World War II. So the strongest Oscar prospect for the film may be its leading lady, Sandra Hüller, who plays Mrs. Höss in The Zone of Interest — and also stars in the film that won the Palme d’Or, Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall, in which she plays a writer trying to prove her innocence in her husband’s death. (Had Hüller’s films not walked away with the fest’s top two prizes, it seems likely that she would have been recognized with the best actress prize, but Cannes juries generally prefer to spread around their honors.)

Anatomy of a Fall will be distributed in the U.S. by Neon, which also handled the U.S. distribution of the last French film to win the Palme, Titane, which ultimately was submitted by France as its Oscar entry, but wasn’t shortlisted. This season, France will have to decide whether or not to submit Anatomy of a Fall or the film for which Tran Anh Hung was recognized with the best director prize, The Pot-au-Feu, which stars French favorites Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel and may have more mainstream appeal. The Pot-au-Feu is still seeking U.S. distribution.

A jury prize went to Fallen Leaves, the latest film from Finnish master Aki Kaurismäki, who previously represented his country in the best international feature Oscar race with 1996’s Drifting Clouds, which was disqualified; 2002’s The Man Without a Past, which was nominated; 2006’s Lights in the Dusk, until it was withdrawn; and 2011’s Le Havre, which was not nominated. MUBI will distribute it in the U.S.

Best screenplay was awarded to Yuji Sakamoto for the Japanese film Monster, which was directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, who previously represented his country with 2004’s Nobody Knows, which was not nominated; and 2018’s Shoplifters, which was nominated. It is still seeking U.S. distribution.

Merve Dizdar won best actress for her turn in the Turkish film About Dry Grasses, which was directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylon, who previously represented his country with 2003’s Distant, which was not nominated; 2008’s Three Monkeys, which was shortlisted; 2011’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which was not nominated; 2014’s Winter Sleep, which was not nominated; and 2018’s The Wild Pear Tree, which was not nominated. It is still seeking U.S. distribution.

And then there’s the great Japanese actor Kōji Yakusho, who was awarded best actor for Perfect Days, a Japanese-German co-production directed by the legendary German filmmaker Wim Wenders. Neon is reportedly closing in on a deal for the film’s U.S. distribution rights. Wenders has previously represented Germany with 1977’s The American Friend, which was not nominated; 1987’s Wings of Desire, which was not nominated; and 2011’s Pina, which was shortlisted. But it remains to be seen if either Japan or Germany would submit a co-production this season.

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