CANNES, France — Last year at the Cannes Film Festival, there was one question on everybody’s lips: “What’s the next ‘Parasite’?” You can see why people wondered, since that Bong Joon Ho film had used its Palme d’Or win to jump-start a historic Oscar campaign.
But if last year’s festival had an heir to “Parasite,” it proved to be a very unlikely one.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s talky drama “Drive My Car” didn’t win the Palme d’Or (it settled for a best-screenplay honor) and wasn’t anyone’s idea of the biggest contender coming out of Cannes. Still, after year-end critics’ groups went for it in a major way, “Drive My Car” picked up huge Oscar nominations for picture, directing and adapted screenplay in addition to one for best international film, the category it won.
So as this year’s Cannes nears its end with no one film standing head and shoulders above the rest, I think that rather than searching for the next “Parasite,” it would be wiser to ask: What’s the next “Drive My Car”? In other words, which movie from this year’s Cannes crop could keep on building buzz and capitalize on the academy’s growing international user base to snag major Oscar nominations?
I see three notable contenders. Foremost among them is “Close,” which is hotly tipped to pick up a major award at the fest on Saturday. It’s the second feature from the Belgian director Lukas Dhont, and it follows two 13-year-old boys as their intense friendship begins to unravel. Some crucial reviews in Variety and IndieWire have been notably mixed, calling out one of the film’s melodramatic plot twists, but Oscar voters have never minded melodrama — in fact, they often crave it, and the most ardent fans of “Close” consider it to be the four-hankie entry of the festival. A24 bought the film on the eve of its premiere, so expect a robust fall push.
The South Korean director Park Chan-wook deserved Oscar notice for his twisty 2016 masterpiece “The Handmaiden,” and though his new Cannes film “Decision to Leave” isn’t quite on that level, it’s still a well-directed affair that could see plenty of awards attention. A Hitchcockian romantic thriller, “Decision to Leave” stars Park Hae-il as a detective investigating a murdered man’s widow (Tang Wei) who, in her own femme fatale way, seems to welcome the stakeout. After the explicit sex scenes of “The Handmaiden,” it’s surprising how chaste the director’s follow-up is, but that may actually work to the movie’s favor with older Oscar voters.
Hirokazu Kore-eda scored the Palme d’Or in 2018 for his sensitive drama “shoplifters,” which went on to compete for the international-film Oscar; though it lost to the Netflix-funded juggernaut “Roma,” I suspect a film like “Shoplifters” would play better today and contend for more nominations across different categories. Keep an eye on Kore-eda’s “Broker,” then: This affectionate character study stars “Parasite” lead Song Kang Ho as one of two good-natured criminals who try to sell an abandoned baby. At times, the movie is so sweet that it verges on gooey, but I doubt the “CODA” wing of the academy will complain.
Some other Cannes entries could pop up throughout awards season, including “Armageddon Time,” from the director James Gray, about a middle-class Jewish family whose progressive attitudes mask a willingness to climb a few rungs at the expense of those less privileged. Gray is well-liked in France and may pick up a trophy here, but Oscar voters have yet to break for him in any significant way. Stars Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, and Anthony Hopkins will at least attract attention.
Vicky Krieps should already have one Oscar nomination under her belt for “Phantom Thread”: since she was snubbed then, perhaps voters could make it up to her for “Corsage,” in which she’s fun and spiky as the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. I’d also be pleased if critics’ groups rally behind Léa Seydoux as a single mother attempting a tricky romance in Mia Hansen-Love’s “One Fine Morning,” my favorite entry of the festival.
Seydoux is also quite good in David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future,” where she stars opposite Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart, but the film may prove too out-there for awards voters; ditto “Triangle of Sadness,” from “The Square” director Ruben Ostlund, though that class comedy does provide some of the most gonzo gross-out sequences of the year and contains a memorable supporting turn from Woody Harrelson.
What about the expensive Hollywood movies that premiered at Cannes? “Elvis” hails from the director Baz Luhrmann, who managed an Oscar breakthrough with “Moulin Rouge” but whose last film, “The Great Gatsby,” earned nominations only for its costumes and production design. The glittery “Elvis” seems likely to continue that trend: Reviews have been polarizing, and though up-and-comer Austin Butler impresses as Elvis Presley, young hunks usually face an uphill battle in the lead-actor category. (And the less said about the misbegotten supporting performance from Tom Hanks as Elvis’s manager, the better.)
The last time George Miller was at Cannes, he premiered “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which went on to earn 10 Oscar nominations (including picture and director) and ultimately picked up six statuettes. Action movies rarely fare that well with Oscar, but Miller broke the mold, and he’s made something else unique with “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” his new film about a djinn (Idris Elba), a scholar (Tilda Swinton) and the unique love that blooms between them. It’s got drama, fantasy, romance, comedy … and you’ll either thrill to all of that, or find it a bit overstuffed. The tech elements of the film deserve notice, but other categories could be a long shot.
And then there’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” which launched on the Croisette with a flyby from fighter jets and an opaque conversation with star Tom Cruise. This long-in-the-making sequel is earning stellar reviews and it’s expertly directed. If the academy really wants to push well-done blockbuster material into the best picture race, this could be the summer’s strongest hope. “Drive My Fighter Jet,” anyone?