It’s crunch time. All 19 competition films in this year’s Cannes Film Festival have been seen and scrutinized, and now jury president Pedro Almodovar — along with Jessica Chastain, Maren Ade, Will Smith, Agnes Jaoui, Park Chan-wook, Paolo Sorrentino, Fan Bingbing and Gabriel Yared — have the next day to argue amongst themselves over which title is most deserving of the Palme d’Or, among other prizes.
Every year, predicting the jury’s favorites is something of a fool’s errand, fraught with inconsistencies and unknowns: Who but the most gifted mind-reader, for example, can imagine how the Fresh Prince might groove to a Naomi Kawase film? Who foresaw last year’s jury shutting out critics’ darling “Toni Erdmann?” But it’s all in the game, so with a strict warning not to place any monetary bets on my say-so alone, here are my best guesses for tomorrow’s awards.
PALME D’OR: “A Gentle Creature,” Sergei Loznitsa
The festival’s top prize is never exactly predictable — precisely nobody saw “Dheepan” coming two years ago — but this year’s race seems even more up in the air than usual. A number of titles in competition have been well-received, but critical consensus hasn’t concentrated on a clear favorite the way it did with such recent Palme winners as “Blue is the Warmest Color” or “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” The safe-ish money is on Frenchman Robin Campillo’s heart-rending AIDS activist drama “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” which has the liberal politics and warm emotional pull that could unite an otherwise split jury, just as Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake” did last year. Though I’d argue that Campillo’s film has more impressive formal heft to it. It just won the critic-voted FIPRESCI Award, which has presaged the Palme in the past, most recently with “Winter Sleep” in 2014.
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But I have a hunch that Almodovar’s jury, heavy as it is on distinctive directors, may be in a more daring mood — and no filmmaker in competition went further out on a limb than Ukrainian docmaker Sergei Loznitsa, whose third narrative feature “A Gentle Creature” combines deadpan social satire, tough long-take austerity and, finally, a dive into Gilliam-style absurdism to make its furious, white-hot critique of contemporary Russian bureaucracy. At 143 minutes, it’s arguably the toughest sit in the lineup, and the one whose distribution prospects would most benefit from the top prize. I sense Almodovar and his jurors will have a lot of respect for its political and technical bravado.
“Gentle Creature” is the (even) more challenging alternative to the competition’s other searing Russian social allegory, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s nightmarish marital study “Loveless,” which has remained close to the top of the critics’ polls since it premiered at the start of the festival. It wouldn’t be at all an unsurprising or undeserving winner, not least given the widespread perception that Zvyagintsev (whose critical favorite “Leviathan” was palmed off with a screenplay prize in 2014) has earned a place in the festival’s top ranks by now.
Other possibilities: Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” if its icy formalism and nihilistic worldview doesn’t divide the jury; Ruben Ostlund’s spry art-scene satire “The Square,” if Almodovar’s sense of humor comes out to play; or Lynne Ramsay’s late-breaking critical hit “You Were Never Really Here,” if festival bloat leaves the jury hungry for the cool economy of this 85-minute psychological thriller.
GRAND JURY PRIZE: “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” Robin Campillo
This is the festival’s runner-up prize, so the aforementioned contenders all apply for the same reasons stated. I struggle to imagine Campillo’s broadly loved film not taking one of the top awards, not least given Almodovar’s affinity for LGBT narratives. The Grand Prix is also often treated as the ceiling for newer filmmakers — recent winners Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”) and Alice Rohrwacher (“The Wonders”), for example — while the Palme goes to a more seasoned veteran. Campillo, a longtime collaborator of former Palme winner Laurent Cantet, has made previous feature films, but this is his first time in competition.
JURY PRIZE: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” Yorgos Lanthimos
Here the hierarchy of the awards starts to get a bit muddy: there’s disagreement as to whether the Jury Prize is more or less prestigious than the best director award, though juries often treat it as a special acknowledgment for a newer guard of filmmaking that doesn’t fit into any particular niche. (Not always, mind you: Ken Loach won it for his minor throwaway “The Angels’ Share” a few years back.) Any number of films in this year’s competition could muster up enough partial jury support to claim this prize, but I’m plumping for the Lanthimos — critically the most divisive film at this year’s festival, its jet-black humor and terrifying shock tactics seem unlikely to meet with unanimous jury approval. But those who love it really love it — I speak as one of them — and it might have enough of a passionate support base in the jury to push it this far. Lanthimos’ similarly eccentric “The Lobster” also landed this prize two years ago, and it’s not unheard of for acquired-taste auteurs to repeat. (Poor Andrea Arnold has won it three times.)
BEST DIRECTOR: Lynne Ramsay, “You Were Never Really Here”
Genre cinema’s best shot at a Cannes award tends to be in this category, where sleekly crafted films that might seem insufficiently weighty or “important” for the bigger prizes can still be recognized for the skill and artistry with which they have been put together. (See Nicolas Winding Refn for “Drive,” Olivier Assayas for “Personal Shopper,” or the Coen brothers for both “Fargo” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”)
A couple of acclaimed, entertaining films fit that profile this year: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the jury single out Josh and Benny Safdie’s drum-tight control of the heist thriller “Good Time,” or the slippery Hitchcockian game-playing that Francois Ozon pulls off in his erotic psycho-comedy “L’Amant Double.” But it’s the long-absent Lynne Ramsay who sucker-punched the festival on its final day with the immaculate, razor-sliced tension of her pulp-fiction adaptation “You Were Never Really Here.” If the jury gives her this as a welcome-back present, she’ll become only the second female best director winner in the festival’s history.
BEST ACTOR: Claes Bang, “The Square”
This is a far more competitive field than last year’s, affording the jury the option of rewarding either a major star or a fresher discovery. In the former category, it’s not hard to imagine Robert Pattinson being rewarded for an image-altering, career-peak performance as a deadbeat Queens bank robber in “Good Time.” And if the thought of the former “Twilight” heartthrob being honored at the world’s most prestigious film festival upsets your inner cine-snob, hold onto your hats: Others on the Croisette are talking up the chances of Adam Sandler for his roundly praised turn in Noah Baumbach’s neurotic character comedy “The Meyerowitz Stories.” Other English-language possibilities include Joaquin Phoenix for “You Were Never Really Here” or a top-notch Colin Farrell for “Sacred Deer.” (Or, if the jury feels like throwing us a curveball, startling Irish up-and-comer Barry Keoghan for the same film.)
But my hunch is that the jury will go in a subtitled direction with this one, with the two juiciest possibilities being Belgian actor Jeremie Renier — best known for his more solemn work with the Dardenne brothers, but having the time of his life as kinkily opposed twin psychiatrists in “L’Amant Double” — and Danish actor Claes Bang, the suave star of “The Square.” The latter may be a stage and television veteran on home turf, but he was a revelation to most audiences at Cannes, playing out the compacted masculine insecurities of the film’s glib protagonist to hilarious and finally poignant effect.
BEST ACTRESS: Maryana Spivak, “Loveless”
This is perhaps the toughest call of all, and not, sadly, because we’re spoiled for choice in this area. Following last year’s bumper crop of strong, female-driven narratives in competition, this year’s lineup has collectively been less generous to actresses. (Unfortunate, really, given Almodovar’s opposite sensibility.) It’s conceivable that Nicole Kidman — the uncontested face of this year’s festival with four projects in the official selection — could win in one of several ways. She’s on fearless form in co-leading roles in both “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled.” There is precedent for Cannes juries rewarding a single actor for multiple roles, though rules might have shifted since then; alternatively, the jury could honor the female ensemble of “The Beguiled,” which would also worthily honor Kirsten Dunst’s heartbreaking supporting turn in it. (Almodovar’s own “Volver” was the beneficiary of one such ensemble award in 2006.)
Other possibilities include Diane Kruger for Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade” or even, at a push, Tilda Swinton’s evil-twin turn in Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja.” But I sense the jury will want to reward “Loveless” somewhere, and if it doesn’t claim one of the bigger gongs, this would be a fitting place to do so. It’s not exactly a showcase turn, but as a pathologically uncaring mother who only gradually comes to feel the emotional void left by her missing child, Russian star Maryana Spivak sharply etches the film’s toughest character arc.
BEST SCREENPLAY: “L’Amant Double,” Francois Ozon
The trick to correctly predicting this prize — which I almost never do, but let’s glide past that — is not to overthink it. It isn’t necessarily treated by the jury as a particular place to recognize the screenwriter’s craft; more often than not, it feels like a consolation prize, dished out to the last remaining film with broad affection from the jury, but that somehow didn’t triumph in any other category. It’s also, under current Cannes rules, the only other prize that can be given in conjunction with the acting awards, making it something of a bartering tool for divided juries. (In recent years, strong support factions for “Beyond the Hills” and “The Salesman” had to be appeased with two smaller prizes for their favorite, as opposed to one of the big ones.)
With that in mind, it’s really a game of eeny-meeny-miny-mo. Anyone from Noah Baumbach to Michael Haneke makes sense here, but I’ll pick Ozon, if only because he so playfully flipped the script on his film’s source material, Joyce Carol Oates’ novel “Lives of the Twins.” I can’t imagine what the grande dame of American literature might think of the sublime, twisty trash Ozon has fashioned from her words.