Has Cannes kicked off a wild awards season? Spike Lee’s giddy eagerness gives us some hope, but let’s be honest: There’s probably not a Parasite among this year’s bunch. Which is not to say the 2021 festival premieres weren’t, taken together, among the most exciting in recent Cannes history—or that there aren’t some performances and filmmakers on the road to nominations. (Not listed here, as we kept this list to narrative features: Todd Haynes, whose celebrated documentary, The Velvet Underground, is likely to lead him to a long-deserved second nomination.)
This year’s possibly Oscar-bound class mixes the familiar with the unexpected, blazing newcomers with overdue veterans. Here are the top eight contenders we see emerging off the Croisette.
The Cannes prize ceremony had barely gotten started before jury president Spike Lee, directed to announce the first award of the night, accidentally, prematurely read aloud the festival’s first-prize winner: Titane. But quite unlike in the case of Moonlight, one senses this already-iconic blunder marks only the beginning of this film’s awards journey. (We forgive you, Spike!)
Granted, it won’t be a smooth one. As awards watchers’ eyes lock on the Palme d’Or in the wake of Parasite’s staggering Oscar success, interest in Titane has inevitably, swiftly skyrocketed. But while Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece received universal acclaim, the wild ride directed by Julia Ducournau met a more divisive response. Because its body-horror intensity turned off some critics—and is unlikely to be to the taste of a good chunk of Academy voters—it’s very possible Titane goes the route of recent Palme winners like Winter Sleep and Dheepan, and doesn’t make a dent in the Oscar race at all.
Times are changing, though. And if Titane definitely ranks as one of Cannes’s weirdest-ever winners, the fact that a jury including hometown favorites Lee and Maggie Gyllenhaal so wholly embraced it—and that Ducournau is only the second female director to win the prestigious Cannes honor—indicates the wind is in its sails. With Parasite distributor Neon behind it, a canny campaign could upend conventional wisdom, just like Parasite’s did. —David Canfield
Renate Reinsve, The Worst Person in the World
In contrast to her film’s title, Renate Reinsve was named best actress at Cannes—a huge boost in profile for a performer who had mostly done scattered roles on television prior to her fruitful collaboration with Joachim Trier. (She was also seen in his earlier film Oslo, August 31st.) It was a well-deserved win: Reinsve is the soulful, magnetic, deeply empathetic center of Trier’s lovely film, keenly interpreting complex psychology with movie-star appeal. We’d love to see Reinsve carry her Cannes win to stateside glory.
The trouble is, it’s pretty rare for the Cannes best-actress honor to translate to an Oscar nomination. Since 2006, only Volver’s Penélope Cruz (who shared the Cannes prize with her five costars) and Carol’s Rooney Mara have done it. (And even Mara was ultimately nominated for the supporting-actress Oscar.) The Worst Person in the World ultimately may be too small, too low to the ground for Academy attention, but if the film can get some heat in international feature, Reinsve could be borne along by the surge. Either way, her performance can’t be missed. —Richard Lawson
The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson’s alleged love letter to journalists was received well by many at Cannes—but certainly not by all. The film is hampered in the acting categories by the fact that it’s an anthology of separate stories, so no one performer is around for very long. But it seems a likely contender in the technical categories; if nothing else, the film is a wonder to behold, more intricate and busy and meticulously crafted than even Anderson’s other intricate, busy, meticulously crafted films.
This could ultimately land Anderson in the director conversation as well, or in screenplay—though The French Dispatch’s ornate verbiage and myriad plot digressions may prove alienating to Academy voters. We don’t see a Grand Budapest Hotel–esque shot at best picture here, though that will of course depend on how the film is welcomed in the States. It’s a French-set movie, yes, but it’s really all about the Americans. —Richard Lawson
Asghar Farhadi, A Hero
The Academy loves Asghar Farhadi—the only director behind multiple best-international-film Oscar winners in the last decade. His precise, tense, emotionally charged morality dramas (including 2011’s A Separation and 2018’s Everybody Knows) are regular favorites of critics and art house audiences, and he’s back with another hit in A Hero, which follows the Farhadi playbook rather seamlessly and tied for Cannes’s Grand Prix (roughly equivalent to the fest’s silver medal). Assuming Iran selects the movie to represent it at the Oscars, it’ll be a strong competitor in the international-film category.
The question is whether Farhadi can finally break out of that category and into broader recognition. The Academy has gone global of late, especially in its directing branch, which has led to (very surprising!) first-time directing nominations for such international filmmakers as Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg (last year’s Another Round) and Poland’s Paweł Pawlikowski (2018’s Cold War). Farhadi earned a screenplay nomination in 2012 for A Separation, but has never been recognized for his directing or in best picture. Given Oscar trends, he’s starting to look overdue. —David Canfield
Matt Damon, Stillwater
Reactions to Tom McCarthy’s latest were decidedly mixed at the festival. But we thought it was a fascinating film, a strange and unexpected and possibly allegorical look at an Amanda Knox–type case that spins off in intriguing directions. Matt Damon could be seen, by some, as merely doing good old boy drag as a down-on-his-luck Oklahoma roughneck. But he finds modulation in the character and ably anchors the film up until its shivery, ambiguous ending. (And when has good old boy drag not worked on the Academy, really?)