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Early Oscar Preview? CinemaCon and Cannes Launch Season


It has only been one month since the 96th Academy Awards ended, but this week it looks like the race for the 97th has (un)officially begun. Say what???

Even though Emmy season is in full force (Deadline’s 2-day Contenders Television live and streamed event takes place this weekend), it can never be too early to start a new Oscar season and that is why I travelled to Las Vegas this week squeezing in CinemaCon – that movie orgy convention of what studios have in store for us – in between last Sunday’s roaring Bruce Springsteen concert at the Forum and last night’s rocking “Keep The Party Going: Jimmy Buffet Tribute” at the Hollywood Bowl. By the way I spotted more Hollywood heavyweights in the boxes there on Thursday night than even at CinemaCon including Ted Sarandos, David Zaslav, Jennifer Salke to name a few, and all kinds of stars from Jane Fonda to Woody Harrelson to Harrison Ford (yes, while his appearance in the new Captain America movie was being touted by Disney at CinemaCon in his absence) introducing legends like Paul McCartney, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Jon Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow and countless others doing musical tributes to the late great Buffet. But back to Oscars.

Not only was CinemaCon taking place this week, but in the midst of it the lineup for the Cannes Film Festival in May was announced. And just to add a cherry on top, the Academy made it official that the 97th Annual Academy Awards will take place on Sunday March 2nd. All that is good enough for me to start the speculation.

Consider just a year ago at CinemaCon we saw the beginnings of the campaigns for the likes of eventual Best Picture winner Oppenheimer with Christopher Nolan leading the Universal presentation no less; Plus eventual nominees like Barbie, Killers Of The Flower Moon, The Holdovers and more being showcased to theatre owners and press. And at about the same time Cannes was announcing a lineup that included eventual Best Picture nominees like the aforementioned Killers Of The Flower Moon, Anatomy Of A Fall, and The Zone Of Interest. All of this represented some sort of sea change in the common wisdom that Oscar season doesn’t really start until the Fall Festivals kick off, with maybe a soft start at Cannes some years (like 2019 when both Parasite and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood). Now it seems year round. No rest for the weary.

Michael Keaton, Halle Berry, Tim Burton, Robert Pattison, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth and Ariana Grande at CinemaCon 2024

Michael Keaton, Halle Berry, Tim Burton, Robert Pattison, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth and Ariana Grande at CinemaCon 2024

Getty Images

I always make it a point to go to CinemaCon to see what I can see and maybe get a few early clues as to what this season would look like. Even Academy CEO Bill Kramer was on hand in Vegas this week, telling me that though last year was a barn burner in terms of really good movies competing at the Oscars, he has high hopes for this year. The great majority of movies showcased in the various studio presentations are squarely aimed at impressing theatre owners with their potential boxoffice muscle, and that means there was a lot of sequels, reboots, horror, and animation on display. Although the term “Barbenheimer” was thrown around to remind everyone that originals can really ignite moviegoing excitement and cash, as well as critical praise and awards, the emphasis was on the tried or true.

So within those perimiters I would say the takeaway from CinemaCon in terms of Oscar potential was bringing back what has worked with Academy members in the past. At Warner Bros “The Big Picture” on Tuesday, the success of Dune 2 was emphasized and you can bet that March release will figure into their Oscar plans, especially considering that 2021’s Dune racked up numerous nominations and 6 crafts wins.

Kevin Costner in Horizon, An American Saga movie

Kevin Costner in ‘Horizon, An American Saga

Warner Bros

Warners also bigly touted George Miller’s latest Mad Max epic, Furioso, which like Mad Max: Fury Road will premiere at Cannes, and looks to have the goods to make a mark at Oscars where Fury Road racked up 10 nominations including Best Picture and Director, and took 6 crafts wins. Kevin Costner was on hand to talk his ambitious western epic(s), Horizon: An American Saga Chapter 1 , also headed to Cannes, and slated for release in 2 parts, the first installment in June, and the second in August. Two more still unfilmed parts are also planned. Does it have Oscar potential? We will see, but Costner already has two Oscars at home for his 1990 Best Picture/Director wins for another western-flavored epic, Dances With Wolves so don’t count it out.

Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn & Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in

Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn & Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck

Todd Phillips Instagram

The other clear Warners hope at the Oscars would seem to be Todd Phillips followup to his 2019 critical and boxoffice smash, Joker which racked up 11 nominations and brought Joaquin Phoenix a Best Actor statuette. This one, Joker: Folie a Deux teams Phoenix with Lady Gaga in a musical fantasia that looks like a cross between Joker and La La Land. The trailer was set to the music of Burt Bacharach’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love” , and we’ll see if what the world needs now is another Joker, but this one looks to break the same kind of rules that Phillips did with the first one and seems ripe for some more Oscar love based on what I saw.

Wicked

Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande in ‘Wicked’

Universal

Universal is coming off an almost impossible feat last year of being number one worldwide at the boxoffice and also sweeping the Oscars with Oppenheimer. How do you follow that? It looks like they might have done it with the film they saved for the close of their presentation at CinemaCon, Wicked. This is director Jon Chu’s long-awaited movie adaptation of the iconic and still running Broadway musical origin story of The Wizard Of Oz. The studio said they were going big with this, and boy have they ever by splitting it into two parts, with part one coming at Thanksgiving and looking possibly to come in at 2 and a half hours (Chu told me he hasn’t yet figured that out with both longer and shorter cuts still being looked at). There is no question it has the crafts that will have great Oscar appeal, but can it also be one of those big Broadway transfers to go all the way to Best Picture like West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound Of Music, Oliver, Chicago? Time will tell, but unlike those films the Oscar voters will just be looking at Part One (the second part planned for 2025 holiday season), so ala Lord Of The Rings trilogy will they want to wait? Sources at the studio aren’t yet determining the direction of the campaign and want to see the reaction to the film as to where it might be headed in the awards scheme of things. Lots of potential for this one.

Based on what I saw animation-wise I think Universal and Dreamworks have a real Oscar player in The Wild Robot. This one clearly has all the elements, and one top studio executive told me he cried all the way through the last hour. I haven’t seen the whole film yet of course, but I can’t imagine, based on this presentation, that The Wild Robot won’t be a player. And as part of Universal’s overall presentation, there was specialty label Focus Features showing off a quartet of promising films, most notably for me All Quiet On The Western Front director Edward Berger’s new Vatican thriller, Conclave which looked rich from the footage shown, but I am told by at least one Focus executive is even better than that footage indicates. It appears Berger who won the International Film Oscar for All Quiet (also a Best Picture nominee) could be back in the race.

Focus also has the Christmas Day release of the latest gothic telling of Nosferatu from director Robert Eggers which looks appropriately gory to the extreme, but nonetheless intriguing. Production values look lush, something Oscar voters love. They also have the delayed Jeff Nichols biker film, The Bikeriders, which Disney and 20th Century had set up for last awards season, even premiering at Telluride, but the SAG strike took its toll, the film lost its December release date and Oscar campaign, and it moved to Focus. A June release will tell the tale if it can revive any awards mojo, and it has a great cast with Austin Butler, Tom Hardy, Jodie Comer, and Mike Faist (whose star could rise in the meantime with the upcoming momentary release of Challengers). And might there be some Best Actress buzz for Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse in Focus’ Back To Black ? They showed footage at CinemaCon and the film has opened to good reviews in the UK. Oscar voters are suckers for actors playing musical icons.

Actors dressed as Gladiators, led by Chris Aronson, President of Domestic Distribution, Paramount Pictures, are seen in the audience at the Paramount Pictures Presentation during CinemaCon 2024 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on April 11, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)

Paramount, based on the footage, has one real contender with Ridley Scott’s Gladiator II, the long awaited followup to his 2000 Best Picture winner, this time with Paul Mescal, Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal and others. It looked amazing, and Scott (on tape) said it might even be better than the first. Certainly Paramount’s lively presentation that opened with a march of several gladiators carrying a chariot with “gladiator” and Paramount Distribution President Chris Aronson into the Caesars Palace Colosseum Theatre could not have set the table for this in a better way. Scott, by the way, has never personally won an Oscar, and there is precedent for a sequel to a Best Picture winner also winning Best Picture. The Godfather Part II anyone?

'Inside Out 2'

‘Inside Out 2’

Disney/Pixar

Over at Disney, it looks like their most realistic Oscar hopes might lie also with sequels, animated sequels to, particularly, Inside Out 2 which saw Disney showing off the first 35 minutes of the Pixar ‘toon to reportedly great response (I missed this final presentation of the week unfortunately). They have hopes for Moana 2 as well, and even trotted out star Dwayne Johnson to pump up the crowd for it. Despite new Deadpools, Captain Americas, Aliens,and Apes, the studio’s Best Picture hopes probably lie with Searchlight again, as their Poor Things (winner of 4 Oscars) team of director Yorgas Lathimos and now 2-time Best Actress winner Emma Stone are instantly reteamed in what is called a Triptych fable, Kinds Of Kindness which is also headed to Cannes. And I can vouch for Sundance debut, A Real Pain starring and directed by Jesse Eisenberg and featuring an awards worthy performance from Kieran Culkin. It is terrific and could be a sleeper this season. Disney also has an actress possibility with Daisy Ridley in Young Woman And The Sea in which she plays the first woman to ever swim the English Channel. Considering Annette Bening was just nominated for doing similar feats in the water in Nyad, don’t doubt voters like seeing contenders get all wet. And remember that in 1958 Spencer Tracy was nominated for Old Man And The Sea, but that wasn’t about swimming. I digress.

I also caught the Lionsgate presentation but that focused on action, horror, a lot of franchise stuff, plus their faith-based slate, not really Oscar bait, although I have to say I am rooting for Aziz Ansari’s hilarious-looking comedy, Good Fortune with Seth Rogen and Keanu Reeves, along with Ansari starring, directing, writing, and producing. That looks like one to look out for. And hopefully, finally , Marc Forster’s lovely and touching young adult drama, White Bird , which also features Helen Mirren and Gillian Anderson, will get its long-delayed release. Given half a chance they just might find some awards love in that one.

The Apprentice Jeremy Strong Sebastian Stan

(L-R) Jeremy Strong and Sebastian Stan in ‘The Apprentice’

APPRENTICE PRODUCTIONS ONTARIO INC. / PROFILE PRODUCTIONS 2 APS / TAILORED FILMS LTD. 2023

Meanwhile the Cannes announcement also gave me real hope for the season with the aforementioned Furioso and Horizon premieres, not to mention Francis Ford Coppola’s return to the Croisette with Megalopolis, already much talked about and dissected on social media following its screening to buyers and friends. Coppola and Cannes go together. I can’t wait to see this one there. I am really excited about the heavy presence of english language films announced as well, and especially The Apprentice, which looks at the shady relationship of evil lawyer Roy Cohn and his influence on the young Donald Trump starring Jeremy Strong as Cohn and Sebastian Stan as Trump. That one from Iranian director Ali Abbasi will undoubtedly be a must see no matter what your politics are, and sight unseen could be an Oscar player – or not – for all sorts of reasons perhaps not related to what is actually on screen.

From CinemaCon to Cannes, let the season begin!



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