One of the more telling annual moments of the Cannes Film Festival, at least where U.S. releases are concerned, is an event at which the Weinstein Co. trots out footage and stars from its upcoming slate.
Last year that upfront, a media-packed soiree typically on the fest's first Thursday or Friday, saw some of the earliest footage of “The Imitation Game,” which went on to gross more than $200 million around the world. The early positioning doesn’t always work out — recall when “Mandela” was touted by Harvey Weinstein as “not your dad’s HBO film” — but it's still a good gauge of where the prestige company is standing circa May.
Actually, "Mandela" is a good place to start, because that movie’s director, Justin Chadwick, is back with Weinstein for a new release. Called "Tulip Fever" and starring Alicia Vikander, it's a romance set amid the 17th century Holland tulip craze that looked intriguing. Ditto for "Adam Jones," a cooking drama that reunites Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller from their "American Sniper" linkup.
Less persuasive was "Lion," a movie in which Nicole Kidman plays a woman who adopts a young boy from India, who in turn grows up to be (a very hirsute) Dev Patel, as part of a larger crosscultural melodrama.
The company also is doubling down on boxing movies — the Jake Gyllenhaal-toplined "Southpaw" this summer and next year's Roberto Duran-Ray Arcel tale "Hands of Stone" (starring Robert De Niro). Neither are deemed awards contenders, though Weinstein did pledge that he would get "revenge" for Gyllenhaal's "Nightcrawler" snub at the Oscars this year.
The event saw the likes of Miller, Vikander and Gyllenhaal turn out to speak to the audience. (Weinstein, incidentally, said "Southpaw" was accepted into Cannes but the company passed in deference to Gyllenhaal's spot on the jury.)
But the piece de resistance was Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight," which is coming out on a 2015 date to be named later. Tarantino has been highly reliable for Weinstein, both in years when the director’s movie skipped Cannes (2012’s "Django Unchained") and when it headed here (2009’s "Inglourious Basterds" or “Pulp Fiction” more than two decades ago). Weinstein quipped that his union with Tarantino was the best marriage he’s had.
The new “Hateful Eight” trailer shown at the upfront — about two minutes of footage — was convincing enough, if not brimming with details.
The material opens with a carriage climbing a snowy mountain as Samuel Jackson appears as Major Marquis Warren. A confrontation with a coach and its passengers — which includes Kurt Russell and the woman his character has captured, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue — follows. Soon other characters pour in, with the action unfolding in a mountain-pass cabin as the group gets stuck there. Snappy lines like "I have never seen a woman in this white hell” and "Bringing in a desperate man alive is a good way to get yourself dead" also pinged off the screen.
The trailer, at least, did a good job opening up the story outside the cabin and not making it seem like the movie was basically a chamber piece, as Tarantino’s reading last year did make it out to be. Otherwise it was hard to get too much of a sense of the film’s tone — apart from the "Django"-esque western touches and the "Reservoir Dogs" masculinity ones, anyway. But the material offered enough Tarantino style to seem promising, and also reminded that, for all the will-he-or-won't-he drama, this movie has been shot and will be in theaters in just about si or seven months.
That saud, it's still to early to tell which Weinstein movie will break out with Oscar voters. High on the list of hopefuls are Todd Haynes' lesbian drama "Carol" and Justin Kurzel's rendition of "Macbeth," both playing the festival in the coming days.
But after losing out on best picture two years running to rival Fox Searchlight (after previously scooping up two in a row with "The King's Speech" and Cannes breakout "The Artist" a few years before) it's clear there will be plenty on the line for Weinstein heading into awards season.