But as it made clear when it announced this year's official selection Thursday, Cannes also operates independently from the awards machinery of its late-summer and early-fall counterparts, emphasizing such things as returning directors and dues-paying.
As festival director Thierry Fremaux announced this year's selections at a Paris news conference, the returnees were much in evidence. Mike Leigh will come back with his new film "Mr. Turner" — a biopic about the British artist JMW Turner — having brought his last film,
With Irish period piece "Jimmy Hall," the competition will once again welcome Ken Loach, who Fremaux guessed has more Cannes appearances in his career than any other director. And French titan Jean-Luc Godard has been given a competition slot for the first time in 13 years for his 3-D (!) "Goodbye to Language" despite recent tepid offerings, including the coolly received "Film Socialisme" in 2010.
Returning filmmakers tend to catch programmers' eye at Cannes — which this year will begin on May 14 — even if it's been a while since their last visit.
And Fremaux acknowledged that a coveted out-of-competition slot went to
All of this doesn't mean awards strategy is absent from the festival. Cannes is a place where a few big hopefuls usually launch, and a savvy distributor can ride buzz from the Croisette all the way to the Oscar podium, as the
This year the movie that rides in with the highest Oscar expectations is "Foxcatcher," the Bennett Miller fact-based drama about John du Pont's murder of wrestler Dave Schultz in 1996 starring
As a closely observed bellwether for the state of cinema, the Cannes Film Festival puts a veneer of credibility on — and a bright target on the back of — any movie that premieres there, the announcement of what's in and what's out, setting up a high-risk, high-reward game. That was true for other selections Thursday.
On the opposite side of the ledger from Leigh and Loach, Xavier Dolan got a long-awaited — at least by him — promotion from other sections to the main competition with his custody drama "Mommy."
A Quebecois who has improbably made five feature films by the age of 25, Dolan has been to Cannes three times previously in other sections with films such as
No Cannes 2014 selection may be more telling of its approach than
That netted him an entry — but only in Un Certain Regard, in keeping with the unwritten rule that most first-time directors are kept out of competition.
This year's selections also showed another unspoken rule of Cannes selections: to grab a competition slot, it helps to mix in star power with your auteurs. That potent, at times polar synergy is, after all, what Cannes runs on, the thousands of camera-wielding fans and professional photographers who pack the streets outside the landmark Palais des Festivals a contrast to the earnest, elegant genuflections to the power of cinema inside it.
This year, Kristen Stewart landed in competition with "Sils Maria," Olivier Assayas' English-language examination of actors' lives in Europe, while her former "Twilight" co-star and tabloid stablemate Rob Pattinson has two films, David Cronenberg's inside-Hollywood story "Maps to the Stars," in competition, and "The Rover," Australian David Michod's crime drama, in an out-of-competition midnight slot.
Coming off what some regard as the best year for film in recent memory, the bar is high for the small group of films that will comprise this year's selection. After all, many of last year's award-season's talkers — "Nebraska," "Inside Llewyn Davis" and particularly "Blue Is the Warmest Color" — came to prominence in large part because of attention first showered on them at Cannes. On Thursday, the festival showed that it is once again willing to throw down in the awards game, if only on its own terms.