Austin Butler Captures the Lions Share of Oscar Buzz at Cannes

As the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival comes to a close, VF‘s Rebecca Ford and Richard Lawsonhave a chat about what, if anything, 12 days on the Croisette told them about next year’s Oscars.

Richard Lawson: Last year’s Cannes saw the debut of Drive My Car, which would go on to snag myriad critics awards and a small handful of Oscar nominations, with one win. Thus, everyone here this year seemed on the hunt for the next film that could repeat that success, or even be the new parasitethe first Palme d’Or winner to take home the best picture Oscar since 1955’s Marty. I’m not sure I saw that this year. Yes, I missed a lot of films, due to a difficult screening schedule and a ticketing system that vexed even the calmest of Cannes veterans. Or maybe I just don’t have the proper hindsight yet. I’m not sure anyone would have said at this point last year that Drive My Car would be the phenomenon that it turned out to be. That narrative only revealed itself later, once the film was screened in North America.

So it was probably silly of us to get so wrapped up in waving our metal detectors over the beach looking for the next big international sensation—a movie that was, if it was here at all, probably hiding in plain sight. Let’s then turn to the obvious Oscar bait first. By which I mean Warner Bros’s Elvisa big, honking bit of Hollywood (by way of Australia) hagiography that is clearly trying to be 2022’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

There was a starry premiere for the film on Wednesday, followed by a lavish post-party that featured a drone light show twinkling above the wine-dark Mediterranean and musical performances from Diplo and Måneskin. Sure, Cannes premiered the Elton John biopic Rocketman in similarly grand fashion in 2019, to little Oscar result. But the air in the Lumiere was still heavy with expectation on the evening of Elvis‘s debut. The film delivers on that anticipation in at least one way: Austin Butlerwho was last seen at Cannes in a small role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, tackles a wildly difficult role with movie star grace. He’s in stunning command of a performance that goes well past impersonation.

As I said in my review, though, director Baz Luhrmann keeps Butler, and Elvis, at a curious distance in the film. It’s strange that a movie called Elvis doesn’t focus on Elvis enough, choosing instead to get lost in the thicket of Tom Hanks‘s narration and a heap of visual adornment. Still, if Elvis is successful at the box office when it’s released in the States next month, Butler will have an early, very much penciled in spot on the best actor shortlist in my head. (It’ll be him and Sonic from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 at this point.) I don’t think Elvis will be the boffo smash that Bohemian Rhapsody was, but the promise of seeing the King’s story told in glittery fashion, with plenty of concert reenactments keeping things moving, will likely lure some summertime theatergoers away from Jurassic World. If they connect with the movie, then Butler is in good shape.

But Rebecca, you sadly had to travel home before Elvis made its big splash. So I’m curious what you saw here that gave you that old Oscar tingle in the brain. Did anything?

Rebecca Ford: Yes, Richard, I was sad to miss Elvis but I’m glad you were able to report back on the razzmatazz of it all, and it does sound like we’ll see Butler make a run for it. (If he doesn’t win, Lisa Marie Presley has promised to eat her foot, so high stakes on this one). Overall, I feel similarly about the festival: I saw a lot I liked but nothing that felt like a Drive My Car or parasite -level breakout. When it comes to Oscar predictions, I think a lot will depend on how many of these films run their campaigns and how tough the competition ends up being. Premiering at Cannes means you have a lot longer of a runway than the films that are going to play at the fall fests, and it can be very challenging to keep that momentum going. It works well for a film that slowly builds buzz through word of mouth, and I do think it’s possible we have a few of those this year.


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