By Jake Howell email@example.com
Countdown To Cannes: James Gray
Background: American; born New York City 1969.
Known for / style: Little Odessa (1994), The Yards (2000), We Own the Night (2007), Two Lovers (2008); taking hiatuses between films; adhering to “middle-budget” filmmaking (as opposed to low-budget experiments and high-budget extravaganzas); keeping “story-telling” his number one priority; themes of solitude, violence, and opposition; working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Notable accolades: Gray’s only major award is a Venice Silver Lion, given for Little Odessa in 1994. At the Independent Spirit Awards, Gray has been nominated three times: twice for Little Odessa (Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay) and once for Two Lovers (Best Director). Gray has also been nominated for two Best Foreign Film Césars (Two Lovers and We Own the Night).
Previous Cannes appearances: Following his award-winning Venice debut with Little Odessa, Cannes jumped at the chance to program Gray in Competition, having done so a total of three times: once in 2000 (The Yards), once in 2007 (We Own the Night), and once in 2008 (Two Lovers). Gray is also the screenwriter of Blood Ties, the Guillaume Canet thriller set to play out of Competition this year (which also stars Marion Cotillard, set to play in The Immigrant). In 2009, Gray was a member of the Competition jury.
Film he’s bringing to Cannes: The Immigrant (produced under the title Lowlife), a historical drama set in early 1920s New York. When Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) falls in the hands of Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), the two-faced brute forces her to become a prostitute. However, after meeting Orlando (Jeremy Renner), Bruno’s cousin and a suave magician, Eva realizes that only he can help her escape the trap she has fallen into.
Could it win the Palme? Gray’s relationship with the festival is an interesting one, having debuted each of his films since Little Odessa in Competition yet leaving empty-handed every time. That has to end eventually, right? Maybe, but, there’s no overwhelming reason to suggest that 2013 is finally Gray’s year. That said, The Immigrant could very well hit a home run: the acting talent is full-on awards-bait, with AMPAS favorites Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner in the cast; and the film is also a period piece, which should play nicely with Steven Spielberg. The hope here is that The Immigrant is a career best for Gray, but his stellar players may distract jury members’ attention otherwise (with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master still in recent memory, tipping Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as an early awards frontrunner is an easy call; likewise for Rust and Bone‘s Cotillard).
Why you should care: When the casting was announced, The Immigrant immediately became a film to watch on awards sonars. If the film leaves the Festival without any golden recognition, that’s okay: it’s not simply game over, as distributor Harvey Weinstein will assuredly make certain The Immigrant stays relevant come awards season.