‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ could earn Oscar bid for Actress, but what about Best Picture?

Most of the Oscar talk for writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche‘s “Blue is the Warmest Color” currently surrounds Best Actress hopeful Adele Exarchopoulos, who has a lot of showy scenes as a young lesbian discovering her sexuality – complete with graphic sex scenes and closeups of runny-nosed, ugly-cry emotional breakdowns – but are we underestimating its chances elsewhere?

Despite its NC-17 rating, usually a kiss of death for awards contenders, I think it’s a serious contender for a Best Picture nod.

We’ve seen how the male-dominated Academy fawns over sexy ingenues like Exarchopoulos – only five women over 40 have won Best Actress in the last 20 years, as I noted here. With Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine“) and Sandra Bullock (“Gravity“) currently leading the race, there’s room for a younger woman to swoop in.

Let’s pause now to sigh at the thought that women like Blanchett (44) and Bullock (49) might be too old for Hollywood’s tastes. Sufficiently depressed? Okay, let’s move on.

Exarchopoulos could start a possible march towards Oscar at the critics’ awards, particularly the Los Angeles Film Critics, which have awarded Best Actress to foreign-language performances for five of the last six years, including Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose,” who went on to win the Oscar in 2008, and Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour,” who was nominated last year.

The National Society of Film Critics also have a history of international choices, with three foreign-language winners for Best Actress in four years, including Riva.

That’s where “Blue” stands in the Best Actress race, but what about other Oscar bids? There are reasons to believe it stands a chance in other major categories as well.

For instance, the writer’s branch often recognizes writer-directors for foreign films on the academy’s radar: “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “A Separation,” and “Amour” received nominations, and Pedro Almodovar‘s “Talk to Her” won. This year’s Adapted Screenplay race has yet to solidify, so Kechiche’s character-driven script could certainly make its way in.

Best Director isn’t out of the question either. “Talk to Her” was also nominated for directing, perhaps the academy’s way of protesting that Spain didn’t enter it for consideration for Foreign-Language Film. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is also controversially disqualified from that category, for the much sillier bureaucratic reason of premiering nine days too late in France. That may be a recurring subject of frustration for Oscar-watchers this season, and something voters may wish to rectify with their ballots.

Exarchopoulos’s co-star, Lea Seydoux, matches her cry for cry and could make an impact in the Best Supporting Actress race.

And don’t underestimate the film’s chances for a Best Picture bid either. Beyond solid contenders “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity,” and “Captain Phillips,” I could make a case for any other film to be left out of the final lineup, and “Blue” carries with it the prestige of winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Cannes wasn’t always a predictor of Oscars, and it probably still isn’t – not really. The French fest is one of the world’s most prestigious, but it’s more internationally focused and their winners aren’t the kinds that usually cross over successfully to this side of the Atlantic – “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” anyone?

However, the last two Cannes winners (“The Tree of Life” and “Amour”) both became Oscar nominees for Best Picture, and a few of the festival’s recent acting honorees went on to earn Oscar wins (Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds,” Jean Dujardin in “The Artist“) or at least nominations (Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”). That trend could also continue this year with Cannes Best Actor champ Bruce Dern (“Nebraska“).

That’s enough of a track record for us to give Cannes a closer look as a possible launchpad for Oscar contenders. Remember, in the Oscar race perception is reality: because “The Tree of Life” and “Amour” were successful, “Blue” is suddenly on the Oscar map where it wouldn’t have been otherwise. Academy members will know about it, many will likely see it, and only a relatively small number need to love it for it to become a nominee.

That’s because of the academy’s expansion of Best Picture. Though that move was made following the surprise snubs of acclaimed blockbusters “WALL-E” and “The Dark Knight” in 2008, it has also had the reverse effect of helping smaller films with niche audiences; with as many as 10 slots available in the category, passionate support has helped push films like “A Serious Man” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” to bids they might not have gotten with only five nominees in the category.

Will Exarchopoulos at least be nominated for Best Actress? Review the top contenders below and make your predictions:

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