05/21/2012 11:36 am ET Updated Jul 21, 2012

Cannes Report: As the Market Grows, We Wait for the Great One

The press rooms reek of coffee and cigarettes (though they're smoked outside these days), while most films are referred to by the names of their directors, because few have mastered the proper pronunciations of their titles. Yes, France is a country that loves its filmmakers, and those that come to watch their films.

And yet, as we wade into the second week of the world's premier film festival, attendees are still waiting for the first truly great film of the 65th Cannes Film Festival. While Wes Anderson pleased with his fest opener Moonrise Kingdom, it's more of an accomplishment in familiar style than an honest-to-goodness standout. Michel Gondry's woefully amateur The We and the I follows a group of Bronx school kids who are not all right, leaving much to be desired. And while Lawless offers a new kind of Shia "Post-Transformers" LaBeouf, it is not a film anyone will be talking about at festival's end. There is Austrian auteur Michael Haneke's Amour, which some are calling a masterpiece, but the director has already won the fest's top prize, the Palme d'Or, so it's safe to expect that the jury will be looking for new blood to praise.

This is admittedly a back-loaded year, at least as far as American theatergoers are concerned. The new pics starring Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis), Kristen Stewart (On The Road), Zac Efron (The Paperboy) and Matthew McConaughey (who's got both The Paperboy and Mud) won't show until later in the second week.

Outside the theater and on the Croisette, the festival has done anything but flounder. Whether it's the fake Sacha Baron Cohens running around rampant or the fading action star Jackie Chan declaring his desire to be China's Robert de Niro, there is plenty of talk and plenty to talk about. There is also plenty to drink. From late-afternoon cocktails to late-night bottle service, the drinking and the talking tend to go hand in hand.

What we have here is a microcosm of the entire film industry, from foreign pre-selling to post-production scrounging for finishing funds. Setting aside the journalists, each and every person present is a buyer or a seller or both. They are here with a film, a script, an idea or the money to invest in a project of that sort. And if you do not have a film or a script or an idea, you are here selling yourself, being present and pretty among the everyones in the world of cinema.

And while Hollywood has always downplayed the importance of this event to a market powered by multi-hundred-million-dollar alien robot movies and sequels about flamboyant pirates, the tide seems to be changing. No, a Shia LaBeouf sighting in the men's room at the Palais de Stephanie does not count as an actual measure of relevance, but the convergence of nearly every film entertainment market in the world sure does, at a time when every film, small or large, depends more and more on attracting international interest. Consider the number of American films in competition this year (five) as compared to last (two). Whether that's a sign or just a coincidence (Cannes has always had a weakness for Anglophone star power), the fact remains that English-language films constitute nearly the entire second half of the festival.

The Academy Awards are nine months away, but the race begins here all the same. We now know that the Weinstein Company's much-hyped Lawless has just one credible Oscar hope: that Guy Pearce will win best supporting actor for his over-the-top performance as a villainous Prohibition agent. That helps explain the company's decision to release the gangster pic in late August rather than during the fall or winter. On the other side of the coin, Wayne Blair's The Sapphires, an inspirational tale about a quartet of young, female Aboriginal singers managed by a surly Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids), has been making waves at its market screenings, confirming most of the expectations Weinstein built up when his company picked it up for distribution before the festival.

As Big Hollywood continues to make fewer films, festivals like Cannes mean more and more. So stay tuned, because the latest flick from the Twilight babe and the new one from the The Lucky One hunk are here, and their fates in the global marketplace will be decided just seconds after the credits begin to roll.