Thoughts // PALME D'OR WINNERS RANKED

This year marks the 71st Festival de Cannes.



The 71st Cannes Film Festival begins May 8, 2018, with films from auteurs like Spike Lee and Jean-Luc Godard lighting up the Croisette for the festival jury, headed by Cate Blanchett.  


In the years before, the Palme d'Or, the fest's most prestigious prize, has gone to directors like Gus Van Sant, David Lean, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Robert Altman, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, and even Michael Moore.


With the "most famous" red carpet in the world, the Cannes Film Festival is a mix of cinema's greatest filmmakers and pop culture icons.


Since 2000, the coveted Palme d'Or prize has been awarded to a plethora of respectable entries of world cinema, with a few becoming Academy Award crossovers, like last year's champion The Square, a front-running nominee for the Foreign Language Oscar, and 2011's The Tree of Life, a Best Picture nominee.


The festival and awards ceremony aren't without controversy, like this year's newsworthy refusal by Netflix to screen films after the fest's chief, Thierry Fremaux, announced the streaming service's films would be ineligible to compete for the Palme d'Or.


While many of the winning films may fail to enter the pantheon of well-known classics, they each deserve their respective places as one of cinema's greatest offerings.


This year's festival brings about hopefuls from all over the world, including two films from American directors: Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman and David Robert Mitchell's Under the Silver Lake.


Until the 71st Palme d'Or winner is announced, find time to catch these modern day film masterpieces, ranked:


18. THE SON'S ROOM (2001)


Directed by Nanni Moretti

A study of grief and its toll on a family, The Son's Room is an Italian drama that swept the Cannes Film Festival with the same furor as Ordinary People did The Academy in the early 80's. What works well for the film is Cannes favorite Nanni Moretti's tender approach to storytelling. The Son's Room rides the line of being overtly sentimental and disappointingly unassuming. The drama is first-rate. The characters are gentle and human. The emotions can be a little too saccharine, but Moretti's intentions are well-received.

Jury President: Liv Ullmann

Other Films In Competition: Moulin Rouge!, The Man Who Wasn't There, Shrek, Mulholland Drive


17. FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (2004)


Directed by Michael Moore

Seen more as a win by default for political expression than based solely on merit or filmmaking prowess, Fahrenheit 9/11 followed its Cannes win with a stellar box office run, setting records for documentary films. It's lived on as a testament to the power of documentary film, but has also become a staple for one-sided filmmaking for the sake of opines. Michael Moore is a sharp debater, especially when it involves impassioned subjects like war and Republicans. The start of the Iraq War and the Bush administration proved perfect fodder for 2004-era discussions. If the basis for the Palme d'Or was solely on films that linger or invoke conversation, then Fahrenheit 9/11's win totally makes sense.

Jury President: Quentin Tarantino

Other Films In Competition: Shrek 2, Oldboy, The Motorcycle Diaries, 2046


16. DANCER IN THE DARK (2000)


Directed by Lars von Trier

Some call it grim and dull, but Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark is easily the director's best (though future Palme d'Or 'in competition' films like Melancholia are hard to beat). Dancer in the Dark's victory was met with cheers and jeers and boasts an incredible star-making turn by musician Bjork, who followed the Cannes win with an Oscar nomination for Best Song (and cemented herself in pop culture history with her Academy Awards swan dress). Following the life of an immigrant mother making her own in America in the 60's, the magic of the film lies in its heart-wrenching and heartwarming tropes. The supporting cast is stellar, to boot, including: Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, and Joel Grey.

Jury President: Luc Besson

Other Films In Competition: In the Mood for Love, Nurse Betty, O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Yards


15. THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (2006)


Directed by Ken Loach

Somewhat formulaic and academic, The Wind that Shakes the Barley is also beautifully shot and inspiring. Cillian Murphy finds his career-best performance in playing an Irish doctor who gives up his career as a doctor to fight  for freedom in the early 20th century. The showcasing of freedom fighters is, in essence, almost a genre of its own. In this case, however, Loach's film provided an insight to a historically relevant event, but failed to impress his own countrymen. The film's win at Cannes came with its own controversy because of this. The selling point, though, is in the indelible cinematography and poignant script, highlighted by Murphy's awards-worthy performance.

Jury President: Wong Kar-wai

Other Films In Competition: Marie Antoinette, Pan's Labyrinth, Babel, Fast Food Nation


14. L'ENFANT (2005)


Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

The Dardenne Brothers were no strangers to Cannes, having won the Palme d'Or in 1999 for Rosetta. With L'Enfant, though, they cemented their legacy as international filmmakers. Their style is perfectly on show with L'Enfant, projecting life through a bleak lens, sharing the story of a an unfortunate man who sells his child to make ends meet, only to have a change of heart and fight to get his son back. The script is dastardly dark and the performances by Jeremi Renier and Deborah Francois are supreme. There's a certain naturalism found in the Dardenne Brother's works, especially so in L'Enfant.

Jury President: Emir Kusturica

Other Films In Competition: A History of Violence, Cache, Broken Flowers, Sin City


13. DHEEPAN (2015)


Directed by Jacques Audiard

Backed by a Cannes- and awards-friendly director, Dheepan won the Palme d'Or as a possible joint prize for Jacques Audiard's other works: A Prophet and Rust and Bone. Following Sri Lankan refugees in Paris, the film's punch comes in the form of its sensitive and honest screenplay, an Audiard staple. It also works on a political and timely manner, finding itself deep in the midst of the refugee and immigration crises in Europe. The film might not be as flashy as other In Competition films that year, but its use of nonprofessional actors and on-location sets gives the film an elevated realism that sets it apart. As a human story, it excels. As a thriller, it works profusely. As a tightly crafted film, it's among one of the best.

Jury Presidents: Joel and Ethan Coen

Other Films In Competition: Carol, The Lobster, Youth, Sicario


12. THE PIANIST (2002)


Directed by Roman Polanski

A force of its own, including an eventual Oscar win for lead actor Adrien Brody, The Pianist tells the true story of a Jewish musician's fight for survival in Nazi-controlled Warsaw. Roman Polanski, a controversial director due to his personal life, delivers a dark and detailed look at the horrors of the Holocaust, while also highlighting the human spirit. The picture is immensely moving and easily one of Polanski's best works. Brody gives his best performance, earning his Oscar completely. The film feels like a classic, enhancing each and every sweeping moment with filmmaking prowess only a true auteur could produce.

Jury President: David Lynch

Other Films In Competition: About Schmidt, Bowling for Columbine, Punch-Drunk Love


11. I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016)


Directed by Ken Loach

A previous Palme d'Or winner, Loach won the festival's top prize again for I, Daniel Blake, an intimate look at a weathered man fighting for survival, a theme Loach has become known for tackling. The political nature of the film help launch the movie to heights it may not have originally landed. Add to that the careful recipe of empathy and wit found in the film's story and you've got a masterpiece. Loach's approach this time around is less cinematic and more poignant than his last Palme d'Or winning piece, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, but that doesn't mean the emotional impact isn't there. It's a stunning piece of filmmaking.

Jury President: George Miller

Other Films In Competition: American Honey, Personal Shopper, The Neon Demon


10. THE SQUARE (2017)


Directed by Ruben Ostlund

A satirical drama rooted in commentary of modern day society, Robert Ostlund's The Square was an interesting pick for the Palme d'Or, if not for its intricate style, then for the subject matter. The film follows an art instillation that takes on an identity rich in controversy and intrigue. Certain scenes, especially one involved at a charitable dinner, are hard to watch, but impossible to turn away. Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, and Claes Bang star in the film that was met with high praise upon its first screening. Though it wasn't expected to win the top prize, its victorious finish was worthy. The film went on to screen at several festivals around the world and earned a Best Foreign Language Film nomination for the 90th Academy Awards.

Jury President: Pedro Almodovar

Other Films In Competition: The Beguiled, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Okja


9. WINTER SLEEP (2014)


Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

From Turkish master, Winter Sleep is a slow-burning drama about a family in Anatolia. From relationship strife to personal accomplishments, the study of humanity is at the heart of Winter Sleep. The film stretches for just over 3 hours, but is a reward for those willing to stick along for the ride. It's beautiful in its pain; especially in the form of its characters who are never relatable enough to draw compassion from the audience. The surrounding circumstances, though, bring a sense of urgency that drives the entire emotional grasp. By the end, even without necessarily redeeming any of the plot, the illuminated glimpse at the lives of these people is intriguing enough to make the entire journey feel worth it.

Jury President: Jane Campion

Other Films In Competition: Clouds of Sils Maria, Maps to the Stars, Mommy, Foxcatcher


8. THE CLASS (2008)


Directed by Laurent Cantet

Even in the world's most famous film festival, cinematic tropes are present. With The Class, the tale of a teacher changing the lives of the kids in an inner-city school avoided stereotypes using stark drama and a clever filmmaking style. Though set in the inner-city, the story doesn't depend on the ineptitude of the students' backgrounds to invoke emotions. Instead, it's the fascinating and illuminating look at the art of teaching that proves most grappling. The film went on to earn a nomination for Best Foreign-Language Film at the Oscars, deservedly so. The secret to the film's magic is the lead performance by Francois Begaudeau, the real-life teacher who wrote the book on which the film is based.

Jury President: Sean Penn

Other Films In Competition: Blindness, A Christmas Tale, Synecdoche New York


7. AMOUR (2012)


Directed by Michael Haneke

Terribly poignant and featuring an incredible performance by its stars, Amour is easily the crowning tour de force film from acclaimed director Michael Haneke. Like other Palme d'Or winners, the glimpse at humanity and how people handle life's hardest obstacles is at the center of this harrowing feature. Emmanuelle Riva earned an Academy Award Best Actress nomination, becoming the oldest person ever to be nominated, for her indelible tear-jerking and heartbreaking turn. Haneke's masterfulness at churning out reality in such a beautiful way reigns supreme here. Many of Cannes winners can be called masterpieces, but only a few earn that title so earnestly. Amour is one of these.

Jury President: Nanni Moretti

Other Films In Competition: Lawless, Mud, The Paperboy, Moonrise Kingdom


6. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013)


Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche

It's an emotion-drenched coming-of-age drama centered on the passionate love affair between two young girls and it struck such a chord with the Cannes jury (headed by Steven Spielberg) that the Palme d'Or was awarded to director Kechiche, as well as the two lead actress: Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos. There was a snip of controversy that specifically attacked the film's use of love scenes, in particular an almost 10-minute escapade. But, the film's merits lie in the incredible performances by the two leads, as well as the genuine and exceptional screenplay. It's complex, in the right ways. It approaches heady topics with respect and realness.

Jury President: Steven Spielberg

Other Films In Competition: Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Behind the Candelabra, The Great Beauty


5. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (2010)


Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

A stark contrast of a film to take home the Palme d'Or, Uncle Boonmee is the true definition of international filmmaking. The film follows the titular character who, after learning he's dying of kidney failure, chooses to spend his last days surrounded by his family and friends. The ghost of his dead wife shows up to care for him, as do other apparitions. It's an interesting film that takes being experienced to truly understand exactly what type of magic it holds. The structure is different than what one would expect from a mainstream film, which is another level of strength here.

Jury President: Tim Burton

Other Films In Competition: Another Year, Biutiful, Of Gods and Men, Certified Copy


4. THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)


Directed by Terrence Malick

Soft and awestruck are two words that could describe this passion project by elusive director Terrence Malick. The quietness in the study of a family struck with grief and what life and grace really mean are stripped away in beautiful cinematography and genuine performances by its cast of big names and newcomers. Jessica Chastain, especially, dances into stardom thanks to her heartfelt turn here as a mother learning to grieve appropriately, if that even is a thing. Brad Pitt, the film's biggest name, allows the camera to read him intimately, offering a different look than a usual mainstream film would have. The mid-film look at the history of life is, in itself, impressive and haunting. This is Malick at Malick's best.

Jury President: Robert De Niro

Other Films In Competition: We Need to Talk About Kevin, Melancholia, Drive, The Artist


3. THE WHITE RIBBON (2009)


Directed by Michael Haneke

Like other directors already on this list, Michael Haneke is no stranger to Cannes nor the Palme d'Or and with The White Ribbon he presented his most impressive project to date. The story of a small German town on the eve of WWI is both startling in its approach and delivery, packaged in a smooth and poignant black and white. Visually, it's completely compelling and moving. It's bleakness can be confused with tediousness, but it's in this quietness that the picture turns thought-provoking and meaningful. The film is haunting. The direction is immaculate. The way the story is told is a lesson in perfect filmmaking.

Jury President: Isabelle Huppert

Other Films In Competition: Antichrist, Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds, A Prophet


2. 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (2007)


Directed by Cristian Mungiu

A glimpse into the political atmosphere of Romania (and not necessarily painting it in a good light), part of the compelling nature of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is in its commentary on the harshness of the communist country. The film covers illusive topics like abortion with a brutal honesty and compassion that sets it apart. It's raw and beautiful, without being overtly forgiving or patronizing. The set-up is suspenseful, with outstanding performances by its leads Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu. It's artful in its precision and heart-wrenching in its bare-all approach.

Jury President: Stephen Frears

Other Films In Competition: Death Proof, No Country for Old Men, Paranoid Park, Zodiac


1. ELEPHANT (2003)


Directed by Gus Van Sant

Part unconventional narration on teenagedom, part high-strung drama, Gus Van Sant's Elephant shakes you to your core without having to say very much at all. The film is built with a cast of unknown actors, many using their real first names, and filmed at a real American high school. All the usual tropes, including the many different cliques one would naturally find within the walls of public school and puberty, are here, but they are showcased through a lens of genuineness that is more honest and disturbing that you'd expect. The young talents are obviously new and inexperienced, but their raw approach to the material is what makes the entire thing work. It's as if we, the audience, has slipped into these kids' daily lives, following them around unwittingly. What is, in one regard, a commentary on adolescence and coming-of-age, quickly turns into a commentary on mental illness, heroism, and even possibly so much more. Van Sant's opus to youth and trauma is one of the American dream we all wish wasn't real. Released just a handful of years after Columbine, the film drew more controversy than it should, with the film opting to highlight the realness in the high school years over just glorifying something horrific. It's hard to find another film that masters the quietness of real life in such a palpable and earnest way.

Jury President: Patrice Chereau

Other Films In Competition: The Brown Bunny, Dogville, Mystic River, Swimming Pool

© 2018 by Scottie Knollin.

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