If you’re handed the historic and prestigious Palme d’Or Award, it means your feature film is officially the best in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Here’s a timeline with posters and fast facts on past Palme d’Or winners, from pre-war films to present day favorites.
The competition is Cannes’ main event, the arena of the art world’s best films. But what does it mean to win the Palme d’Or? For independent films, there’s the potential of profit at the box office. For foreign films, it could mean worldwide recognition. To celebrate the 65th Cannes Film Festival, we’ve rounded up some of the most notable Palme d’Or prize winners. (Check out this year’s jury.)
1939: Union Pacific by Cecil B. DeMille
Technically, this is the first film to be ever awarded the Palme d’Or. However, it was given in retrospect in 2002 (screened alongside six other movies from 1939, including The Wizard of Oz) as that year’s film festival was cancelled due to World War II.
1946: The Lost Weekend by Billy Wilder
One of the 10 awardees from that year, when the top prize was called the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film. It was also won the 1946 Academy Award for Best Picture.
1954: Gate of Hell by Teinosuke Kinugasa
The last Grand Prix awardee before the introduction of the Palme d’Or. It was also awarded the 1955 Academy Award for Best Costume Design as well as the 1954 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
1955: Marty by Delbert Mann
The first Palme d’Or awardee as well as an Academy Award Best Picture winner, making Marty and The Lost Weekend the only two films to win both organizations’ grand prizes.
1960: La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini
This comedy-drama film (“the sweet life” in English) by the critically-acclaimed Italian filmmaker is “one of the great achievements in world cinema” and is a standard on most “movies-you-must-see-before-you-die” list.
1961: Viridiana by Luis Buñuel
Due to its risqué plotlines, Viridiana was banned in Spain and called “blasphemous” by the Vatican. The influential director later said “I didn’t deliberately set out to be blasphemous, but then Pope John XXIII is a better judge of such things than I am”.
1964: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Jacques Demy
Due to copyright issues, the award had to be reverted back to its old title, Grand Prix du Festival International du Film. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg was the winner that year, the second installment to Demy’s romantic trilogy (between Lola and The Young Girls of Rochefort), and stars a young Catherine Deneuve.
1970: MASH by Robert Altman
Before the hit TV series was the Palme d’Or award-winning dark comedy film.
1974: The Conversation by Francis Ford Coppola
The psychological thriller won that year’s Palme d’Or but lost Best Picture at the Academy Awards to The Godfather Part II, another Coppola film. In 1995, it was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. This is the last Grand Prix du Festival International du Film award given.
1976: Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese and 1979: Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola
Two cult classic films (both post-Vietnam War and by two of the most noteworthy directors of all time) topped the Cannes Film Festival in the ‘70s. Robert de Niro delivers his infamous line "You talkin’ to me?" in this controversial Scorsese masterpiece, while Apocalypse Now marks Coppola’s second Palme d’Or win.
1989: Sex, Lies, and Videotape by Steven Soderbergh
This Palme winner was influential in advancing the independent film movement of the early 1990s and brought Soderbergh to prominence.
1994: Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino
The film features a gun-toting John Travolta, cocaine-snorting Uma Thurman, and bible-quoting Samuel L. Jackson and was a major critical and commercial success.
2002: The Pianist by Roman Polanski, 2003: Elephant by Gus Van Sant, and 2004: Fahrenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore
The turn of the century saw a more diverse selection of winners. Polanski’s Pianista, with its historical accuracy and beautiful cinematography of the dreaded Nazi Germany, became the second Polish film to win a Palme d’Or. Van Sant’s drama based on the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and Moore’s political documentary about George W. Bush give a nod to more current yet equally nation-changing events.
2011: The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick
This experimental drama starring “Brad Pitt”, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain bagged last year’s top prize. Like plenty of Palme d’Or picks, Malick’s film received many other accolades and inclusions in must-see lists.
Do you have a favourite Palme d’Or-prized film? :-) See the official list of Cannes Film Festival 2012 participants here.