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8 Movies from the 21st Century that Should Have Won Palme d’Or

22 May 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Vladas Rozenas


Quentin Tarantino, a Palme d’Or winner with Pulp Fiction, once said the following: “There’s only one list that’s more illustrious than the list of directors who won the Plame d’Or. It’s the list of directors who didn’t”. And while that might be a bit harsh, there is some truth to it: not only have directors like Kubrick or Hitchcock never won a Palme, but even some of the most celebrated auteur filmmakers, Truffaut, Godard, Welles, Renoir and many more, have not been given the honor.

While most modern geniuses, the Hanekes, Von Triers and Lynches have gotten their Cannes top award (or two), the jury missteps are still at least as common as the right calls. And since, as we’ve witnessed for several years in a row now, the jury decisions are extremely hard to predict, we have prepared a list that proves the best movie in show and the Palme d’Or award do not always walk hand in hand – so brace yourself when waiting for the Cannes 2017 winners.

For the sake of argument, let’s forget who the jury in each case was. Let’s also assume that they are as open-minded as any jury really should be. However, let’s keep in mind the overall tally of the wins – if a director already has a Palme, odds are not in his favor in this list, much like in real life.

The films are ranked by three criteria: how good they are, how much of a lasting impact have they had since and how obvious was their superiority over other Competition movies.


8. Polisse


Don’t shoot us for this one, but The Tree of Life should not have won the Palme d’Or. Unlike most other movies on the list, Polisse by Maïwenn wasn’t snubbed for a much worse choice, as The Tree of Life still had some incredible filmmaking (and was also very divisive, always a big bonus for a winner), but Polisse was, nonetheless, the better, more worthy picture.

Maïwenn’s drama focuses on a journalist covering the work of a juvenile division of the police. Played by Maïwenn herself, the journalist soon starts an affair with one of the officers, and seems to generally get more and more emotionally involved every day.

While focusing on several characters and their everyday lives, the film doesn’t have a clear, unifying story, instead choosing to follow different perspectives. It’s extremely hard to keep up with for anyone not speaking French, because half of the movie is set in a room full of screaming people. But precisely by staying right in the center of events does the director manage to capture the essence of the people so well.

It’s very rare for any movie to touch the viewer emotionally, much less provoke both laughter and tears, yet, if given enough attention and care, that is exactly what Polisse does. A Palme win was not only deserved, but would also have shed light on a star-less drama.


7. Son of Saul

Son of Saul

The task of making an original and, even more importantly, relevant film on the Holocaust seems like a mission impossible in this day and age. Everything has been said many, many times over, and one can’t help but feel a little desensitized by the whole genre.

Well, László Nemes did exactly that and was, unsurprisingly, awarded first place on many yearly critic polls, nabbing the Oscar while at it. It didn’t win the Palme, though, as the honor went to Dheepan, the most boring and unmemorable movie Jacques Audiard ever made, and one that even with a Palme to its name is all but forgotten three years later.

Nemes points his camera to Saul all movie long. Every action, however important to the plot, is only in the background of the Auschwitz prisoner’s face. He has been forced to lead his own people to death and to take care of their corpses, he has long been dehumanized, as anyone would be in the situation in order not to go insane.

The focus on his face is what really get us, the audience, for the horror of mass murders is seen reflected in one human who is himself on the brink of collapse. We don’t just see a montage of tearful sorrow or joyous hope, we see the everyday life of Auschwitz. And while we might, through some rationalization, comprehend the numbers and the facts of all that death, we can’t bear seeing a real human being living the everyday life of them.


6. Hidden


Michael Haneke is a genius, that much is obvious. And everyone knows he is one a two-Palme winning streak at the moment, one that just might extend the three come next weekend, but lest we forget there was a period when he got Cannes Grand Jury, Best Director and FIPRESCI awards, but the biggest accolade escaped him.

That should have changed in 2005, when Hidden, a movie that to this day might be his best, was in Competition. In it, a married couple receives videotapes of their own home. Who might be filming them is unclear, but it’s obvious they were, and most likely still are, watched.

Hidden is a subversive thriller, one that puts a spin on our whole movie culture. There are countless theories explaining the answers Haneke didn’t spell out, and sure enough, everyone who’s seen it has their own take. And while Funny Games or The White Ribbon might be the two most obviously shocking films the Austrian has ever made, deep down Hidden is probably the biggest kick-in-the-teeth of his career, which is saying something.

The only reason (given the fact Haneke’s two other wins came later, so at the time of this Competition he was still winless) Hidden isn’t higher on the list is The Child by brothers Dardenne, the real Palme winner. It’s not as good or as influential, but it’s still an amazing feature, so while Haneke should have been the winner, this jury call wasn’t all that bad either.


5. Holy Motors


From a film that Haneke should have won for to a film that Haneke shouldn’t have. 2012 was the year he got his double with Amour, and while that’s a near masterpiece, the Cannes missed out on giving the award for one of the most interesting and philosophical movies of the 21st century while awarding the Austrian yet again.

Holy Motors by Leos Carax is a crazy movie and it’s not hard to see why the jury didn’t go its way. But as far as bold, inventive statements of the modern state of cinema and the world itself go, this is the real deal. Denis Lavant’s Monsieur Oscar travels to different tasks and jobs over one evening. Is he an office worker, a dancer or a murderer? And if he’s all of them, what on earth for?

Carax’s movie leaves much to the interpretation of the public and there are dozens of philosophical ideas on could employ to decipher the puzzle of Holy Motors. But even if one is not inclined to do so, the film offers some of the most dazzling images that are sure to get stuck in your mind for years to come.

We’re not saying Amour isn’t a worthy winner. We’re not even saying Holy Motors is the better feature. But by this time, in the perfect world of ours, Haneke would have won two Palmes already (and that’s in the 21st century, going back even further, there’s a good chance Funny Games would have gotten it too), and Carax has never won Cannes, Berlin or Venice. And he sure as hell deserves it, especially for his latest work.



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  • Deepesh

    Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, Russian Ark, Mystic River, Babel, Changeling, Foxcatcher, Son of Saul, The Handmaiden

    These films should have won in respective years. Other choice are at least fine for me.

    • Mortimer

      In my opinion Carol deserved Palme d’Or in 2015 but, although being best received movie at the festival that year, I guess it was too much to expect this movie winning the big prize only two years after Blue is the Warmest Color.

      • Deepesh

        Carol is great but Son of Saul is a far greater movie. It is an unprecedented masterpiece–probably the most original of this decade so far IMO. No one had dared and managed to achieve this style of film language and camera technique upto this height. Maybe Dardennes had, in The Son, but it is inferior to Saul. It deserves multiple viewing and even after 100 years, it will be very much fresh. It is at least 50 years ahead of time, I think.

        • Mortimer

          While I agree that Son of Saul is great movie I think you’re overestimating this movie greatly. Respect your opinion of course.

      • Manuel Gomez

        Carol was a decent film with some interesting details and good performances 7/10 far from Haynes best film imo

        • Mortimer

          Respect your opinion but don’t agree. Personally, I think Carol is Haynes’ Magnum Opus. Masterfully directed, perfectly subtle performances by both actresses at the top of their game, it’s just beautiful movie to look at. One of the best of the decade. And many critics agree with me,

  • Mortimer

    Vladas is back. I expected this list to appear soon but I hoped for different author 🙁

    • AmazingAmy

      At least, he/she realized backlash he/she got from last article about the way the article written. So this article much less whiny and arrogant compared to last list about Palme d’or rank.

      I found all film there great and potential classic….but i disagree for some like Polisse ( if its not for his Nazi comment, he can swept Palme d’or for Melancholia), Amour and ToL proven to be masterpiece that stand its time.
      But yeah… Toni Erdman, Mullholland Dr ( it selected as best film of this century ), Oldboy ( Korean Cinema at its finest) should won.

      Time will tell all of us who is true winner after all. Like Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver, its booed at first now considered groundbreaking masterpiece.

      • Wait, is this the same author as the Palme list that came out recently?

        • AmazingAmy

          yeah….thats why many readers already inhaled deep breath upon they read who write this

    • AmazingAmy

      In your opinion, who will won big prize this year ?
      Beats per-minute, Loveless, Happy End, and Sacred Deer got best reviews so far, considered who is the Jury, either Beats or Sacred Deer will got. Happy End for actress prize ( take that third award Isabelle !!!), depend of reception, Joaquin/Farrel/Sandler will have shot.

      • Mortimer

        Are you completely sure about The Sacred Deer ? It got literally zero from some critics:
        Or this is some mistake ?

        Idk, Happy End or Beasts probably ? Judging by the previous two years I’m not expecting the best reviewed film to take Palme d’Or at all.
        Little disappointed in Wonderstruck reception. I expected a little bit more.

        • AmazingAmy

          Its got critical acclaim but its get booed ( like many typical Cannes film e.g Tree of Life, Taxi Driver, Wild at Heart) by some critic and audiences, but its widely praised (hey Cannes will be incomplete without boo).

          Todd Haynes at his finest when he tackle romance genre. But Wonderstruck currently front-runner for Oscars alongside your new film with Forever-Handsome PTA, Detroit , Dunkirk and Spielberg.

          My least anticipated film Meyerowitz and Beats Per-minutes turned out as one of best, this year clearly full twist and surprise and definitely better than last year because lowest scored movie so far still got praise and acclaim.

          • Mortimer

            I don’t think Wonderstruck will be in the run for Oscars. It ‘s more likely it will be forgotten by then, unfortunately. And AMPAS never liked Haynes.

            That new Spielberg movie with Hanks and Streep looks so zzZZZzzz to me….And I have zero interest in Dunkirk. It’s probably “The Revenant” of 2017.

          • AmazingAmy

            Still can’t believe Nolan and Haynes has yet received Oscar Nom (apart from screenplay nom). Meanwhile douche David O Russel is three times nominee, Tom Hooper won Oscar ( OVER FINCHER !!!), and Innaritu is back-to back Oscar Winner ( OVER Linklater and Miller !!! )

          • Mortimer

            Academy Awards in all their glory. I never expected something sophisticated from them.

            I still can’t believe David O. Russel can be nominated for mediocrity such as ‘American Hustle’ and Haynes not for beautiful movie lie ‘Carol’. Many more examples.

            Tom Hooper winning over Fincher was so bad it literally hurts. Same for Innaritu over Miller.

            Hey…at least PTA has received one directing nomination from them. That’s something.

          • Mortimer

            Btw, I heard ‘You Were Never Really Here’ wasn’t entirely finished by Lynne Ramsay when it was selected for the Cannes. Really hope for the best with this movie.

          • AmazingAmy

            Apocalypse Now has yet finished but won Golden Palm. As long the film has yet screened in other festivals (except if the film screened for limited screen at home country), it will be eligible for competition

    • colonelkurtz

      Ah, crap, it’s Vladas again. 😀 Nonetheless, this list seems slightly better than his last abhorrent article.

  • Zwei

    2046 (2004)

  • Kosta Jovanovic

    What’s with the extremely negative attitude towards I, Daniel Blake
    “Banal” movie by en

  • CheGre

    Toni Erdmann should be banished in shameful oblivion. Everything else, I can get behind.

  • aki

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  • Knox Morris

    Welles won the Palme, with Othello.