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All 17 Cannes Palme d’Or Winners of the 21st Century Ranked

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

Every year, the Palme d’Or goes to a movie the Cannes jury found most worthy, and almost every year we argue over whether or not they made the right call. Here is our highly subjective ranking of all the Cannes winners this century.


17. I, Daniel Blake


I, Daniel Blake is a terrible winner in every way conceivable. As a stand-alone movie, it’s too sentimental and simplistic, looking at the world in complete black and white, either condemning characters to be near devils and lauding others as near gods. It completely goes off the rails past its midpoint, choosing to manipulate the viewer instead of offering a constructive criticism of the system.

Not only that, but Ken Loach certainly did not need the recognition – he had won a Palme already (still to appear on the list) and has been making pretty much the same movie for half a century. To make matters even worse, 2016 was a particularly strong year, with Toni Erdmann, The Handmaiden, Paterson and Sieranevada missing out on awards – any of then would have been a fine choice for Palme d’Or.

Should it have won: Absolutely not. The only condolence is that the Grand Jury prize went to It’s Just the End of the World by Xavier Dolan, an even more terrible movie, so at least we were saved from that catastrophe as the Palme. But pick almost any other move in that stacked Competition and you’ll get a more fitting winner.


16. Fahrenheit 9/11

Fahrenheit 9-11

Michael Moore’s documentary won in 2004, so in that particular context, his victory is much easier to grasp. However, 13 years later, the flaws of his George W. Bush story are glaring, and while there are interesting ideas in the project, overall it isn’t even close to the Palme level.

Moore is first and foremost, interested in his own interpretation. He blames the at-the-time president of talking only out of self-interest, yet that is exactly what Moore himself does, intentionally picking out the most ridiculous parts of his presidency and leaving out anything else.

The Iraq war was unjust enough in itself without churning out blooper-reel type docs without any interest in objectivity whatsoever. After all this time, Fahrenheit 9/11 seems narcissistic and self-important, with little if any substance to the story.

Should it have won: To be fair, it wasn’t the strongest year for Cannes. Tropical Malady by Apichatpoing Weerasethakul or 2046 by Wong Kar-Wai could hold a grudge, but the one movie we can really claim was robbed is Oldboy, clearly the best film in show.


15. Dheepan


There isn’t anything downright bad about Dheepan, a Sri Lankan immigrant in Paris story, but it’s an immediately forgettable affair that pales in comparison to Jacques Audiard’s other work.

Much like Fahrenheit 9/11 eleven years ago, this one can thank a particular political and social context, but unlike Moore’s film, Audiard’s drama was quickly forgotten and completely overshadowed by the Grand Jury prize winner, Son of Saul. Audiard arguably deserves a Palme for his collective work, it’s just a shame Dheepan was the one to pick it up.

Should it have won: Son of Saul should have won, but as a debut, it was always going to face an uphill battle. The Assassin by Hou Hsiao-Hsien or The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos were also good choices, but all three of them picked up other awards, so we can’t really hate the jury this time.


14. The Son’s Room

The Son’s Room (2001)

Nanni Moretti’s portrayal of a family that lost their son/brother in a diving accident is everything you would expect it to be. Meaning, it is, like every Moretti film ever made, competent, but over-the-top and hugely sentimental.

There isn’t anything particularly damning with that in itself, but why on earth should it be awarded the most important prize in the art-house cinema world? As proven by the fact no one ever talks of The Son’s Room – can you honestly remember when you last heard the title, if ever? What makes this win infuriating are the movies that were left behind Moretti’s back.

Should it have won: Mulholland Dr., quite possible the best movie of the century, was deemed less worthy by the jury. The Piano Teacher or The Man Who Wasn’t There are two great movies as well, but we all know who the Palme should have went to.


13. The Wind That Shakes the Barley

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

By no means the worst Ken Loach has even done, not even the worst of his to win the Palme, but a weird choice for a unanimous winner nonetheless. The Irish War of Independence film is competent all around, but it’s hard to see what exactly made the jury gasp while watching it.

The as-ever brilliant Cillian Murphy gives the performance of his career and there are certainly interesting bits and pieces around, but overall The Wind That Shakes the Barley is nothing too special or original. This one is a mystery win, explained only perhaps by the context…

Should it have won: There was nothing else to give it to. Almodovar’s Volver, Arnold’s Red Road, del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth were the highlights, but whichever one of them the jury picked, the 2006 Cannes wouldn’t be much higher on this list. So no, it didn’t, but neither did anything else.


12. The Class

The Class

Laurent Cantet’s story of a year in the life of one class pulled off one of the all-time great Cannes surprises. It screened on the last day and no one expected it to get anything, much less the biggest prize of the fest. Even more amazingly, The Class ended up as one of three unanimous winners of the 21st century.

The movie has somewhat vanished from the public eye after the win, which is sad, because Cantet’s film, while certainly not a unanimous win material, is a multilayered and at times even profound story of the everyday struggles of a young person. It’s by no means genius, but it’s far from the worst we’ve seen win Cannes.

Should it have won: Tricky. Synecdoche, New York is a stone-cold masterpiece and should have won. But given the fact it just might be too experimental for most juries (let’s be realistic here), it was either The Class or Gomorra by Matteo Garrone, and this debate comes down to personal preference.


11. Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s family drama is a challenging movie. Much like the director’s earlier work, it’s meditative and poetic, but Ceylan is an artist that requires patience and dedication. And even then, he’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.

Winter Sleep might be his best ever, or maybe that should go to Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a Grand Jury winner in 2011, but they are, much like the skeptics pointed out after Winter Sleep won, almost interchangeable in style. And many do still believe Winter Sleep was an award for a director, rather than an individual movie, something that would be hard to argue.

Should it have won: Yes. There were a handful of good movies in the Competition, most notably Leviafan by Andrey Zvyagintsev, but Winter Sleep was a completely deserved winner.


10. The Tree of Life

In his most personal project to date Terrence Malick explored not only his own early life, but also all life and all universe in general. His ideas are grand, perhaps too much so, and ultimately even some of the actors themselves have dissed The Tree of Life.

It’s certainly not a bad movie (unlike some, most, of Malick’s work since) and still holds certain aspects that made his earlier work genius, whilst adding Desplat’s music and Lubezki’s photography to the mix. But it ultimately comes off as pretentious and unnecessary.

Should it have won: Absolutely not. Never mind the other movies, rewarding the worst thing a director has ever made at that point is never a good idea. Malick arguably should have won a Palme for Days of Heaven or The Thin Red Line years ago. This particular year, Polisse by Maïwenn or Melancholia by Lars von Trier should have won.



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  • colonelkurtz

    Although I cherish both films, The Great Beauty > Blue is the Warmest Color. Narrative depth, cinematography, music, and intellectual messages not destroyed by a nervous director make it one of the best films I’ve seen.

  • Deepesh

    1. The White Ribbon
    2. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
    3. The Child
    4. The Tree Of Life
    5. Blue Is The Warmest Color

    And I think I,Daniel Blake should be much higher. May be no. 6.such a heart rending film.

  • Mortimer

    Carol was a hot favorite to win in 2015, being the critical darling that year (and would be deserved winner). I’m surprised author didn’t mention that. Even if he doesn’t like the movie a little objectivity wouldn’t hurt.

    Besides, Carol >>>>>>>>>Blue is the Warmest Color.

    • Kosta Jovanovic

      Come on, it seems like blue is bad

      • Mortimer

        Blue isn’t bad, it’s deserving winner that year and I like it. But I noticed that many folks here have a tendency to worship this movie a little bit more than it deserves only because it’s European movie.

        Although very good movie, it’s overlong and some sex scenes look ridiculous.

        • AmazingAmy

          Blue, Carol, Brokeback are top three LGBT films of my life though i agree Blue sex scene totally uncomfortable but European movie is really carefree unlike some restraint which shown by their American counterpart.

          • Mortimer

            I agree with you but it’s not only differences between American and European style. Carol was set in the 1950s – totally different era than modern world from Blue. Much more closed and restrained. I’m surprised many people expected the same amount of sex as in Blue.
            For me, that one sex scene in Carol was more beautiful and classy than anything in Blue.

  • Kosta Jovanovic

    Damn, this was poorly written, and to dismiss Loach as this….

  • ivan

    The style of the author of this text is so arrogant that it is annoying. 🙁

    • AmazingAmy

      Seriously, how can she/he ranked elephant top three while many film in 2003 Cannes more deserved……

  • Filo

    unbelievably presumptuous – poor list

  • AmazingAmy

    How can I Daniel Blake worse than Farenheit and Dheepan, that film certaily not the best that year ( Toni Erdman, Handmaiden and Paterson are the best that year), but its not the worst.
    I wonder whats wrong with Tarantino mind for overlooked Oldboy and 2046 and Tropical Malady for Farenheit -_- But i heard that actually Tarantino championed Oldboy for Top Prize but some of juror somehow dismissed it……….

    • This list is crap and a bunch of whining.

    • Brandon Thompson

      I’m pretty sure Tarantino is half the reason Oldboy got 2nd place and if it were up to him solely it would’ve taken the top prize.

  • Zwei

    Dheepan was the worst

  • shane scott-travis

    One of the worst lists ToC has ever published. Ack!

    • AmazingAmy

      Even fellow ToT writer thought this list worst….This list sounds really arrogant and the writer act as he knew everything about those film and cinema
      Its okay that his opinion but better if he wrote in respectful way

  • Gilles Ello

    Wow! This overconfident and very shitty writer Vladas is the worst thing yet to be published by this usually decent site.
    In his bio this opinionated hack foolishly suggests that “he is confident that one day he will write a comedy at least as good as Hot Fuzz…” Well there’s a fat fucking chance of that. I’ll never read another word from him and doubt any producer from here to Timbuktu will, either. Start using a pen name, Vladas. And keep practicing cuz your writing is garbage.

  • Wyatt W.B

    The author only seems to like a few of the movies. What’s the point?

  • grootrm

    This was without a doubt the worst ToC list ever published

  • Renan Rocha

    Nice, the list is upside down

  • George Eskiadis

    Elephant at #2? really?

  • Vincenzo Politi

    I really liked this list and I agree with most of the things said by the author. The scandalised, outraged discussions of the parochial comments section just make me smile.

    • Kosta Jovanovic

      Well you are a rarity

      • Vincenzo Politi

        I am indeed, fortunately.