Top 25 Movies That Won Best Actor at Cannes

As the most prestigious film festival of the year, it comes as no surprise that the best of the best come to the French south seaside to show the finest of what they have.

Here the Hollywood elite clashes with the Asian and European giants, and the actors from independent fields or countries with a less famous filmography get their chance to shine. So far, 69 awards have been given since 1946, and here are the 25 that deserved the prize the most.


25. “Scent of a Woman” – Vittorio Gassman (Dino Risi, 1974)

Al Pacino was the bright point of a shaky remake, but the real champion is Vittorio Gassman in the colorful original. A man whose disability doesn’t prevent him to live the life and, instead of discouraging him, makes him a nuisance.

To be honest, his heart is the right place, but the whimsy and degradation he exercises gets on the nerves of everyone, even if delivered with some amazing humor. And even before his somber and heartbreaking side emerges onscreen, Gassman, with his charisma, makes you fall in love with the character pretty quickly, even with all the assholery going around.


24. “Seduced, Abandoned” – Saro Urzi (Pietro Germi, 1964)

Loud. Rough. Intrusive and obnoxious. Authoritative. After we mention all the stereotypes that follow the patriarch of an Italian family, this still remains a striking performance. Saro Urzi dominates the screen, which from our side looks impressive, considering this intricate comedy is filled with eccentric people.

Full of twists and turns, behind all of which is this goofy dad, trying in all ways to prevent the family honor from being strained due to his daughter’s amoral behavior. Whenever there is a funny scene, be certain that Urzi’s character is behind it. Winning or losing, the smile will not leave your face.


23. “Biutiful” – Javier Bardem (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2010)


As divisive as this movie is, both the lovers and detractors of the film can reach the consensus that the brightest point was Javier Bardem. He is the type of actor who doesn’t have to do much, but still leaves an outstanding impression. A born talent. Pain and sadness are what he is dealing with here. He’s a good-hearted man making awful decisions and we can see how that affects him.

Bardem conveys the emotions with ease. By the end of this rollercoaster, a tear or two will be released for our main character. Not bad for someone who played a merciless killer three years prior.


22. “Love and Anarchy” – Giancarlo Giannini (Lina Wertmuller, 1975)

During the first half of this picture, many will wonder how the prize went where it did. Giancarlo Giannini, a charming freckled actor, spends most of the run time with a lowered view and puppy eyes, calmly standing aside while his female colleagues, with their stances and loudness, steal the show. But in the moment when total chaos sets in (and the second part of the title becomes a reality), we can see all the power the ginger lad has in himself.

Now he is crazy, he is loud; he is the leader in all of that anarchy. He is the force that strikes out the most. There is a reason Lina Wertmuller choose him as a leading man in all her successful movies.


21. “Coming Home” – Jon Voight (Hal Ashby, 1978)

Coming Home

Hal Ashby knows how to work with his actors. Jon Voight deservedly went home with both an award from Cannes and the golden statuette from the Academy. Five years after the end of the war, Voight’s disabled vet shaped the anger and disappointment that the public felt about the fiasco that was Vietnam. He also presented us with the post-battle effects left on an individual in the process of adjusting again to the “real world.”

There is a reason, though, why he is placed so low on the list. As great as he is, he was the weakest of the three links that made the movie work. This was the triumph of Jane Fonda and Bruce Dern, who better encapsulated the insecurity that is felt among veteran-returners.


20. “Bad Day at Black Rock” – Spencer Tracy (John Sturges, 1955)

Bad Day at Black Rock

Wearing a black jacket, a sharp top hat and a briefcase, McGreedy comes to a secluded town in the Wild West and provokes chaos in a demolished society. And while the world around him is falling apart, he stays steady and three steps ahead of everyone. This is a western disguised as a noir that is actually a critique of negative nationalism and chauvinism, and the calm yet skillfully armed grandpa is in the center of it.

Spencer Tracy always gave away an impression of a righteous man and with ease he becomes the honest man, something that is brought to the fore here. It was a brave move criticizing hate in a time when it was at its peak, and a patriot like Tracy was the ideal choice to point that out.


19. “Missing” – Jack Lemmon (Costa Gavras, 1982)


To win an award at Cannes twice in a career presents an unusual occasion, but then again, Jack Lemmon is not a usual actor. Active during both the Golden Age and the new Hollywood era, Lemmon was the type that easily went in and out of roles, and changed the method of acting. In one moment playing a musician in drag for comedic effect, and in the next, revealing conspiracies with dead seriousness.

Here his serious side performs again in a role of a father who loses his son under mysterious circumstances in Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. The road from a patriot to a crushed but angry individual ready to go up against the state is one for the books, and the talent we have here shows it without a shred of visible effort.


18. “Barton Fink” – John Turturro (Coen brothers, 1993)

barton fink

An actor born for a collaboration with the Coens. His mixture of high-blown genius and smugness perfectly blends with the directors’ usage of morbid situations.

John Turturro uses his “mind as a uniform” to finish his magnum opus screenplay about a failed boxer who tries to make love and evade the police, while also befriending the kind John Goodman, all while a twisted serial killer lurks around. He’s funny, quirky, deeply nervous and trying his hardest to play the straight man, but overall he is the best part of this record-breaking dark comedy.