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

4. Toni Erdmann


Maren Ade’s father-daughter relationship dramedy is literally the highest critically polled movie in Cannes Competition history. Think of all the amazing movies that have played in Cannes over the years. None of them got better scores from the critics. For it not to win Palme d’Or would have been a surprise, the fact it won no jury prize at all is shocking.

A music teacher father lives a lonely life, especially after his only real friend, his pet dog, dies. His daughter, a businesswoman, neither longs nor accepts his company, but the father sees his only child can think of nothing but work, and asserts himself to help.

As is the case with Polisse, Toni Erdmann takes the viewer through pretty much every emotion in the spectrum and is at one both devastatingly sad and hopelessly hilarious. Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek both give absolutely stunning performances and outside of one or two scenes that could have been cut from the near three-hour long movie, it’s a damn near perfect product that could have topped this list had we had more time to comprehend its long-term impact on the industry.

Also, the 2016 line-up was so stacked that if not for Toni, either Sieranevada by Cristi Puiu or The Handmaiden by Park Chan-wook would be on this list. It’s a damn shame the jury selected the overly sentimental and banal works by Ken Loach and Xavier Dolan for the main prizes instead.


3. Oldboy

oldboy ending

You have to feel if for Park Chan-wook. If the same exact movies competed for the Palme today, 13 years after the original events, he would surely go home with the Palme. In 2004, however, things were different and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was just in right place at the right time.

Oldboy tells the story of a man who is released after fifteen years of imprisonment. He doesn’t know why he was locked in a closed room for all those years, nor who did it, but after going out he knows he’s got five days to find out.

Chan-wook’s thriller is admittedly not the sort of thing that usually wins to awards in film festivals – it’s entertaining, violent and commercial. Quentin Tarantino called it the perfect revenge movie and it’s not hard to see why – Oldboy reminds of Tarantino’s own work, if he replaced the humor with more gore. It remains one of the finest genre movies ever, but some members of the jury might have voted for pretty much anything other than Oldboy.

And that’s precisely why it should have won. Awards should never go to the middle-of-the-road movies and in 2004, Cannes embraced that. It’s just a shame they went with the wrong controversial movie.


2. Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman has hands down the worst career ever. He’s one of the most talented creators in the business, but he’s struggled with financing for years, even resulting in an animated movie he originally wanted to make with humans and not puppets. And the future, according to Kaufman himself, doesn’t look too bright either.

The story of a theater director creating a living replica of New York City inside a huge warehouse is completely mind-bending. Kaufman puts so many ideas and questions on identity, time and perception into his portrayal that the movie has become a particular favorite of cinematic philosophers, using it to illustrate extremely complex ideas.

But even more importantly than that, Synecdoche, New York is a heartbreaking existential work that, much like Dostoevsky’s or Camus’ books, leaves one to completely reevaluate his life. In our perfect world, it’s movies like this, no matter how challenging, that should win every award.

The shame is that there was absolutely nothing else extraordinary in the 2008 programme. The Class by Laurent Cantet was a fine movie, as was Marreo Garrone’s Gomorrah, but the fact they got the Palme and Grand Jury prizes respectively over something as original and profound and Synecdoche is one of the biggest bummers in Cannes history.

The two winners went on to make other fine, but forgettable pictures, and Kaufman, who made the one genius movie of 2008, is still struggling – perhaps, had he won, the situation would be different.


1. Mulholland Dr.


One almost wants to pity the jury of the 2001 Cannes Competition. No matter how many good movies there were in the selection, they had a duty, not a liberty when choosing their winner. There is little room for interpretation when one of the candidates is Mulholland Dr., one of the best movies ever made.

Now, there were great movies that could have stolen David Lynch’s second Palme and we’d be less mad about it: The Piano Teacher by the already much discussed Haneke, The Man Who Wasn’t There by the Coen brothers or Millennium Mambo by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room was not one of them – it’s sentimental, simplistic and unoriginal.

The jury (with Liv Ullmann acting as the president) botched it so much that their choice should be alongside the Academy’s How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane fiasco.

As for Mulholland Dr., there’s little to be said. It’s quite possibly the greatest film of 21st century overall, it’s definitely the scariest feature of the said period, and even when compared to the awesome work Lynch has produced over the years, it stands tall as his masterpiece. It’s a genre-bending trip you surely know everything about already – and if you don’t, you should quit reading our lists and go watch it right now.

Author Bio: Vladas is a film journalist and a festival programmer with a degree in Philosophy. He is confident that one day he will write a comedy at least as good as Hot Fuzz, although all evidence so far points otherwise. He also likes to read and crush the opposition in old Fifa games.