The Palme d’Or, one of the most prestigious film awards, is set to be awarded on Sunday. Whichever lucky filmmaker wins will see their work take its place alongside an illustrious list of legendary movies and future classics. So, with Cannes Film Festival 2017 soon wrapping up, let’s take a look at some previous fantastic winners:
Taxi Driver (1976)
I loveeeeee me some Taxi Driver. With DeNiro on top form and some of the most beautiful visuals and scores ever put to film, there’s nothing quite like it. It’s a lesson in atmospheric cinema. For me, despite the intriguing political aspect and exploration of our deranged protagonist’s psychological state, my favourite moments were when we were merely driving around the city. The stunning, ethereal city lights whisk us away into another dreamlike dimension, mimicking Travis’ detachment from reality, eventually leading to his cathartic release of his pent up antagonism. He is a pathetic loner, who, almost as if conscious of his role as the protagonist, forces himself to perform a dramatic act. This is easily one of the greatest films ever made and rightfully won the Palme d’Or, and reflects Martin Scorsese’s consistent brilliance.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
For me, Apocalypse Now is the best war film ever made and the most accurate portrait of the effects of intense conflict. If you ever wanted proof that war is hell then this it is. This nightmarish and hallucinatory journey through both the untamed Vietnamese wilderness and the dark recesses of the human mind conveys the destructiveness of war upon both the landscape and on sanity. Full of extraordinary performances and typically sharp directing from the master himself, Francis Ford Coppola, this descent into madness is a claustrophobic and inescapable piece of harrowing cinema, which lays bare the insanity of the modern world. As we see Ford Coppola himself running with a camera during a scene of fiery conflict, we see that his directorial exploits emphasise how we are all fighting our own wars. Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is difficult but essential and audacious cinema, and rightfully took the Palme d’Or.
Paris, Texas (1984)
Paris, Texas as well as being one of the best ever Palme d’Or winners is also my favourite ever film. Wim Wenders’ bittersweet masterpiece is full of masterful cinematography, capturing the beauty of the American South-West, wonderful performances by the entirety of the cast, and masterful directing. It’s essentially a Western placed into the modern day, playing on established genre conventions, most prominently the flawed protagonist who sacrifices his chance at a happy, stable life for those he loves. This movie is an essential for film lovers, and, despite a long runtime, well worth rewatching. This is a film which does not rely on unpredictability, instead, whisking us along on an inevitable but emotionally shattering journey, with the conversational scene between our leads arguably the best scene in cinematic history. This is as good as cinema gets.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Although snubbed to the Oscar controversially by the good but not great Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction got the acclaim it deserved at Cannes. Easily one of the most iconic pieces of cinema ever, Tarantino’s magnum opus intelligently took several mad narrative rides and threw them all into one big plot crash. Filled with unforgettable lines…
– I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger
– That is a tasty burger
…and also brimmed with unforgettable performances by an overwhelmingly talented cast, Tarantino here, though a director with other fantastic films in his back catalogue, immortalised himself with Pulp Fiction. The snappy and hilarious dialogue and the sleek and suave feel of this film epitomise everything great about Tarantino. Forrest Gump may have won the battle back in 1994, but it certainly didn’t win the reputational war.
The White Ribbon (2009)
The White Ribbon is a fascinating beast of a film. Made by one of the most subversive living directors, Michael Haneke, this film allegorically explores fascistic tendencies. Following in the long-held art film tradition of dealing in subtlety, Haneke’s film masterfully drifts across a web of loose narrative strands, maintaining tension despite a lack of clear focus on one singular narrative element. Though for some hard to digest due to its lack of accessibility, this film leaves one in a contemplative state, marvelling at the atmosphere created. This film about the inherent evil of humans, present in even the most remote societies, is yet another slice of deliciously bleak cinema by Haneke, as he continues to grow in confidence as a filmmaker and further push the boundaries of what is acceptable cinematic subject matter. For a festival centred on groundbreaking cinema, this was the perfect recipient of the main prize.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s enigmatic Uncle Boonmee is a film which contemplates the inevitability of death and the manner in which our lives can play out. Whereas as ghosts and similar paranormal phenomena are usually presented as something terrifying and otherworldly, here they are merely another part of the portrait of life. Something inescapable, like death, and not to be afraid of, but instead embraced. Whilst some may discard this film as nothing more than pompous, Uncle Boonmee is much more than that. It’s a poetic and deep look at life, love and spirituality, which turns the unexpected into the expected and questions reality. There’s nothing quite like Uncle Boonmee, and no words could ever faithfully convey this film. You must experience it to grasp its true power, and I’m glad I have personally been witness to its beauty.
The Tree of Life (2011)
This film summarises the critic and audience divide. Critics saw it as a deep, intelligent study of how we deal with grief, and how we question our long-held beliefs due to traumatic experiences. They saw it as an analysis of childhood innocence being strangled by tradition in a deceptively serene setting. Audiences, well, not so much… Generally speaking, they saw it as a pretentious, overly long piece of meaningless guff. Whilst I can see how someone might see The Tree of Life in the latter way, in this case, I’m on the side of the critics. From the performances to the soundtrack, to the cinematography this is one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever seen. Though the runtime is long and the narrative does not function in a linear fashion, if you can immerse yourself then this is an incredibly rewarding watch. Though some may disagree, the epic The Tree of Life deserves to be lauded as a modern masterpiece.
I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Ken Loach, two-time Palme d’Or winner, delivered a vital political message in the form of I, Daniel Blake. Though set in Northern England, it applies to anyone who is a victim of an unfair system of governance. This hugely important film is a message to fight the real enemy. We shouldn’t scapegoat single mothers and immigrants for our issues, but instead, hold our oppressive governments to account. This humanist tale is a battle against injustice at a time of political turbulence around the world. We must reject the Donald Trump’s, Theresa May’s and Putin’s of this world, and instead look to those who care for our concerns. Ken Loach has spent his career fighting for those stamped on by the boot of oppression and continues to be the main voice in the battle for equality. This deserved the Palme d’Or and highlighted that, as long as we are made clear of the fight ahead of us, there is hope.