With the 68th Cannes Film Festival in full swing, I decided to compile a list of 10 Palme d’Or winners I find to be the best. Now I know there have been many great films that have been bestowed with the honor of the Golden Palm, but this list consists of only the films I loved most.
Honorable Mentions: MASH (1970), Secrets and Lies (1996)
10. L’enfant (2005)
L’enfant’s strength lies in it’s simplicity and the Dardenne brothers’ superb storytelling. L’enfant focuses on the story of a poor young couple Bruno and Sonia, and Bruno is a thief who is unemployed and robs people day by day. On one occasion he even goes as far as to selling his newborn child, but after seeing the reaction of the mother he reconsiders and goes to make amends. L’enfant is all about harsh reality; it’s life at the bottom of the barrel and the moral conflicts that arise from it. It’s truly an absorbing and soul-stirring film and one of the Dardenne brothers’ finest efforts.
9. Kagemusha (1980)
After a forgettable 70s, many people thought Akira Kurosawa was done, but in 1980 the auteur made a resounding comeback with Kagemusha. Kagemusha is in no way Kurosawa’s best film but is a great film nonetheless that reminds us of everything we’ve come to love about his films. The film follows the story of a poor thief who is recruited to impersonate a powerful warlord who has died and to whom he bears a striking resemblance. By now, Kurosawa had mastered the Samurai sub-genre and Kagemusha sees the writer/director at the top of his game as he combines his knack for storytelling with his powerful direction to create a compelling and visually splendid samurai epic.
8. Third Man (1949)
One of the finest noirs to grace the silver screen, The Third Man follows the story of pulp novelist Holly Martins as he travels into post-war Vienna to meet an old friend Harry Lime, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of Harry. The Third Man is the quintessential noir – the story is exceptionally well-written and the wonderful black and white cinematography sinks in perfectly to the Vienna backdrop. The atmosphere that Carol Reed builds is so very ideal with Anton Karas’s ominous theme beating in the background that gives the film a very unique feel while Orson Welles, at his very best, steals the show in what is easily one of the best performances of his career.
7. Taxi Driver (1976)
While Mean Streets launched the career of Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver can be seen as the film that truly established him as one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation. The film follows the story of Travis Bickle, a mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran, a loner who has grown tired of New York and its moral corruption and aims to do something about it. Taxi Driver is a brooding character study and a wonderful exploration of what loneliness does to a man. The film possesses a grit unlike anything else and the portrait of New York that Scorsese paints goes a long way in capturing this. Martin Scorsese’s direction is immaculate while Robert De Niro delivers a tour-de-force breakthrough performance as Travis Bickle, one of the greatest anti-heros in the history of cinema.
6. Taste of Cherry (1997)
Abbas Kirostami is one of the greatest directors to come out of Iran and the Taste of Cherry is arguably his best film. The film follows the story of an Iranian man who drives around searching for someone who will quietly bury him after he commits suicide. Taste of Cherry actually brought about a very polarizing response when it was named as joint winner of the Palme d’Or along with The Eel in 1997, but what I think people failed to see is the immense power the film possesses. Taste of Cherry is a masterfully crafted film, compelling and immensely tragic. It’s a great piece of cinema.
5. La Dolce Vita (1960)
Federico Fellini is without doubt one of the most influential auteurs to emerge from Italy, someone whose influence has extended even to the likes of Terry Gilliam, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese. Fellini had an immensely memorable career, but ultimately when you boil it all down, La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2 can be seen as two of his finest achievements. La Dolce Vita follows the story of a week in the life of an Italian paparazzo journalist. It’s a film that lures you in with its excellent cinematography and follows through with the meticulously constructed story. The film is an enthralling period piece about life in 1960s Rome with Marcello Mastroianni offering a charming performance as journalist Marcello Rubini, a man torn between the allure of Rome’s elite social scene and the stifling domesticity offered by his girlfriend. La Dolce Vita is a riveting cinematic experience and an all together magnificent film
4. The Wages of Fear (1953)
Considered by many as the existential suspense thriller, Wages of Fear is a nerve-racking and edge-of-your-seat thriller that grabs the audience and doesn’t let them go until the last frame rolls. Directed by Henri Georges Cluzot, the film follows the story of four ‘down on their luck’ drivers who are hired to transport nitrogycerine, and the slightest of mishaps could result in them being blown to flames. Like The Third Man, this is another film that makes great use of its atmosphere which Cluzot uses to his advantage to consistently rack up the tension. The pacing is relentless and the film is thoroughly engaging and suspenseful. It’s a truly excellent film – one of the very best to come out of French cinema.
3. Barton Fink (1991)
The Coen Brothers are two of the greatest filmmakers working today, and in the 90s they were at the peak of their artistic ambition. Suffering from writer’s block while writing Miller’s Crossing, the duo came up with Barton Fink. The film follows the story of the titular character, Barton Fink, a renowned playwright who is enticed to come to Hollywood and write for movies but soon discovers the hellish truth of Hollywood. Hollywood has been explored a number of times in many films, but none have done it better than Barton Fink and Robert Altman’s The Player. Barton Fink is a funny, satirical and twisty look at 1940s Hollywood that in my opinion ranks as the duo’s crowning achievement. The film received a roaring reception at the 44th Cannes Festival when it became the first film to take home all three major awards – Best Film, Best Actor and Best Director.
2. Apocalypse Now (1979)
In 1976, Francis Ford Coppola retreated to the jungles of Baler, Phillipines to shoot his Vietnam war allegory, Apocalypse Now. Despite a disastrous shoot during which costly sets were destroyed by severe weather and the star Martin Sheen suffered a fatal heart attack, Coppola returned with what is easily the most complex and stunning portrayal of war we ever had the chance of seeing. Apocalypse Now is a monumental achievement in film-making, a work of undeniable ingenuity and artistry. A young Martin Sheen shines as the troubled Captain Willard, a man sent into Cambodia on a covert operation to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself as a god among a local tribe. Apart from Sheen, Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall are unforgettable in their supporting turns. Apocalypse Now is not just the greatest Vietnam war film, it’s also one of the greatest films ever made.
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Nothing defines the 90s better than Pulp Fiction. Everything about this film is so perfect and referential to the time – the dark humor, the dialogue, the story, the performances – it’s inventive stuff and the power lies in Tarantino’s magnificent screenplay. The film follows the interconnected stories of two mob hit men, a gangster’s wife, a boxer and two diner bandits. Tarantino had broken out after 1992’s Reservoir Dogs but Pulp Fiction was the real deal, the film that made him a legend overnight. Tarantino’s biggest strength’s have always been his ability to create great dialogue and I can’t think of any film that has better dialogue than Pulp Fiction. The film also played a major part in the resurgence of John Travolta’s career which had seemingly been in a coma since the 70s.