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The 10 Biggest Cannes Palme d'Or Blunders

by The Playlist Staff
May 22, 2014 2:06 PM
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Over a week in, and we’ve seen almost all that the 2014 Cannes Film Festival has had to offer in the Official Competition—only Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan,” which just screened right about now, and Olivier Assayas’ “The Clouds Of Sils Maria” have still to unspool, and you’ll have read our verdicts on everything (and if not, you can catch up on our coverage here). Jane Campion’s jury have probably already started to deliberate, and Cannes gossip is already focused on who’s going to win. The Dardennes? (Again) The Leigh? The Miller? The Ceylan? The Kawase? The Dolan?

As we saw last week, the history of the Palme d’Or has seen all kinds of classics take the prize home, but that’s not to say it’s an automatic stamp of quality. Juries with even more storied members than this one have sometimes come up with a winner that, either at the time or decades on, proves a bit of a headscratcher. And it's also important to remember the the juries are very subjective, with the ego, personalities and tastes of eight randomly assembled people trying to find some common ground, all with the buzz of Cannes swarming around their head. It's not an enviable task, and much different than Oscar campaigns, which finds the entire industry spending million and dollars and months trying to create a consensus.

So, with 48 hours to go until we learn the winner of this year’s Palme, we’ve rounded up, entirely subjectively, ten of the more questionable decisions in the history of the festival. You can check out our picks below, shout at us about them in the comments section, and stay tuned until Saturday to see if Campion and co pick a winner that belongs in this list, or in last week’s.

What Won:
"Friendly Persuasion" by William Wyler, a story of a Quaker family whose religious values come into direct conflict with the ongoing Civil War.
What Should Have Won
: It's not hard to find a replacement for this one, especially because we have Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal," Federico Fellini's "Nights Of Cabiria" and Robert Bresson's "A Man Escaped" to choose from. Need we go on? Alright then,
: Because William Wyler is remembered for a lot of movies, and "Friendly Persuasion" isn't one of them. Like most of the films on our list here, this pleasant slice of home grown American pie can't exactly be called bad (Palme d'Or winners are rarely, if ever, that) but that doesn't stop it from being one of the biggest misfires from the Cannes canon. A story soaked in pacifism, Christian values, and off-screen political symbolism (Reagan gifted the film to Gorbachev in the '80s as a way to say "let's be more like these Quakers"), the performances from Gary Cooper and, especially, a raw pre-Norman Bates Anthony Perkins are the biggest mainstays from this outdated picture. If we were talking about Wyler's "Best Years Of Our Lives" perhaps we'd be singing a different tune here, but even that can't really hold a cinematic candle to Bergman, Bresson, or Fellini's films competing in the same year. What on Earth happened to this jury and who managed to spike their drinks? All three of our picks are bonafide classics of cinema, with "The Seventh Seal" especially considered as one of the most defining films of its decade (hell, perhaps even the century). Oh, and guess what? We haven't even mentioned Andrzej Wajda's "Kanal" — another war-film, except, much better — which was also competing. Whatever the deciding factor to award one of Wyler's most forgettable films was, everything points to an appreciation of an art that has a tangy smell of politics, and not the refreshing liveliness of cinema in its purest form.

What Won:
Shared between Claude Lelouche’s French New Waver “A Man And A Woman,” about the romance between a widow and a widower, and Pietro Germi’s “Signore & Signore,” a three-part sex comedy released under the English title of “The Birds, The Bees & The Italians.”
What Should Have Won: A strong line-up in competition this year, with David Lean’s megahit “Doctor Zhivago” probably the headliner, along with Orson Welles’ “Chimes At Midnight,” Karel Reisz’s “Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment,” Jacques Rivette’s “The Nun,” John Frankenheimer’s “Seconds” and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Hawks And The Sparrow” all selected as well. Frankly, we’d take any of them over the shared winners of the top prize (still called the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at this point).
Why: Call it a blind spot, but we struggle a bit with Italian comedy of this era, and ‘The Birds...’ is no exception — Germi is a very fine comedy director, and it’s fitfully funny, but feels somewhat ropey nearly a half-century on. Meanwhile, taking on “A Man And A Woman” feels like more of a sacred cow: the film also won Foreign Language and Screenplay Oscars, and was a global hit that inspired a sequel 20 years later. But if you ask us, it’s deeply bland, a sort of Gallic version of “Love Story” that looks very pretty, and is well-acted by Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, but is otherwise cinematically disposable. And the idea that either are better than Welles’ Shakesperean masterpiece, Frankenheimer’s paranoia classic, or even Lean’s romantic epic (which is far from the director’s best) feels patently absurd.

What Won: A split for the Palme, with Costa-Gavras’ thriller “Missing,” in which the father and wife of a journalist attempt to find him after he disappears during the U.S backed coup by General Pinochet in Chile, sharing honors with Yilmaz Guney’s Turkish prisoner drama “Yol.
What Should Have Won: Not a year for the ages, necessarily, but with one stone-cold classic in the line-up in the shape of Werner Herzog’s astonishing “Fitzcarraldo.”
Why? As is often the case when the Palme goes to an eyebrow-raising film, 1982 appeared to be a year where politics trumped art when it came to picking the winner, not least with figures like Jean-Jacques Annaud and Gabriel Garcia Marquez serving on the jury of legendary Italian theater director Giorgio Strehler. “Missing” is an absolutely solid film with a terrific performance from Jack Lemmon at its center, but it’s also a poor cousin to Costa-Gavras’ earlier “Z,” with a rather crudely drawn arc for Lemmon’s character. Meanwhile, “Yol” is a case where the better story was off-screen rather than on: director Guney had spent most of his years in prison since 1972 (partly as a political prisoner, partly for shooting a judge in a drunken row), with his assistant Serif Goren directing scripts that Guney wrote from jail. “Yol” was such a film, but the helmer actually managed to escape from prison and finish the editing personally from Switzerland. There’s powerful stuff in “Yol,” and if nothing else it causes an interesting wrinkle in the auteur theory, but in general it’s rather crude and, frankly, dull filmmaking that indicates that the film got the top prize as a gesture rather than anything else. Especially against “Fitzcarraldo,” Herzog’s masterpiece of hubris and madness that might still be the director’s finest achievement.

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  • sreekant | June 8, 2014 11:54 PMReply

    "But Ken Loach doesn't scream Palme D'Or to us" then why did they nominate Ken Loach’s “My Name Is Joe”???? they write just because they can....

  • Ted | May 30, 2014 12:57 AMReply

    Just for fun, because why not.

    My Ten Worst / Most Undeserving Palm winners, and what I'd replace them with for that year.

    2004: Fahrenheit 9/11 ---> Tropical Malady
    2001: The Son's Room (not terrible, but not too strong) ---> In Praise of Love or Mulholland Dr.
    2000: Dancer in the Dark ---> Yi Yi or In the Mood for Love
    1994: Pulp Fiction ---> Three Colors: Red
    1990: Wild at Heart ---> Nouvelle Vague
    1986: The Mission ---> The Sacrifice
    1982: Missing / The Way ---> Passion or Moonlighting (note: this was a really weak year)
    1980: All That Jazz / Kagemusha ---> Mon Oncle d'Amerique
    1966: A Man and a Woman / The Birds, the Bees, and the Italians ---> Chimes at Midnight
    1957: Friendly Persuasion ---> A Man Escaped

  • alp | May 27, 2014 9:37 PMReply

    That's it. After yet another boneheaded "our opinion is fact" piece where the opinions are envy-based hipster-tripe, I am finally inspired to create my own opinion-based blog. See yall at the Pulitzer ceremony. PEACE

  • Whodatninja | May 26, 2014 5:19 AMReply

    Well these are like just your opinions man. Except the bit about Moore. That seems spot on.

  • inderweltsein | May 24, 2014 12:21 PMReply

    Removing the Palme from 'Eternity and A Day' is strange, it is one of the greatest films of the last 30 or 40 years...

  • Grego | May 23, 2014 12:02 PMReply

    Yes, some of these are interesting, but some of your choices here really make me question why I read you guys. Notably, the 2004 entry. 2046 a misstep? Not Wong's best film, maybe, but a misstep? Which finished #2 on the Village Voice poll that year...ok. And to say Oldboy is a better film than Tropical Malady is just, well, to put it one way, not very pretentious, and to put it another way, just incorrect.

  • Ivan Casajús | May 23, 2014 7:36 AMReply

    Don't remember where I've read it, but Tarantino struggled to make 'OldBoy' the winner but he had some pression from the Weinstein to vote for Moore's flick(?)

  • Stella | May 22, 2014 10:07 PMReply

    It's "Angelopoulos" not "Angelopolous".

  • Mia | May 22, 2014 9:05 PMReply

    Babel is pure crap.

  • jrose | May 22, 2014 7:19 PMReply

    You could pick a number of years for this.

    How about 1996? Mike Leigh's good but, in retrospect, not great "Secrets and Lies" beat out both "Breaking the Waves" and "Fargo."

    I haven't seen 1975's "Chronicles of the Year of Fire" - in fact I never heard of it before - but it beat Scorsese's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," Herzog's "Kaspar Hauser," and Antonioni's "The Passenger."

  • Gustavo | May 22, 2014 4:45 PMReply

    L'Enfant in a list of the worst Palme D'Or winners?

    Yet another reminder why I never read reviews by the staff.

  • MDL | May 22, 2014 4:37 PMReply

    This is sort of a hindsight is 20/20 list. You should have considered who was on each jury and what the political situation was at the time. These are reasons certain films win. 'Barton Fink' won in part because Polanski was the jury president and the film almost an homage to his work. The year Taste of Cherry won [1997] it was a last minute entry that was snuck out of the country so the jury felt duty bound to give it the Palm. Same with Fahrenheit 9/11. Also the buzz on a film can carry it to the win. Certain films don't get talked about until years later.

  • AAAanaya | May 22, 2014 3:49 PMReply

    I was hopeing to see Wild at Heart on here, but I guess I really am the only person who hates that movie.

  • AAAANAYA | May 23, 2014 1:48 AM

    I'm honestly really glad I'm not the only one. It's a fairly obscure movie and most of the people who've seen it are hardcore fans of either Lynch or Cage and they tend to love it.

  • Jeff McM | May 22, 2014 7:08 PM

    You're not alone.

  • Jonathan | May 22, 2014 2:50 PMReply

    Uh, to call Wong Kar Wei's "2046" a "misstep" is pretty misguided.

  • swell | May 22, 2014 4:11 PM


  • Nathan Duke | May 22, 2014 2:28 PMReply

    I sorta agree with most of these, with the exception of "L'Enfant," which may have not been my choice out of the selections, but is still a great movie. On the other hand, I wouldn't have minded if another film had taken top prize over the Dardennes' 1999 Palm d'Or winner, "Rosetta," which I think is their most overrated. And, personally, I would have rather seen "Woman in the Dunes" or "Pasazerka" win over "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," which I liked but not as much as the aforementioned other two, in 1964.

  • owdl114 | May 22, 2014 2:25 PMReply

    'Arguably his best film'? I've never heard that argument about The Wind That Shakes The Barley. To my knowledge Kes (my vote), Land and Freedom, Sweet Sixteen and My Name is Joe are held in higher regard in his oeuvre. Thoughts?

  • rich | May 25, 2014 3:14 PM

    Agreed with Fred. Not Playlist's strongest post. They never were the best critics on this site. I believe most of Cannes decisions hold up. Cannes, traditionally, isn't a popularity contest. Most all of these winners are very strong films, amongst other strong films.

  • Fred | May 23, 2014 12:35 PM

    Nice post Lucy. The Playlist doesn't get s*it. So often just talking out of their ass. Their Wong Kar-Wai 2046 assessment is risible. The European filmmakers will be respectable but never on the level of the current chic flavor of the decade American artists. It's all just hosannas for the hip.

  • Lucy | May 23, 2014 10:15 AM

    It pathetic really, the Playlist have absolutely no knowledge of Loach beyond him being the guy that keeps getting invited and "shock horror" winning at Cannes.

    You're right saying that Kes is by far his best work, maybe the writer should also check out Labybird Labybird, Riff-Raff and Raining Stones before trying to write the man off as not worthy. The fact that the writer here calls Wind... his best pretty much proves that their knowledge of Loach begins and ends with 200's onward Cannes. As a person who posts on and reads a fair few cine-file boards I've noticed a trend in recent years for Americans to write off Loach's work - and it's always younger Americans. Europeans even if they are not fans can respect and appreciate his work. The fact they believe him to be dull and unworthy of the praise and awards he has received get repeated so often they seem to taken as fact, so I wonder if this is the Playlist repeating these bias and not really knowing the mans work.

    Sorry he's not flashy enough for you Playlist, but as a working class Brit I thank the cinematic Gods for him because there sure as hell aren't that many people interested in sympathetically and accurately telling our stories.

  • Jeff | May 22, 2014 7:55 PM

    I suspect The Playlist staff has little familiarity with Loach's oeuvre.

  • Marshall | May 22, 2014 2:15 PMReply

    Melquiades Estrada was directed by Tommy Lee Jones! (Not David Cronenberg)

  • yer | May 22, 2014 2:15 PMReply

    David Cronenberg’s “Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada,”

    lol do you guys ever proofread??

  • Gustavo | May 22, 2014 4:46 PM

    Actually, Ed, it's because readers like him that sites can actually get better.

  • Ed | May 22, 2014 2:28 PM

    Relax, dude made a brainfart mistake. Chill, or call 911, whatever. Commenters like you are why most blog comments suck.

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