By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 22, 2011 at 6:24AM
The festival is finally over, the awards given. It was the strongest selection in years, and I saw more of the competition films than usual. Who came out ahead and behind this year?
Biggest Loser: Censured director Lars von Trier, who dive-bombed his best, most beautiful and accessible film in years, Melancholia, and not only alienated and offended the international film world with his comments about being a Nazi, but put himself in the doghouse with his own film community in Denmark, by dissing his own Zentropa colleague Susanne Bier. Drive's Danish director Nic Winding Refn, whose father has edited many of von Trier's films, was also publicly "repulsed" by his behavior.
Von Trier had dinner with Kirsten Dunst Saturday night to try and patch up their relationship, which was understandably damaged. To date Argentina seems to be the only country that has rejected distributing the film, but Magnolia will have to convince people to come and see it this fall. Magnolia's Tom Quinn hopes to take it to some more festivals (New York is in the mix). Will they invite it now? Controversy often fuels more name recognition. We will see if audiences are in a mood to shun Von Trier's movie. Von Trier is also worried that Martin Scorsese will back out of The Five Obstructions, which Magnolia is in talks to support. An indieWIRE poll overwhelmingly supported the filmmaker's right to keep the film in competition. Jury chief Robert DeNiro says that if the jury had voted for it, he would have gone along with it. But they did not, choosing to reward Dunst's brilliant performance as a depressed bride facing the end of the world. Olivier Assayas called Melancholia von Trier's "best film, it's a great film, we all agreed in condemning the press conference. If you ask about the film, it's great acting and an accomplished work of art, one of the best at this festival."
Prize Shut-Outs: The movies that did not win anything include Pedro Almodovar's kinky psychothriller The Skin I Live In (Sony Pictures Classics) and Aki Kaurismaki's critically hailed Le Havre (which won the Fipresci critics prize), and Lynne Ramsay's divisive We Need to Talk About Kevin, which featured a strong performance by Tilda Swinton (UPDATE which was acquired Monday by North American distributor Oscilloscope), Nanni Moretti's Habemus Papam, and Paolo Sorrentino's English-language experiment This Must Be the Place, boasting Sean Penn's audacious portrait of an aging rock star.
Fox Searchlight, Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life, and Brad Pitt. The Palme d'Or gives this head-trip of a movie a much-needed boost in the direction of becoming a must-see for cinephiles and possibly more. Will it have wider impact? And Pitt earned praise for his best performance to date, demonstrating dramatic range and discernment.
Best Actress winner Dunst is taking a serious career direction with recent choices All Good Things and especially Melancholia. The jury chose to reward her and not punish her for von Trier's press room indiscretions. The world is her oyster now--she will have her pick of top female roles, and enhanced foreign visibility.
Nicolas Winding Refn's career as a global director gets a prestige boost from his best director win--but in fact the movie itself will catapult him into contention for bigger budgets and assignments in Hollywood. He could be the next brainy Euro-indie, like Chris Nolan. And if Drive proves a box office hit, it also pushes Ryan Gosling into another category now, as a global action star on the order of a Steve McQueen, which Hollywood has been sadly missing. Gosling has it all: sex appeal, acting chops, and danger. The perfect star cocktail. Here's my video interview with Gosling. Now Refn wants to do Drive 2 as "a real Hollywood movie" with Gosling as one of two drivers after his next film in Thailand with Luke Evans and Kristin Scott Thomas. Film District has another likely winner with Drive.
The Weinsteins smartly scooped up The Artist ahead of the festival, which should play well all over the world. With his win, comedian Jean Dujardin is pushed into a much bigger star than he already was, with dramatic range. And director Michel Hazanavicius gets a push too.
Sundance Selects, which acquired the Grand Prix-winner, the Dardennes' The Kid on a Bike, as well as Maiwenn's jury-prize-winner Poliss. Sony Pictures Classics also picked up Footnote, which won best screenplay and could wind up submitted as best foreign film by Israel.
As jury member Jude Law said at the press conference, the good news from Cannes is that these prizes will bring audiences to worthy films.