Now that France has claimed the Palme d'Or on its home turf for the first time in 20+ years with director Laurent Cantet and his new film, its back to basics for so many Cannes dwellers. In honor of Cantet's (relatively) unheard of film, here are my choices for the best films bestowed this prestigious award through the years.
1. Taxi Driver (1976)- Scorsese's bullet valentine to New York was awarded the prize and along with several Coppola wins in the same decade, Cannes was poising itself to fully recognize the movie brats of the 70's.
2. Paris, Texas (1984)- Wim Wenders' amazing road movie (before he began making pretty stale road movies) gets everything right. From the vast expanses of West Texas to the claustrophobic, industrialized wastelands of inner city Houston, it captures the endlessly evolving landscape of Texas with an understanding gaze. The final conversation between Stanton and Kinski (running close to 20 minutes) packs an emotional wallop as well. Rightly deserved Palme d'Or.
3. The Third Man (1949)- Carol Reed's classic was given the top prize when it was called the "grand prix du festival". Even after 50+ years, "The Third Man" still outclasses alot of films in mood, expressionistic lighting and character development. And what an entrance for Orson Welles in this one.
4. Apocalypse Now (1979)- Just watched this again over the weekend and it hypnotizes me every time. This is extravagant filmmaking, espousing a completely personal view and creating some of the most stark images you'll ever see. The cast is perfect, the mood is perfectly maniacal, and its an extremely potent take on the Vietnam War. Even more interesting is how the film itself took on the bloated excess of the war, human casualties (heart attack) and all.
5. Underground (1995)- Emir Kusturica, a favorite filmmaker of mine, has disappeared from the scene but in 1995, he made "Underground", a film just as lengthy and thematically dense as Coppola's version of the war. This one splinters itself in two parts surrounding a large Yugoslavian family. There's plenty of drunkenness, sexual intercourse and satirical war wipes, and the whole thing threatens to spin out of control. It's to Kusturica's credit that he somehow holds the thing together and ends up creating a comedy for the ages.
6. Wages of Fear (1953)- Henri George Clouzot's sweat-inducing masterpiece follows a group of thugs and lowlifes as they drive a truck full of nitre glycerin through a rain forest. I've tried on several occasions to get through the hugely boring Friedkin remake ("Sorcerer") and can't... which only proves how well the original holds up. This is a white knuckle thriller with sardonic undertones.
7. La Dolce Vita (1960)- One of the first Fellini films I saw, this is yet another sprawling effort that Cannes chose to award for its full embrace of a city, its culture, and the various denizens. Simply magical filmmaking that's been begged, borrowed and stolen from over the past 4 decades.
8. Blow Up (1966)- My favorite Antonioni. While I certainly dig the austere, existential films like "L'Eclipse" or "L'Avventura", this one is probably his most mainstream. While capturing the lurid feel of swinging 60's London, its also a slow-burn thriller that follows a photographer who may or may not have captured a murder on his camera.
9. Wild At Heart (1991)- It takes balls to don the prestigious award on a film as lurid and offbeat as Lynch's film, but it's also a damn fine effort and proof that the Cannes jurors can sometimes trust their instincts when they see a truly original piece of work.
10. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2007)- Perhaps its too early to tell and maybe this spot should have gone to Coppola's "The Conversation", but personally, I find this film to be a breathtaking example of political filmmaking. Loach's best film in years tracks the complicated and bloody origins of the IRA with clear-eyed performances and sumptuous cinematography. One of last year's very best films. Time will put the proper perspective on it.