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  • James Kunovski

Palme d’Or vs. Oscars: A Stats Showdown

The Palme d'Or, the top prize awarded by an international jury at the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscars are beacons of film industry prestige. There have been ninety-eight top prize winners since the festival's inception in 1939. Originally titled the "Grand Prix du Festival International du Film," it was rebranded to the Palme d'Or in 1955. The first winner under the new title also won Best Picture. Tastes and expectations differ between festivals and award shows, but the two often collide. There have been hundreds of Oscar-winning films. So which films connect the Palme d'Or and the Oscars?

“The Academy nominated this”

There's plenty of overlap between Palme d'Or recipients and Oscar nominees/winners. I wouldn't be doing this article otherwise. Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle's underwater nature documentary The Silent World won both the Palme d'Or and Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars. It remains the only Palme d'Or-winning documentary to pick up an Oscar nod. The Academy isn't kind to documentaries outside of that spot, even if Michael Moore's commercially explosive Palme D'Or winner Fahrenheit 9/11 campaigned for higher glory.

Eighteen Palme d'Or winners are Best Picture nominees. Three have won. Of the eighteen nominees, two are in a language other than English. Amour and Parasite were both released in the past decade. Of the remaining sixteen English-speaking nominees, twelve are American productions. The remaining four are productions split between the UK, New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany and Poland. In contrast, the Academy has nominated twelve non-English films for Best Picture.

The fifteen Palme d'Or winning, Best Picture nominees are Crossfire, Friendly Persuasion, MASH, The Conversation, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, All That Jazz, Missing, The Mission, The Piano, Pulp Fiction, Secrets and Lies, The Pianist, The Tree of Life, and Amour. Another fourteen Palme d'Or winners were recognised in other Oscar categories ranging from Rome, Open City's screenplay nod, to The Leopard's costume design nomination to the appraisal of Dancer in the Dark's Björk-penned original song. But a substantial sum of this crossover remains in the foreign-language category.

“The Foreign-Language Oscar crossover”

Though the United States has the most success at Cannes, winning the Palme d'Or twenty-two times, and maintains a stronghold at the Oscars, a definite connection between the Palme d'Or and the Oscars lies in international cinema. Sixteen Palme d'Or winners, accounting for almost a quarter of the non-American winners, have been nominated at the Oscars for "foreign-language" or "international feature". Six have won. A one-in-three chance of winning is pretty reliable. The six winners are Black Orpheus, France (1959); A Man and a Woman, France (1966); The Tin Drum, West Germany (1979); Pelle the Conqueror, Denmark (1988); Amour, Austria (2012) and Parasite, South Korea (2019). They cover complicated love, coming-of-age, immigration and class differences. The ten nominees are Keeper of Promises, Brazil (1962); The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, France (1964); Kagemusha, Japan (1980); Man of Iron, Poland (1981); When Father Was Away on Business, Yugoslavia (1985); Farewell, My Concubine, Hong Kong (1993); The Class, France (2008); The White Ribbon, Germany (2009); The Square, Sweden (2017) and Shoplifters, Japan (2018). They lost to films that explored an unlikely friendship between an orphan and a disabled veteran, the rise of Nazism through the eyes of a German theatre troupe, Argentina's military dictatorship, life before the Spanish Civil War, with dramas about grief and a crime thriller weaved in. While winning the Palme d'Or must give each country's delegation a good idea on what to submit for Oscar consideration, not all submissions are treated equally.

“The one-inch barrier"

There are a further ten Palme d'Or recipients, all in languages other than English, that were entered to represent their country at the Oscars. Not a single one progressed in the race. Shortlisting for the Academy Awards is a new practice. The three most recent films in this category were submitted but not shortlisted. They include 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Romania), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand) and Winter Sleep (Turkey). 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, an intense procedural about a woman's abortion in Communist Romania caused an international furore when it didn't break into the Academy's nominations. That snub changed the way the Academy interacted and finalised their international feature submissions. Instead, the Academy rewarded The Counterfeiters, an Austrian drama about World War II's Operation Bernhard, the largest counterfeiting operation in history. It's a safe and predictable choice in the throes of excellent international cinema.

Maybe the Academy doesn't like to be challenged (too much), or fears alienation, or maybe things are left behind when thousands of people judge? These are the seven other films that were submitted but not nominated: Chronicle of the Years of Fire (Algeria), Yol (Switzerland), Underground (Serbia), Eternity and a Day (Greece), Rosetta (Belgium), The Son's Room (Italy) and The Child (Belgium). The Dardenne brothers appear twice. For its North American release, The Son's Room was described as a cross between Ordinary People and Terms of Endearment, two Oscar success stories. Sixteen Palme d'Or winners became "foreign-language" nominees. Compared to the ten who didn't make the cut, the split in acceptance and rejection is awfully close. The reasons posed remain a case-by-case study for each film.

“The Best Picture trio”

The Venn diagram overlapping Palme d'Or and Best Picture winners is minuscule. Two films (technically three) have accomplished both coveted feats. Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend won Cannes' highest award seven months after it won Best Picture. It was recognised in an eleven-way tie for the prize, then in its original conception. In the first year that the festival changed names to the Palme d'Or, Delbert Mann's Marty would take the top prize. That dual rarity would be matched sixty years later by Bong Joon-ho's Parasite. The Lost Weekend is a social drama that explores alcoholism in post-War America. Its inclusion makes sense — Cannes jury members still favour kitchen sink dramas; just make sure they're as minimalist as possible. Marty, a romantic comedy about the intertwining love between a butcher and a school teacher, feels like the most significant outlier. I adore Marty, and even if it won in a unanimous vote, surely jury members must have drooled over something like Vittorio de Sica's anthology on Neapolitan life, The Gold of Naples. Parasite caught lightning in a bottle. It hit the nail on the head two different times in two different modes. Firstly, through an across-the-board appraisal by an international jury, and secondly at the Oscars, when appreciation for Korean pop culture erupted in a zeitgeist moment. While no henceforth contract exists guaranteeing that every Palme d'Or winner must get Best Picture, the phenomenon will probably remain rare.

On the other hand, Palme d'Or winners receiving Oscar attention in any category can be expected once or twice in this decade. A Best Picture nomination is not out of the question either — you're five times more likely to win the Palme d'Or and be nominated at the Oscars than to win both be-alls.

"You wouldn't catch the Academy dead nominating these Palme d’Or winners”

This category can be determined through best judgement first and calculations (of the thematic kind), second. There are a healthy handful of Palme d'Or winners, plenty in the current century, that would rarely, to never, qualify in Oscar chatter under any year. Appetite and themes play a substantial role, but most of the time, distinctions can be made with just the slightest of awareness. Elephant, Gus Van Sant's eternally polarising profile on the mundane lives of unbeknownst high schoolers mere days from a school shooting would never pick up Oscar buzz. Suppose critics and industry people are deeming your film too controversial, too anti-climatic, too pointless. How could Van Sant have a shot at Best Director (even if the Independent Spirit Awards allowed it)?

This year's winner, Julia Ducournau's body-horror Titane, will likely tread a similar path. Titane's Oscar success relies on France or Belgium submitting it for international feature consideration — although something gives me a nudging that they won't. Then there are the acclaimed films that the Academy can't stomach: they're either too "slow," maybe an explanation for the Dardenne brothers notorious omissions, too "arthouse" like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives or fit comfortably into a festival arena, and reasonably everywhere else, like Ken Loach's two 21st-century winners. But this all falls in line with the Cannes game. Most Best Picture winners would find mediocre reception in the Cannes "Official Selection," the actor/director-oriented juries and the European market. There's a reason why TIFF, a North American film festival, even outside of dates, kicks off Oscar season. If that dynamic impedes a few Palme d'Or winners from Oscar glory, rest assured if voters flipped the game, little to no Best Picture winners would find a similar amount of success.

"Academy will recognise you but not for this"

Around twelve filmmakers who've won the Palme d'Or still have an Oscar nomination, or win, under their belt. However, most of the time, Oscar triumph and Cannes adulation don't line up for the same film. The Coen Brothers picked up three Oscar nominations for Barton Fink but won four Oscars fifteen years later for No Country for Old Men — that also premiered in competition at Cannes. Steven Soderbergh would find most of his Oscar wealth for Traffic and Erin Brockovich, about a decade after his Palme d'Or win. Michael Moore won the Best Documentary Oscar for Bowling for Columbine but couldn't replicate that achievement with Fahrenheit 9/11. Then there's Gus Van Sant, winner for Elephant and proprietor of two Oscar darlings, Milk and Good Will Hunting. Luis Buñuel couldn't crack into the race with Viridiana but had no trouble winning foreign-language film for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

The Academy doesn't necessarily adore David Lynch. Still, he has been nominated for Best Director three times for The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland DriveWild at Heart, obviously, not amongst them. Alongside the Coens, six directors have won Best Picture, just not with their Palme d'Or winners. David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai have fourteen Oscars between them — Brief Encounter managed three nominations. Carol Reed's The Third Man won one Oscar for its cinematography, and Reed procured a nomination for his directing, but the Brit's pure Oscar triumph was with the five-time winning Oliver! Scorsese earned belated industry praise for The Departed — the Cannes jury was ahead of the game by thirty years when they awarded Taxi Driver. Vincente Minnelli won Best Musical Comedy (a subcategory under the Grand Prix) for Ziegfeld Follies; the Academy favoured An American in Paris and Gigi. William Wyler earned a whopping twenty-four Oscars between his three Best Picture winners — Friendly Persuasion received six nominations on the other hand. Francis Ford Coppola won Best Picture in the 1970s twice for The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. Though Palme d'Or winners The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, from the same decade, earned eleven nominations and two wins, they respectively lost Best Picture to Godfather Part II and Kramer vs. Kramer.

"Cannes buzz meets an Oscar-less end."

Most Oscar nominees gain momentum through the BAFTAs. Even this year, when the BAFTAs indeed went their own way, the "Big Six" winners lined up. These Palme d'Or winners could have been Oscar contenders. Twelve films garnered BAFTA nominations and little to no Oscar recognition. The most skewed ratio comes from Joseph Losey's The Go-Between, a period drama about forbidden love that wowed the British Film Academy, gaining twelve nominations while only receiving one Oscar nomination for supporting player Margaret Leighton. The most disappointing omissions? Surely, Blue is the Warmest Colour and Paris, Texas? For the latter, Wim Wenders won the BAFTA for Best Director. Miloš Forman, the director of Amadeus, won that year's Oscar. I can't say that makes me too mad. The other nine Palme d’Or BAFTA nominees with the bleakest Academy reception are Miss Julie, Miracle in Milan, The Wages of Fear, La Dolce Vita, The Knack and How To Get It, Padre Padrone, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Dheepan and I, Daniel Blake.

Final Rundown

There are ninety-eight winners of Cannes' top prize.

  • One (1) documentary Palme d'Or winner also won Oscar for Documentary Feature.

  • One (1) documentary (Chang) has been nominated for Best Picture. Zero (0) have won.

  • Eighteen (18) Palme d'Or winners have been nominated for Best Picture. Three (3) have won both.

  • Sixteen (16) of the eighteen (18) Palme d'Or winners turned Best Picture nominees are in English.

  • Twelve (12) of the sixteen (16) English-speaking Palme d'Or winners turned Best Picture nominees are American productions.

  • Fourteen (14) Palme d'Or winners were nominated in other Oscar categories.

  • Sixteen (16) Palme d'Or winners have been nominated for foreign-language/international feature film. Six (6) have won that category.

  • Ten (10) international Palme d'Or winners were submitted for Oscar consideration. They were not nominated.

  • Twelve (12) filmmakers have received Oscar attention for films other than their Palme d'Or winners.

  • Six (6) filmmakers have won Best Picture at the Oscars with films other than their Palme d'Or winners.

  • Twelve (12) Palme d'Or winners garnered BAFTA nominations and little to no Oscar recognition.

So, will Ducournau's Titane add "one" to any of these?


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