Every Cannes Palme d’Or Winner of the 21st Century Ranked
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Every Cannes Palme d’Or Winner of the 21st Century Ranked

Check out our ranking of all the Palme d’Or winners since 2001.

There’s a certain formula that often defines the recipients of the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious top prize, the Palme d’Or. These films, especially in the last two decades, tend to have a sense of importance about them (most notably Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, still the only documentary to screen in competition and to receive the award), frequently due to their sociopolitical awareness of the world (Laurent Cantet’s The Class), or of specific societal ills (Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days).

From time to time, the Palme d’Or goes to a bold, experimental, and divisive vision from a well-liked auteur, such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Terrence Malick’s The Three of Life. But more often it’s awarded to a film in the lineup that the majority of the members on the Cannes jury can agree is good. That felt like the case for Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley and I, Daniel Blake, as well as Julia Ducournau’s Titane, maybe even Ruben stlund’s Triangle of Sadness.

Check out our ranking of all the Palme d’Or winners since 2001. Sam C. Mac

Editor’s Note: This entry was originally published on May 1, 2018.

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Fahrenheit 911

22. Fahrenheit 911 (2004)

A mediocre director but a master PR man, Michael Moore is the father of the Happy Meal documentary: big fonts, quick-fire montages, celebrity cameos, causing elaborate scenes. Fahrenheit 9/11 is no less an attention-grabbing stunt than his Bowling for Columbine, but what a scene it is. At the time of its release, Moore’s compilation of the Bush I administration’s bamboozling of the American public in the wake of 9/11 felt positively atomic. More than 10 years after its release, though, what lingers most about the film is Moore’s self-aggrandizement and forced sanctimoniousness (he rah-rahs from the sidelines when an interviewee says something he agrees with, and you sometimes get a sense that he wouldn’t call a dying man an ambulance if it meant getting the money shot of the guy croaking). At least it’s some kind of mercy that he spends very little time on screen. Ed Gonzalez


The Son’s Room

21. The Son’s Room (2001)

Halfway through The Son’s Room, Nanni Moretti shifts the rhetoric of his narrative away from an exaggerated view of happy domesticity and into a realm of weepy melodrama. The perfect father and husband, psychiatrist Giovanni (Moretti) helps his daughter (Jasmine Trinca) with her conspicuously portentous Latin homework, allows her boyfriend to exalt grass, and initiates group lip-synching during the family’s car trips. Nicola Piovani’s score heightens the joy behind every smile, making clear that disaster is inevitable for this clan. Though the film blooms when Paola (Laura Morante) and the family seek deliverance from their pain by connecting with a girl that their deceased son, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice), met at summer camp, Paola remains a cipher. Cue Brian Eno’s “By This River,” which blares from a car radio as the family stands near the sea that killed their Andrea. In this one stoic moment, not only does the family seemingly escape their grief but also the Rob Reiner soap opera Moretti trapped them in. Gonzalez

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Amour

20. Amour (2012)

There’s a deceptiveness lurking deep within Amour, an insincerity that colors the drama, recasting it as a ploy. Even the film’s title, which might reasonably apply to the honestly loving relationship at the center of the narrative, is deployed with a perfidious smirk, its title card appearing as it does the very moment a corpse is revealed. Across his earlier films, Michael Haneke’s predilection for deceit served a high-minded, if still somewhat suspect, intellectual purpose, in Amour his disingenuous approach isn’t only unwarranted, but is actually at odds with the tone and tenor of the drama. Either Haneke has attempted to shear his sensibility of trickery and failed to do so convincingly, or he’s made an experiment in manipulation and feigned empathy so exacting and oblique that nobody has understood its real purpose. Either way, Amour intends to dupe us, to feed on our own pain and suffering. Moved to tears or scared to death, we’d all lose our dignity in the end. Calum Marsh


Triangle of Sadness

19. Triangle of Sadness (2022)

Episodic, fabulistic, and self-consciously outrageous, Ruben stlund’s Triangle of Sadness introduces us to one comically despicable capitalist after another before subjecting them to humiliation, mostly at the hands of the nonwhite proletariat they barely even deign to notice. There’s something satisfying in this structure, which has the moralistic logic of a slasher film, but it’s ultimately self-negating, confusing scabrous cynicism for trenchant insight. It’s certainly not the duty of a filmmaker to promote a political agenda, but the problem for Triangle of Sadness is that stlund’s pessimism ultimately leads the film toward a self-negating dead end in its allegory-heavy final act. Yes, war profiteers and tax-evading billionaires may be bad, Triangle of Sadness seems to say, but look how dangerous the other guys are. If the well-heeled crowd at Cannes ever felt implicated by the film’s sardonic ridicule of the upper class, any and all guilt has been assuaged by the time the credits roll. Keith Watson

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I, Daniel Blake

18. I, Daniel Blake (2016)

English stand-up comedian Dave Johns brings the sort of spontaneous energy to his titular character that consistently makes Loach’s film worth keeping up with. But Blake’s storyline veers from its emotionally grounded setup and into grandstanding displays like the Michael Moore-worthy stunt from which I, Daniel Blake takes its title. Both principal actors have a strong enough sense of their characters, even as they’re pulled into increasingly harrowing places, to make the film a more successful than Loach’s recent ones, but it’s still schematic, and it aggressively stacks the deck against Blake and Kattie (Hayley Squires) in a way that makes it more effective as social activism, and less so as drama. The Loach of two or three decades ago, who made intimate, naturalistic films about the working class, like 1969’s Kes and 1994’s Ladybird Ladybird, is distinctly different from the Loach of today—and the soapbox-prone I, Daniel Blake reaffirms how unlikely it is for that to change. Mac


The Class

17. The Class (2008)

Laurent Cantet’s The Class is about the quandaries of privileging principle (and principal) or empiricism, duty or personal preference, questions that have been implicit all along, even in kids’ protests that they’re always being picked on or favored. As a clever late twist suggests, the interactions themselves are almost all riffs on Socratic debates, and as Cantet said at the film’s New York Film Festival press conference, the school is “where democracy is at stake.” Instead of the usual righteous monologues, this is a film of dialogue and dialogues, in which the bickering teachers’ conferences begin to echo the kids’ troublemaking and skepticism but for the adults’ pretense of understanding and decorum (everyone, in any case, has their reason and handily states it in close-up). It would make a perfect, though not particularly good, double feature with Frederick Wiseman’s State Legislature or Otto Preminger’s Advise and Consent. David Phelps

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The Wind that Shakes the Barley

16. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)

As a document of the shape of political thought, Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley is successful, but as a living, beating heart about a populace living through a time of upheaval and confusion, it’s mediocre. Part of it has to do with Loach’s passive camera, which is content to observe but never willing to transform his depiction of the guerrilla warfare that erupted throughout Ireland in 1920 into allegory or art. Great actors like Brian Cox and Frances McDormand in Hidden Agenda, Peter Mullan in My Name Is Joe, and extremely talented non-actors in Ladybird, Ladybird and Sweet Sixteen were the extra ingredient that catapulted those films beyond a statement about the poor and the downtrodden. Here, in the lead roles, Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney give thorough, detailed, richly believable and nuanced performances, but because the situation is so much larger than they are, they inescapably become mouthpieces rather than human beings. Jeremiah Kipp


The Square

15. The Square (2017)

After scrupulously analyzing the rippling effects of a man’s moment of human weakness in Force Majeure, Ruben stlund has adopted a more panoramic view for The Square, edging his latest film closer to the vignette-driven narrative terrain of 2008’s Involuntary. Juggling the handful of interconnected tribulations that overwhelm Christian (Claes Bang), the curator of a reputable Stockholm contemporary art museum, in the run-up to the opening of a new relational art exhibition called The Square, the film grabs at a pinwheel of hot-button social topics including class privilege, liberal guilt, urban poverty, viral marketing, and mutually reinforced passivity in the face of mounting inhumanity, winding up with something simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked. While stlund’s mastery of visually amplifying social unease is still very much intact, he’s partially undone here by his own thematic ambition, which, in scene after exquisitely staged scene, threatens to put too fine a point on otherwise thrillingly indeterminate situational comedy. Carson Lund

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Dheepan

14. Dheepan (2015)

The concept of an immigrant story told without the intrusion of a classically “French” audience analogue is admittedly a welcome change, and the characterization in Dheepan is generally strong enough to avoid most of the pitfalls of this type of well-intentioned character study. Yet the reconstruction of the embattled Parisian banlieues as the mirror image of the warzones from which these people have emerged rejects the unique political and regional specificity that contributes to both old-world conflicts and new. In attempting to draw these problems into sharper focus, director Jacques Audiard reduces most of the complexity surrounding them, leaving the film struggling to overcome the burden of an over-simplified, moralizing setup. This is a shame, since Dheepan is impressive in other regards, central among them the stellar performances by its three nonprofessional leads. Jesse Cataldo


12 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

13. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

Despite Cristian Mungiu’s intimate knowledge of time and place, his work throughout 4 Month, 3 Weeks and 2 Days comes off as chilly and hermetic, unenlightening beyond the film’s admittedly strong and effective surface. The deal-breaker is the final scene, in which Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) meet in a hotel restaurant and agree to never again speak of the day’s events. The sudden attempt at reflective moral quandary makes for an ill fit with the incident-obsessed, experiential narrative that precedes it. Worse, there’s little resonant sense of Otilia and Gabita’s lives outside this day, and so they come off as constructs in decided lack of a soul, prey to the agonized whims and notions of Mungiu’s historical fiction. Strange to long for the humorous undercurrents of the no less despondent The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 12:08 East of Bucharest, but perhaps making sense of the red specter requires just such a penetrating mix of solemnity and absurdity. Keith Uhlich

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The White Ribbon

12. The White Ribbon (2009)

The White Ribbon amply displays Michel Haneke’s filmmaking mastery, with dozens of characters introduced and explored in a meticulous, detail-rich flow. In its not-a-hair-out-of-place rigidity, however, it’s a mastery that often feels deadening and threatens to turn its sins-of-the-father inquiry into a static, academic thesis on the Children of the Corn series. What saves the film from becoming a coldly analytical ant farm is Haneke’s respect for each character, the way he refuses to turn their pain into items on a diagram. It’s there in the way the pastor’s young son offers to replace his father’s beloved slain canary with his own pet bird, or in the shy courtship between the teacher and a nanny (Leonie Benesch), a tentative bond that offers a convincing portrayal of positive emotion in the filmmaker’s dour worldview. Nobody will ever mistake Haneke for Jean Renoir, but his grudging humanism here suggests for the first time a flicker of warmth behind cinema’s reigning Ice King. Fernando F. Croce


titane

11. Titane (2021)

Julia Ducournau’s Raw contains gory car crashes and family dynamics whose utter depravity proves eerily relatable, and Titane, expands on the French filmmaker’s idiosyncratic interest in the collision of flesh-rending violence and familial reconfiguration. The film also ratchets up Raw’s combination of body-horror explicitness and art-film abstraction, making for a wild ride through a female serial killer’s techno-sexuality that would make J.G. Ballard blush. The pure audiovisual trippiness of Titane’s final two thirds is welcome—in particular an excursus into the bodily dangers of fire zones and an enigmatic, homoerotic sequence featuring firefighters dancing in slow motion to a Future Islands song. And the film’s exploration of corporeal transformations both willed and unwelcome—based in the alchemy of flesh, gender, and the desire for inorganic hardness—makes for some imagery that taps into deep anxieties about the uncanniness of inhabiting the fluid-filled sack that we call a body. Pat Brown

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Anatomy of a Fall

10. Anatomy of a Fall (2023)

At first, it seems like Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or-winning Anatomy of a Fall may turn into a courtroom spin on Basic Instinct. Like Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell, Sandra (Sandra Hüller) is a famous novelist whose books seem to contain troubling portents of the crime she’s accused of. Coupled with her outwardly cold demeanor, the film baits us into thinking she could be a criminal mastermind hiding in plain sight. But as the exhaustive courtroom drama at its center proceeds, it’s clear that Triet’s film has more on its mind than the simple question of Sandra’s innocence or guilt, a position that becomes more or less clear far before the final verdict is handed down. At its finest, Anatomy of a Fall is nothing less than a rigorous modern treatise on the knotty interpersonal dynamics of long-term relationships and how conveniently they can be distorted when exposed to public scrutiny. Mark Hanson


The Pianist

9. The Pianist (2002)

Wladyslaw Szpilman’s experience during the Holocaust allowed Roman Polanski to grapple with his own memories of war-torn Poland and channel them onto the screen—explicitly at least—for the first time in his career. For the filmmaker’s fans, The Pianist may count as a disappointment of sorts in that its first half is burdened by incident, lazy exposition, and one gentle though particularly obvious allusion to Shakespeare. During its last hour, though, the film achieves something that approaches near transcendence. Polanski photographs death in the Warsaw ghetto with a remarkable distance that immediately separates The Pianist from showier Holocaust films. As Wladyslaw (Adrian Brody) and his family approach the trains that will take most of them to their deaths, the young pianist turns to his sister and utters with sad regret, “I wish I knew you better.” It’s precisely at this moment that a twist of fate saves Wladyslaw’s life. Polanski catalogs each and every moment that propels Wladyslaw that much closer to freedom with a dismarmingly elegant sense of the absurd. Gonzalez

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Blue Is the Warmest Color

8. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

Abdellatif Kechiche is a rhythm man, building the novelistically lyrical realism of his movies with the trickiest of notes: plaintive glances, surreptitious cuts, seemingly improvised dialogue. He memorably etched a panoply of converging ethnicities in L’Esquive, a document of a moody teenage wasteland where language clanked like weaponry, and again in The Secret of the Grain, which warmly allowed us to inhabit the lives, and dinner tables, of characters whose passions are roused by familial and romantic conflicts, as well as by the food that sits heavily in their bellies. Blue Is the Warmest Color, based on Julie Maroh’s acclaimed graphic novel, is beholden to a less multi-ethnic premise, but it hums just as vibrantly in its articulation of the refulgent sense of electric connectivity that would seem to forever bind two women when they catch sight of each other while crossing a busy city street. Gonzalez


Winter Sleep

7. Parasite (2019)

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite essentially puts an absurdist spin on both the concept behind Hirokazu Kore-eda’s sentimental Shoplifters and the bitter class commentary that underpins Nagisa Oshima’s Boy. Also, its excoriating indictment of South Korea’s dehumanizing social culture isn’t far removed from that of Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, but Bong mounts it with a dazzling control of genre conventions that he seamlessly bends to his absurd comic rhythms. Parasite also reinstates the emotional core that’s been missing from Bong’s recent work, and even feigns a concise narrative structure. It’s the kind of bold and uncompromising work that confirms why he’s one of our most exciting auteurs, for how his sociocultural criticisms can be so biting, so pungent, when they’re imbued with such great focus and sense of intent. Mac

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Shoplifters

6. Shoplifters (2018)

Shoplifters melodramatically reveals Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), Osamu (Lily Franky), and Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) to be more advanced and severe criminals than one would expect given the pains to which director Hirokazu Kore-eda has gone to render them dear to us. Their lying is positioned by Kore-eda as a metaphor for the lies of all families and society at large, as partially necessary lies designed to inflate the statures of diminished individuals so as to will a micro-society within a mass society that’s abandoned its citizenry. Yet the parent figures of Shoplifters are also out for themselves, and the moral drama of Kore-eda’s vision springs from the struggle the adult characters wage to reconcile their needs with the needs of their family and society. Ironically, the adults in this film earn their children’s love when they’re willing, out of truly selfless devotion, to sacrifice it. Chuck Bowen


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

5. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Reinvention is still, somewhat redundantly, on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s mind, and though full of fabulous digressions, such as an episode in which a youth-mongering princess gets eaten out by a shaman in the shape of a catfish, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives exudes the air of a doodle—something half-conceived, albeit painfully so. At its most haunting, as when Boonmee (Thnapat Saisaymar) dreams of “past people” like his son being tortured in a future that stands obviously for the present, Weerasethakul briefly, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, gets provocative, slyly addressing the oppressive forces that not only control the lives of his fellow Thai countrymen but also keep a close eye over his work. It’s at this jarring point that one realizes that Weerasethakul’s voice isn’t one that wishes to filter out—which is to say, deny—the political reality of his characters’ lives, but one that understands that it must speak softly in order to be heard at all. Gonzalez

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Elephant

4. Elephant (2003)

Throughout Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s camera doubles back on the same action, evoking the fiber that connects a high school’s student population as they spiral menacingly into an unforeseeable void. Van Sant is fascinated with the innocence of the adolescent ritual, whether it’s a lengthy stroll down a locker-lined hallway or girls cheerleading and boys playing football. The filmmaker has a subtle way of encoding the “whys” of the film’s violence in his mise-en-scène, and by the time the two killers lay out a map of the school on top of a table, we’re already too familiar with the layout of the school, not to mention its potential safe zones: the photo department’s darkroom, the kitchen’s meat locker, and the girls’ bathroom. However disconcerting and seemingly sadistic Van Sant’s approach may be, that these zones aren’t as safe as we’re led to believe is essential to the film’s ultimate point: that we must confront the elephant in the room on school violence. Gonzalez


Winter Sleep

3. Winter Sleep (2014)

Playing out against the desolation of wintry Turkish landscapes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films detail journeys into various hearts of darkness, conveying the distances inherent to human relationships, and the social, economic, and emotional differences which populate those impassable gulfs. From his recent masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Anatolia back through the grimly funny Tarkovsky pastiche of Distant, which earned his first prize at Cannes, the illustration of that distance has been conveyed through spatial relationships, primarily that of perplexed characters dwarfed by their external surroundings. That changes slightly in Winter Sleep, a progressively oppressive chamber piece set mostly indoors, expanding on Ceylan’s usual themes of dislocation via a ruminant conversational structure. Cataldo

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L’Enfant

2. L’Enfant (2005)

L’Enfant’s swirling sense of moral chaos, sustained horror, and courage has not been seen since The Son, which was also open to the possibility of good coming out of a world that can be relentless in its callousness. Like Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s camera, Bruno (Jérémie Renier) seems propelled by an innate mechanism beyond his control; he’s keen only on self-preservation, oblivious to his role as a father. The Dardennes help us to understand Bruno’s helplessness, but they never abuse or toy with our sympathies. They may see Bruno’s actions as the residual damage of a heartless social existence—a dog-eat-dog global market—but this bitter truth is revealed to the audience with the compassionate belief that the world, in spite of its merciless cruelty, is still possible of affecting good. Gonzalez


The Tree of Life

1. The Tree of Life (2011)

Before there was a child, an animal, even a tree, there was only darkness, which gave way to light, explosions that made land and sea, from which life first rose—a story, as one character in the film whispers, “from before we can remember.” In The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s fixation on the creation of our planet and the animals that first roamed it, among them dinosaurs that regard each other with almost human-like curiosity, is a gloriously and powerfully conceived extravaganza of light and sound, a space odyssey that allows the director to set up a predictably canny parallel to the trajectory of human life. Finally settling in ’50s suburbia to capture the waves of a young boy’s rearing, Malick’s vision regards family and relationships the way it does the planet: an organism plagued by disruptions both splendiferous and repulsive before submitting sadly to extinction. Gonzalez

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