Ahead of the film industry descending on Cannes, we turn to eleven past winners of the Palme d'Or to get into the buzz
Seventy-five years on from the inception of the Cannes Film Festival, its coveted Palme d’Or remains one of the industry’s highest honors. The prize has been bestowed upon some of the greatest auteurs in history—Roberto Rossellini, Orson Welles, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Luis Buñuel—and is staunchly global in its outlook, rewarding new releases that take risks and shed light on urgent social issues, regardless of their origin.
Ahead of this year’s festival, due to run from May 17 to 28, we shortlist 11 previous winners to rewatch now, from a surreal ’70s musical to a moving Japanese family drama.
La Dolce Vita, 1960. Photo: Shutterstock
La Dolce Vita (1960)
There’s no better introduction to Federico Fellini’s oeuvre than this exuberant masterpiece. Set over seven decadent days in Rome, it follows a world-weary journalist (Marcello Mastroianni) who is chasing stories for his gossip column. The women he pursues are glamorous and enigmatic—Anouk Aimée shines as a jaded heiress—but Anita Ekberg is the most captivating, as a film star who dances late into the night and then wades into the Trevi Fountain in a floor-length ball gown.
How to Watch: Rent on Apple TV.
Blow Up, 1966. Photo: Shutterstock
Veruschka in a beaded cocktail dress, Vanessa Redgrave in a checked button-down, and Jane Birkin in a striped shift—the actors that populate Michelangelo Antonioni’s cult classic are as striking as they are stylish. They play the prospective subjects of a fashion photographer (David Hemmings) whose life is disrupted after he stumbles upon a murder scene. It’s a thriller that doubles as a vibrant portrait of Swinging London, complete with raucous parties and a rock’n’roll soundtrack.
How to Watch: Rent on Apple TV.
Taxi Driver (1976). Photo: Shutterstock
Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese’s account of urban alienation features a career-defining performance from Robert De Niro. Playing a Vietnam War veteran-turned-cab driver, he cruises the streets of New York and is appalled by the corruption and exploitation he encounters. Violence quickly ensues, but there’s unexpected beauty to be found in the film’s haunting score and hallucinatory visuals: a fever dream of neon signs, rain-splattered sidewalks, and steam ominously rising from manhole covers.
Apocalypse Now (1979). Photo: Shutterstock
Apocalypse Now (1979)
A soldier (Martin Sheen) travels from Vietnam to Cambodia on a secret mission to assassinate a colonel who has gone rogue (Marlon Brando) in Francis Ford Coppola’s electrifying war epic. It is unflinching in its depictions of the horrors of combat, zipping from napalm-strewn fields to jungles engulfed in flames and an airstrike set to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. Beyond the set pieces, though, it’s a meditation on the absurdity of battle and the psychological scars it leaves behind.
All That Jazz (1979). Photo: Shutterstock
All That Jazz (1979)
Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical musical extravaganza opens with a flurry of high kicks and jazz hands, but what lies beneath its shiny surface is much more complex. It centers on an eccentric choreographer (Roy Scheider) who is juggling projects on Broadway and in Hollywood, dashing between theaters and editing suites until he slowly loses his grip on reality. There are dreamlike dance sequences, elaborate costumes and bizarre insights into the mind of a creative genius.
How to watch: Buy the DVD on Amazon.
Kagemusha (1980). Photo: Shutterstock
In 16th-century Japan, the death of a feudal lord is covered up through the use of a double, a petty thief who bears an uncanny resemblance to him. Both characters are played with relish by Tatsuya Nakadai, in his penultimate collaboration with legendary director Akira Kurosawa. It’s a samurai epic that weaves together Shakespearean court intrigue and explosive battles, culminating in a heart-stopping scene in which the impostor finally lets his hubris get the better of him.
Paris, Texas (1984). Photo: Shutterstock
Paris, Texas (1984)
The vast landscapes of the American southwest provide a lyrical backdrop for Wim Wenders’ wistful road movie. It begins with a drifter (Harry Dean Stanton) walking alone through the desert. After a mysterious four-year absence, he is discovered by his brother (Dean Stockwell) and sets out to find his long-lost wife (Nastassja Kinski). It’s worth watching for the latter’s moving, measured performance, not to mention the blunt bob and pink mohair jumper that made her a style icon.
The Piano (1993). Photo: Shutterstock
With this ravishing period drama, Jane Campion became the first, and still the only, female director to win the top prize at Cannes. It features two poignant, Oscar-winning turns: Holly Hunter as a mute Scottish widow and Anna Paquin as her precocious young daughter. They are shipped off to New Zealand after the former is promised in marriage to a landowner, but tragedy looms when she agrees to give piano lessons to a crude forester (Harvey Keitel), with whom she falls in love.
Shoplifters (2018). Photo: Shutterstock
An unconventional family unit is at the heart of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s delicate study of poverty in modern-day Tokyo. A gang composed of an elderly matriarch, a couple, a young woman and a boy, they make ends meet by stealing from supermarkets. Soon, they also take in a child (Miyu Sasaki) who they suspect is being abused by her parents. Has she been kidnapped or rescued? The film offers few answers but captivates with its warmth, compassion, and clear-eyed view of the world.
Parasite (2019). Photo: Shutterstock
As the first release to win both the Palme d’Or and the Oscar for best picture since 1955’s Marty, Bong Joon-ho’s audacious satire has cemented its place in film history. It’s a rip-roaring romp that combines black comedy with Hitchcockian horror and social realism—a fable about two clans, one destitute but ambitious and the other naive and wealthy, whose lives become intertwined. The sets are pristine, the dialogue biting and the overwhelming sense of foreboding undeniable.
Titane (2021). Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection
In the first few minutes of Julia Ducournau’s jaw-dropper, a young girl is severely injured in a car crash and has a titanium plate fitted into her skull. Somehow, this is the least shocking thing to happen in a nerve-jangling thriller that encompasses mass murder, arson and, shall we say, auto erotica as it tracks our heroine as a maladjusted adult (an astounding Agathe Rousselle). It’s only the second film helmed by a woman to scoop the prestigious prize, and proof that Cannes is still a place where boundary-pushing work is celebrated.