Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Growing Impact Of Palme d’Or Winners On The Oscar Race And What This Means For “Anora”

The Palme d’Or is the biggest prize a film can win at the annual Cannes Film Festival. Existing in some form since the 1940s, it is a prestigious honor that immediately propels a film to a new level of notoriety on the world stage. Suddenly, everybody is talking about your movie all over the world, theatrical distribution agreements can become easier to secure, and dreams of further awards-season recognition can become more tangible. There is a historical trend of a Palme d’Or bolstering a movie’s reputation ten-fold, and Sean Baker’s latest film, “Anora,” is the newest movie to go through this experience.

All the clamor around the Palme d’Or certainly sounds familiar to all the buzz surrounding the Best Picture Oscar. Given some of the overlapping qualities between these two awards, one would be inclined to ask…do these two awards favor the same types of movies? In other words, which Palme d’Or winners have scored Best Picture Oscar nominations over the years?

While only three Palme d’Or winners (“The Lost Weekend,” “Marty,” and “Parasite“) have gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, significantly more films have managed the hat trick of winning the Palme d’Or and receiving a subsequent Oscar nomination for Best Picture. With the Academy’s ultimate category housing five to ten total nominations over the decades, it is much easier for Palme d’Or winners to get a Best Picture Oscar nod than win that fateful prize. Among the most notable Palme d’Or winners to be Best Picture nominees are “Pulp Fiction,” “The Tree of Life,” “Taxi Driver,” “MASH,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Triangle of Sadness,” “All That Jazz,” “The Conversation,” “The Pianist,” “Amour,” and “Apocalypse Now,” among others.

Notice how, among the films mentioned above, only “Anatomy of a Fall” and “Amour” stand out as foreign-language titles. These two films reflect a phenomenon that, all on its own, crystallizes why more Palme d’Or winners don’t also make it to Best Picture nominee status as frequently as one might expect. Historically, the Academy has favored English-language features for Best Picture. Before the 91st Academy Awards, only ten foreign-language movies had been nominated for Best Picture, two of which were films primarily or exclusively financed by American companies.

The Palme d’Or award is far from free of its own biases (hello, lack of women and Black filmmaker winners!). However, unsurprisingly, a French film festival is more open to bestowing big honors on films that aren’t made in the English language. The number of foreign-language Palme d’Or winners immediately makes it clear why there’s not more overlap between these victors and Best Picture nominees. The Oscars should’ve made room for movies like “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and “Taste of Cherry” in the Best Picture category. Unfortunately, the precedence given to English-language movies in the Best Picture section of the Oscars ensured that many Palme d’Or winners would be ignored in the biggest category at the ceremony until fairly recently when the Academy expanded its membership to be more international.

There are, of course, many English-language Palme d’Or winners who didn’t go on to score Best Picture nominations. However, it’s immediately apparent why those titles didn’t go on to receive the Hollywood industry’s highest honor. Many of those films include extremely aggressive and divisive works like Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” or the comedic Coen Bros. film “Barton Fink.” A movie like David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” is fantastic, but it also doesn’t play up traits typically associated with Best Picture nominees at the Oscars. Then there’s Michael Moore’s controversial documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a big English-language project from 2004 that secured the Palme d’Or and immense box office success. Given its pop culture dominance the year it was released, one would imagine that Michael Moore’s incendiary documentary would’ve been a shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination. However, the Academy had never nominated a documentary in the Best Picture category and still has not to this day. Not even something as successful as “Fahrenheit 9/11” could reverse that trend. That film best reflects how even popular movies made in the English language that tickle the fancy of Cannes voting juries won’t go on to also enthrall Oscar voters. One way or another, bias still exists in a large voting body of thousands against a small voting jury of less than ten individuals.

Given the many factors that have prevented several Palme d’Or winners from scoring Best Picture Oscar nominations, it’s worth asking why the Best Picture category has become so open to many of those Cannes victors in recent years. After all, Michael Haneke’s 2012 film “Amour” was the first foreign-language Palme d’Or winner to score a Best Picture nomination across the first 91 Oscar ceremonies. By contrast, three of the five last Oscar ceremonies have featured a Best Picture nominee who also won the Palme d’Or, two of which were foreign-language titles.

That increased presence of such titles in the Best Picture Oscar category can be chalked up to the increasingly global voter base of the Academy Awards. In the last decade, the Academy has substantially expanded its voter base for the Oscars, and we’re seeing that reflected in the winners and nominations every year. Because of this shift, there’s been an uptick in non-English-language cinema, in general, getting more Oscar recognition, and all eyes are turning toward Cannes as the fateful launching pad for many of those contenders each year. The 96th Academy Awards, for instance, featured a trio of Best Picture nominees told primarily in languages other than English with Cannes titles “Anatomy of a Fall” (also the Palme d’Or winner), “The Zone Of Interest” and Sundance critical darling “Past Lives.”

With this expansion, there’s been an inevitable increase in Oscar’s preference toward Palme d’Or winners to have a major presence when it comes time for the Academy Awards, whether they’re in English or not. While foreign language Best Picture Oscar nominees used to be a rarity, they’re now a near-annual fixture of the category. This has allowed a more significant number of Palme d’Or winners to show up in Best Picture than ever before. Will this trajectory help this year’s Palme d’Or winner, “Anora,” get into the Best Picture Oscar race? There’s a good chance it might. “Anora” is not just another Palme d’Or winner but the fifth consecutive film distributed by Neon in the U.S. to score this prestigious award and the first to be directed by indie darling Sean Baker.

Three of the last four Palme d’Or winners Neon distributed (“Parasite,” “Triangle of Sadness,” and “Anatomy of a Fall“) ended up scoring both Best Picture and Best Director nominations. “Anora” isn’t necessarily guaranteed to secure either (let alone both) of those nominations, but this is a good awards-season trend to be starting from. Plus, “Anora” is an English-language movie (the first American film to win the Palme d’Or in over a decade since “The Tree of Life“), which could help its chances come Oscar time even more.

If “Anora” does go all the way to the Oscars, it’ll be the latest in a long line of Palme d’Or winners also to score Best Picture nominations. Such dominance across prestigious ceremonies reflects our growing change in perception of what world cinema is, making it more inclusive than ever before for American audiences. They also reflect a bit of a hopeful concept, that good art can resonate anywhere. Not all the global filmmakers assembled to vote for the Palme d’Or each year are Academy members (though there is certainly some overlap). When these Cannes winners go on to secure Best Picture nominations months later, they demonstrate how well-made cinema can impact people anywhere they are. Borders do not (and should not) limit quality cinema. It can travel anywhere, from the grand steps of the Palais on the Croisette of France, to the Dolby Auditorium on Hollywood’s biggest night.

What do you think of this growing trend of Palme d’Or winners receiving Oscar nominations from the Academy? Do you think the same thing will happen to “Anora?” Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Lisa and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars & Film on her portfolio here

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