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Neon’s Five Palme d’Or Winners, Ranked

It wasn’t that long ago that the Palme d’Or didn’t mean much to the average moviegoer. Sure, it’s the top prize at the world’s most prestigious film festival, but the Cannes award didn’t necessarily translate into major box office—or even serious consideration during Oscar season. There have been exceptions, of course—“Pulp Fiction” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” immediately spring to mind—but in general, the arty winners would appeal to cinephiles and not the mainstream, which was too bad for the mainstream.

Recently, though, that’s changed, in large part thanks to an unexpected (and unprecedented) streak: The last five Palme d’Or winners, including this year’s, have all been distributed by Neon in the U.S. In fact, Neon picked them up before their Cannes victory, sensing their commercial potential along with their creative achievement. Alongside A24 and MUBI, the New York-based company is one of the hippest arthouse studios around: When Neon puts out a film, it’s basically a stamp of approval that you ought to check it out. Not every one of their Palme d’Or films has gone on to be a massive hit, but having five straight wins is, nonetheless, incredibly impressive. 

In honor of victory No. 5—Sean Baker’s “Anora” won this past weekend—I decided to rank all five of their Palme wins. To be clear, all of these are good movies worth seeking out, but I was curious where “Anora” stacked up alongside three Best Picture nominees (including one Best Picture win) and one of the freakiest French exports of recent years. Remember: Cannes didn’t have a 2020 edition because of COVID-19, so this list encompasses 2019 to the present.  

5. “Titane” (2021)

Body-horror was big at this year’s Cannes thanks to “The Substance,” writer-director Coralie Fargeat’s nervy satire of Hollywood superficiality. That movie’s go-for-broke weirdness called to mind another French filmmaker whose sophomore effort similarly rocked the festival, writer-director Julia Ducournau’s “Titane,” which told the story of Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), a troubled young serial killer who goes into hiding, disguising herself as a boy who went missing a decade ago. The boy’s father (Vincent Lindon) is grateful to reunite with him, leading to a twisted tale of masculinity and kinky vehicular occurrences. Ducournau’s follow-up to her unsettling cannibal horror film “Raw” is a bigger swing and not always successful. Still, its audacious strangeness won over the Cannes jury led by Spike Lee—and gave Lindon one of his finest roles as a grieving, aging father who thinks he’s finally gotten his son back. Clearly, Neon wants to stay in the Ducournau business: The company will be teaming up again with the writer-director for her next feature, a “genre-defying” project called “Alpha.”

4. “Anora” (2024)

In 2017, Sean Baker launched “The Florida Project” in Directors’ Fortnight. Four years later, he was in the Cannes Official Competition for “Red Rocket.” This year, he returned to the Competition with a film whose plot was under wraps until right before the festival. “Anora” is hardly the first time he’s chronicled the lives of sex workers—don’t forget “Starlet” and “Tangerine”—but it might be his most compassionate and layered examination, starring Mikey Madison as the title character, an exotic dancer who thinks she’s hit the jackpot once she seduces and marries a rich Russian (Mark Eydelshteyn). What follows is a screwball adventure in which anything that can go wrong does. But Baker never loses sight of Anora’s precarious financial situation—and, by extension, how she represents the struggles of all society’s have-nots. (The film’s crowd-pleasing fun eventually gives way to a crushing ending that leaves you replaying everything you’ve seen in a completely different light.) When Baker won the Palme d’Or, he dedicated the victory to sex workers past and present—and his next film will be about that same topic.

3. “Anatomy of a Fall” (2023)

Did he fall, or was he pushed? That question bedeviled viewers of Oscar-winning filmmaker Justine Triet’s thriller, in which Sandra Hüller’s enigmatic author goes on trial for the death of her suicidal husband (Samuel Theis). “Anatomy of a Fall” puts its main character under a similar microscope, tracing a failing marriage and the exasperating expectations put on professional women. The movie, which became an awards-season favorite, was soon beloved for its adorable lead dog Messi and its hunky supporting actors Swann Arlaud and Antoine Reinartz. But at its core, “Anatomy of a Fall” is a disquieting study of the thin lines between love and hate—and guilt and innocence. Hüller deservedly became a household name in the process—between this film and “The Zone of Interest,” which premiered at the same Cannes, she arguably had the best 2023 of any actor. 

2. “Triangle of Sadness” (2022)

Ruben Östlund has won the Palme d’Or twice, and his second victory was for this one-percenter satire about the filthy-rich passengers on a luxury cruise who are headed on a journey toward disaster. Though often dismissed as a smug takedown of the wealthy, “Triangle of Sadness” is a dark, angry, and insidious fable about how money and power poison every situation—whether it’s the uneasy romantic relationship between struggling model Carl (Harris Dickinson) and popular influencer Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) or the topsy-turvy leadership dynamics that occur once the boat’s survivors have to fend for themselves on an island. Such is the movie’s subversiveness that its best performance fully emerges in its final third, when Dolly de Leon shines as Abigail, a lowly cleaning lady who eventually finds herself calling the shots. Full of anarchic spirit and a seething rage, “Triangle of Sadness” keeps expanding its scope, leading to an upsetting, unresolved ending that keenly undercuts the good-natured humor that came before.

1. “Parasite” (2019)

It was a year in which “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” were serious competition for the Palme d’Or. But in the end, the jury of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, led by Alejandro González Iñárritu, was in agreement: The deserving winner was Bong Joon Ho’s seventh feature, a dark comedy about economic inequality that catapulted him into the mainstream. “Parasite” follows the impoverished Kim family, who worm their way into the good graces of the wealthy Park family, serving as tutors, chauffeurs, and therapists for the Parks, who have no idea that the help is all related to one another. Miraculously, Bong merged the darker humor of his previous work with a haunting exploration of how happiness is elusive for people of all social classes. The movie’s Cannes triumph paved the way for the awards that would follow—including the first Best Picture Oscar for a film not in the English language—but it also kicked open the door for international (a.k.a. “foreign”) cinema to be big business in the States, becoming a legit blockbuster. “Parasite” started Neon’s Cannes winning streak, which it continues to build on. 

Tim Grierson

Tim Grierson is the Senior U.S. Critic for Screen International

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