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From “Dumbo” to “Pulp Fiction”: 70 Years of American Palmes d’Or

Today marks the kick-off of the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. It is an opportunity to revisit the 22 American films that have been awarded the Grand Prize or the Palme d’Or since the festival’s inauguration in 1939.

Initially, the highest award granted by the festival was called “Grand Prize of the International Film Festival.” But in 1954, the event’s organizers chose the palm, the emblem of the city of Cannes and a reference to the palm trees of la Croisette, as a symbol of the festival and of the prize awarded to the winning film each year.

1939: “Union Pacific” by Cecil B. DeMille
In this epic about the construction of the transcontinental railroad, Cecil B. DeMille gives the western genre a former glory, in a similar style to Stagecoach by John Ford.


1946: “The Lost Weekend” by Billy Wilder
With Delbert Mann’s Marty, this film noir in homage to Raymond Chandler is the only film to have won both the Oscar for Best Picture and the Palme d’or.


1947: “Ziegfeld Follies” by Vincent Minnelli, Best Musical
This musical comedy celebrated the burlesque shows of the same name produced on Broadway by Florenz Ziegfeld. The cast includes Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.


1947: “Dumbo” by Walt Disney, Best Animation Design
Originally designed as a low-budget flick, the fourth film from Disney Studios is now seen as one of the leading U.S. animated movies.


1947: “Crossfire” by Edward Dmytryk, category Best Social Film
Robert Mitchum plays a veteran who investigates an anti-Semitic killing after World War II. The director accurately portrayal the difficulties of readapting to civilian life.


1952: “The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice” by Orson Welles
Orson Welles directs and stars in this renowned adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy. A copy of the film reel is kept at the Cinémathèque française in Paris.


1955: “Marty” by Delbert Mann
With Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, this drama is the only film to have been awarded both the Oscar for Best Picture and the Palme d’or.


1958: “Friendly Persuasion” by William Wyler
This was Ronald Reagan’s favorite film, and the former president supposedly gave a VHS copy to Mikhail Gorbatchev in 1988. Gary Cooper plays a father tormented by his experience in the American Civil War.


1970: “MASH” by Robert Altman
Robert Altman’s depiction of the tragi-comic experiences of staff at an American field hospital during the Korean War inspired smiles in audiences distressed by the Vietnam War at the time.


1973: “Scarecrow” by Jerry Schatzberg
Al Pacino and Gene Hackman star as a duo of vagabonds in this road-movie drama positioned somewhere between Of Mice and Men and Laurel and Hardy.


1974: “The Conversation” by Francis Ford Coppola
Gene Hackman takes on the role of a telephone surveillance expert in this post-Watergate thriller that earned Coppola the first Palme d’or of his career.


1976: “Taxi Driver” by Martin Scorsese
Robert de Niro entered into the cinema hall of fame and Martin Scorsese received the Palme d’or personally from Tennessee Williams — accompanied by boos from an audience shocked by the film’s violence.


1979: “Apocalypse Now” by Francis Ford Coppola
A second Palme d’or for Coppola, who is still the only American to have received the festival’s ultimate award twice.


1980: “All That Jazz” by Bob Fosse
Bob Fosse, who created the burlesque show Chicago in 1975, drew inspiration from his career as a dancer, choreographer and director to make this musical comedy.


1982: “Missing” by Costa-Gavras
Actor Jack Lemmon plays the father of an American journalist killed during the 1973 Chilean coup d’état, and his performance earned him the Award for Best Actor.


1989: “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” by Steven Soderbergh
This comedy drama confirmed Steven Soderbergh’s reputation, and joined the collection at the Library of Congress, which judged the film to be “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.”


1990: “Wild at Heart” by David Lynch
Finished the day before its preview showing, the movie arrived in Cannes via plane, tucked in David Lynch’s carry-on baggage.


1991: “Barton Fink” by Joel Coen
The film was a box-office failure, but saw Joel Cohen shoot to success. The U.S. film-maker won the Award for Best Director, while John Turturro received the Award for Best Actor.


1994: “Pulp Fiction” by Quentin Tarantino
In keeping with the director’s aesthetic, shady cinemas and B-movies, the film was screened at midnight. The audience loved it.


2003: “Elephant” by Gus Van Sant
This independent movie “raises the profile of this festival as a place for films charged with a need to shock the status quo,” wrote The New York Times.


2004: “Fahrenheit 9/11” by Michael Moore
Michael Moore’s polemical movie takes a direct shot at the Bush administration, and received a 20-minute standing ovation after its screening in Cannes.


2011: “The Tree of Life” by Terrence Malick
The shy, introverted director did not attend the film’s screening, and send two of his producers to the awards ceremony!

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