Cannes' Sorry Record With Oscar

Peter Iovino/The Weinstein Co.
'The Artist'

Think the foreign-language category is the best match with the fest? Think again.

It’s become conventional wisdom that Cannes means zilch when it comes to Oscar. But is it true?

Look back at the past 10 years, and you’ll see that the Cannes-Oscar relationship is more complicated — and at times more unpredictable — than you might think.

First of all, let’s admit it: If you win the Palme d’Or (the festival’s top award), you might as well abandon all hope of taking home that little golden man. Which is bad news for some of the most prominent English-language titles competing for the Palme this month, including Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, Todd HaynesCarol and Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth.

Over the past decade, not a single Palmaire has gone on to capture the best picture Oscar, and only one Palme winner has even been nominated in the best-picture category: Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011).

Surprisingly, Cannes hasn’t had a great track record in the foreign-language category over the past decade, either. 

Three Palme winners in that timeframe were also nominated for a foreign-language Oscar — Laurent Cantet’s The Class (2008), Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012) and that same director’s The White Ribbon (2009). Amour was the sole Oscar winner.

You’d think that might be because the Academy’s arcane rules only allow each country to submit one film, which in the past has excluded some Palme winners from contention; but four other Palme honorees were chosen to represent their home countries and still failed to get nominated: the Dardenne brothers’ The Child (Belgium); Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Romania); Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand); and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep (Turkey).

Two recent Palme winners were ineligible for a foreign-language Oscar because they were shot in English: Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Malick’s Tree of Life. Another high-profile contender, Blue Is the Warmest Color, didn’t qualify to be the French entry because it was released too late in the year to meet the Academy’s deadline.

Where Cannes and the Academy have overlapped the most, surprisingly, has been in the actor arena, and not just for Anglo-centric performances. In fact, only one Cannes winner who also got nominated for an acting Oscar in the past 10 years was "Anglo-Saxon," as the French like to refer to the English-speaking community: Bruce Dern (Nebraska).

Four of Cannes’ best actor honorees in the past decade have been nominated for an Oscar, and two of them have gone on to win: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) and Jean Dujardin (The Artist). Javier Bardem was also Oscar-nominated (for Biutiful), but — like Dern — didn’t win.

If that bodes well for some of the actors at Cannes this year, the actresses might as well give up right now. Penelope Cruz was the only Palme winner in the past decade also to be nominated for an Oscar (for Volver). By contrast, none of the five actresses who shared the Cannes award with her for the same film received a nomination.