64th Annual Cannes Film Festival: Awards Highlights

The 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival concluded yesterday with the announcement of all of the awards winners. You can read the full list here. So what do the Cannes Film Festival Awards tell us about the year in film? A few things that aren't necessarily relevant to the "Oscar Season."

For starters, the panel of voters is made up of film industry professionals. These could be actors, directors, cinematographers, screenwriters--anyone with a significant role in the production of film. This means that the films that win somehow appeal to a microcosm of the actual film industry, rather than film critics. Film critics don't decide the big awards shows, film professionals do.

Also, while the selection of films in any given category at Cannes represents an international and hand-selected approach to exciting new films, the awards themselves are still a sign of quality. Say what you will about the content of a film like Antichrist; it is hard to ignore the caliber of Charlotte Gainsbourg's Cannes-award-winning performance in that feature. These might not be the films that a wide audience is drawn to, but they are worthy of recognition nonetheless.

There is another point of interest regarding these awards. If a film that might have gotten a tiny little one weekend and done release does well at Cannes and wins an award, it might be enough to push that film into wider international distribution. That can be the difference between seeing a film in theater or on DVD.

So who are some of the significant winners and what do we know about them without spoilers?

Palm d'or: The Tree of Life

The Palm d'or is the grand prize of the festival. It signifies the best film competing In Competition. The Tree of Life is director Terrence Malick's newest film. Malick spends years working on each of his films, making a new release an event. The film was strongly reviewed and stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. It is a multi-generational rumination on family and innocence that jumps between time.

Grand Prix: Tie: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and The Kid with a Bike

Grand Prix is the second biggest prize of the festival for films In Competition. This year, two films tied. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a Turkish drama. The Kid with a Bike from directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is a Belgian drama about a boy befriending a woman after his father abandons him.

Award for Best Director: Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive

Drive is an American action-drama about a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman. It stars Ryan Gosling, Carrie Mulligan, and Bryan Cranston. It's seems unusual to see an action director take this award in a festival that has a reputation for honoring quiet meditative films with some element of shock value. However, the Best Director prize often goes to more bombastic efforts in regards to content, visuals, or subject matter. It'll be interesting to see how this impacts the marketing for Drive in America.

Award for Best Actor: Jean Dujardin in The Artist

The Artist seems like a really interesting film. It's about the transition from silent film to audio film told through the relationship between declining of a silent film star (Dujardin) and the rising of a talkie film starlet.

Award for Best Actress: Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia

Melancholia is the new Lars von Trier film that resulted in the unfortunate Nazi jokes and subsequent lifetime ban from Cannes. That is a shame for many reasons. In particular the man knows how to get the best of his actresses. Kirsten Dunst is his third female star to win the Cannes Award for Best Actress, following Bjork for Dancer in the Dark and Charlotte Gainsbourg for Antichrist. Melancholia concerns the possible end of the world by earth crashing into a previously undiscovered coinciding with Dunst's wedding night.

Will any of these films pan out for further awards recognition? It's hard to tell. Cannes does something strange in that a film can only win one award. It's possible, then, that The Tree of Life could be a better directed film with a better leading actor performance than Drive or The Artist. Kirsten Dunst might pale in comparison to Cecille de France in The Kid with a Bike. We just don't know.

The Cannes winners are, for now, best used as a guide to some potentially strong films that might get better distribution based on the prestige of this festival.