The Cannes Film Festival is the most prestigious event of its kind the entire world over. The festival’s top prize – the Palme d’Or, or “Golden Palm” – is perhaps the highest honor given out in the film industry when all is said and done. Frequently likened to a “Nobel Prize for Film,” the Palm d’Or recognizes the very best of international filmmaking, and has been won by films as diverse as Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013), The Tree of Life (2011), Pulp Fiction (1994), Kagemusha (1980), Apocalypse Now (1979), Taxi Driver (1976), The Conversation (1974) and MASH (1970).
However, it’s not just independent, arthouse and international oddities that compete for (and win) this prestigious honor. Sometimes, some real unusual fare makes its way into the festival. From Hollywood blockbusters to trippy genre flicks, these are some of the strangest movies to ever make an appearance at the Cannes Film Festival.
Deathproof (2007) – One of the greatest movies that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing in theaters was Grindhouse (2007), the Quentin Tarantino / Robert Rodriguez schlocky, lowbrow, double-billed “genre” movie that came with a suite of comedic, fake trailers between them (some of which, like Machete and Hobo with a Shotgun, actually went on to become feature length movies in their own right). I often get a lot of flack for saying this, but that movie was easily one of the best things about that year in movies (and, if I’m being honest for myself, mostly for the unsung brilliance that was Rodriguez’s half of the movie, Planet Terror). But Tarantino understandably has a lot of pull at these kind of film festivals and was able to convince somebody to let him compete with his half of the double feature months after it debuted stateside. I still can’t believe that anybody in the film intelligencia agreed to let him do it, but I am ecstatic that they ultimately did.
Godzilla (1998) – Remember that awful American Godzilla remake that had Matthew Broderick ogling an enormous pile of dead fish? You know the one… it had those awkwardly inserted Siskel and Ebert stand-ins that the writers managed to sneak in as revenge for all of the bad reviews the duo gave their previous terrible movies? Remember all of the protracted chases, forced character dynamics and nonsensical humor that the movie was bloated with? Remember how it showed up at the world’s most exclusive film festival? Well… it did (for some God-forsaken reason), and it’ll never not bring a smile to my face for doing so.
Kung Fu Panda (2008) – The film community – and the French in particular – have a certain reputation for being snobs: for turning their noses on popular or family-friendly entertainment and focuses exclusively on the most obscure, obtuse and all-around boring movies out there – movies that “ordinary” moviegoers neither see nor even want to see in the first place. And while founded in some kernel of truth, it’s fair to say that popular favorites like Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction and MASH not only competing at Cannes, but winning it outright, complicate that snobs v slobs narrative somewhat. And the fact that Dreamworks has often had a place at the Festival, and for no less than a child-centered kung fu movie about an overweight, anthropomorphic panda voiced by Jack Black, perhaps there’s more to the people running this festival than people typically give them credit for.
The Nice Guys (2016) – I will never pass up a chance to talk about The Nice Guys. What was easily one of the best – and hands down the most criminally underrated – movie(s) of 2016 deserves far better than it got from the filmgoing public. An equal parts crass and classic buddy cop neo noir action flick, starring Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe, from the bewildering mind of Shane Black, there was pretty much no way that this could possibly have whiffed with audiences (or, at least, with the audiences that actually showed up to see it in theaters). It’s essentially a reworking and massive improvement on Black’s earlier Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), which paired up Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, and the perfect version of the exact kind of R-rated genre sendup it was trying to be.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) – With as much guff as Hollywood gets about superhero movies these days, it’s hard to imagine that one of them actually premiered alongside some filmic heavyweights as Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Babel (2006) and eventual Palm winner The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006). And yet it most certainly did, alongside such also-headscratching movies like Clerks II (2006) and The DaVinci Code (2006). What’s more is that this is justly considered the hands down worst of the franchise (sorry / not-sorry X-Men: Origins: Wolverine, which at least had the distinction of being a fun movie to watch), which kind of makes it doubly surprising. Granted, it was screened out-of-competition, but getting to that revered stage is half of the battle, and it’s something of a miracle that it managed to appear there at all.