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May 20, 2015

The best and worst ever films at Cannes

Pulp Fiction cast at Cannes Film FestivalAs the weather cools and the faces become ever more haggard, it’s clear that we’re past the midpoint of the Cannes Film Festival. The reviews are in for about half of the selected ‘In Competition’ films at Cannes and speculation is rife about who will win the coveted Palme d’Or.  

To mark this moment, I have looked back at what film audiences and critics made of past nominees and winners. In summary;

  • Pulp Fiction is the highest scoring film with audiences to ever have played in Cannes
  • Pan’s Labyrinth is the best reviewed Cannes-nominated film ever.
  • The worst Cannes nominated film, according to audiences, was Utomlyonnye solntsem 2: Predstoyanie
  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me received an average Metascore of just 28 out of 100
  • The film with the lowest critics’ rating to win a Palme d’Or was Wild At Heart (dir. David Lynch)
  • Mr Turner has to biggest difference between the views of film critics and audiences

The audience’s favorite films at Cannes

Pulp Fiction is the best of the films at CannesI have used the IMDb user scores as a proxy for audience opinion (see here for a breakdown of IMDb voters). Pulp Fiction is the highest scoring film to ever have played ‘In competition’ in Cannes.

Six of the top 20 Cannes-nominated films won a Palme d’Or.  As some films at Cannes on this list were shortlisted in the same year, the maximum number that could have won is 16.

Cannes nominated films with the highest IMDb user ratings (out of 10)

 FilmCannes resultIMDb rating
1Pulp Fiction1994 Won Palme d'Or8.9
2Flashback1969 Nominated8.7
3Harakiri1963 Nominated8.6
4The Man Who Planted Trees1987 Nominated8.6
5Life Is Beautiful1998 Nominated8.6
6Le Trou1960 Nominated8.5
7Forest of the Hanged1965 Nominated8.5
8Apocalypse Now1979 Won Palme d'Or8.5
9Cinema Paradiso1989 Nominated8.5
10The Pianist2002 Won Palme d'Or8.5
11All About Eve1951 Nominated8.4
12Macario1960 Nominated8.4
13Pour la suite du monde1963 Nominated8.4
14To Kill a Mockingbird1963 Nominated8.4
15Woman in the Dunes1964 Nominated8.4
16Taxi Driver1976 Won Palme d'Or8.4
17Repentance1987 Nominated8.4
18Oldboy2004 Nominated8.4
19Winter Sleep2014 Won Palme d'Or8.4
20The Third Man1949 Won Palme d'Or8.3

Film critics’ favorite films at Cannes

95% of film criticsPan's Labyrinth gave Pan’s Labyrinth a positive write-up (a Metascore of 98), making it the best reviewed Cannes-nominated film ever.

However, it was beaten to the 1996 Palme d’Or by The Wind That Shakes The Barley, which received a Metascore of 82.

Cannes nominated films with the highest Metascore (out of 100)

 FilmCannes resultMetascore
1Pan's Labyrinth2006 Nominated98
24 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days2007 Won Palme d'Or97
3Rififi1955 Nominated97
4Mr. Turner2014 Nominated94
5Amour2012 Won Palme d'Or94
6Pulp Fiction1994 Won Palme d'Or94
7Days of Heaven1979 Nominated93
8La Dolce Vita1960 Won Palme d'Or93
9Taxi Driver1976 Won Palme d'Or93
10The Class2008 Won Palme d'Or92
11Inside Llewyn Davis2013 Nominated92
12Leviathan2014 Nominated92
13Beauty and the Beast1946 Nominated92
14Yi Yi2000 Nominated92
15The Diving Bell and the Butterfly2007 Nominated92
16Umberto D.1952 Nominated92
17Timbuktu2014 Nominated91
18Do the Right Thing1989 Nominated91
19Secrets & Lies1996 Won Palme d'Or91
20Waltz with Bashir2008 Nominated91

Audience turkeys

Burnt By The Sun 2 one of the worst films at CannesIMDb users really dislike Utomlyonnye solntsem 2: Predstoyanie (aka “Burnt By The Sun 2”), awarding it just 4.1 out of 10.  It’s impossible to know for sure why it was shortlisted in Cannes at all, but it may have something to do with the fact that is was the sequel to the 1994 Cannes Grand Prize winner, Utomlyonnye solntsem.  The Grand Prize is often seen as the second place award in Cannes, after the Palme d’Or, and was only one of a number of awards the original film won, including Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

The sequel was hugely anticipated and had the largest production budget ever for a Russian film ($55 million).  Despite this, it became Russia’s biggest box office flop, receiving negative reviews from critics both in Russia and abroad.

Cannes nominated films with the lowest IMDb user ratings (out of 10)

 FilmCannes resultIMDb rating
1Utomlyonnye solntsem 2: Predstoyanie2010 Nominated4.1
2Les côtelettes2003 Nominated4.9
3The Brown Bunny2003 Nominated5.0
4Cosmopolis2012 Nominated5.0
5Modesty Blaise1966 Nominated5.2
6Charlie Says2006 Nominated5.2
7Sleeping Beauty2011 Nominated5.3
8The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat1974 Nominated5.4
9The Flesh1991 Nominated5.5
10Splitting Heirs1993 Nominated5.5
11Southland Tales2006 Nominated5.5
12Miles from Home1988 Nominated5.6
13The End of Violence1997 Nominated5.6
14A Castle in Italy2013 Nominated5.6
15Beneath the 12-Mile Reef1954 Nominated5.7
16The Appointment1969 Nominated5.7
17A Stranger Among Us1992 Nominated5.7
18Jefferson in Paris1995 Nominated5.7
19Battle in Heaven2005 Nominated5.7
20Last Days2005 Nominated5.7

The films the critics hated

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me received an average Metascore of just 28 out of 100 and only 62% of critics gave it a positive review (for context, last year’s derided Cannes flop Lost River (dir. Ryan Gosling) received a score of 42). Of Twin Peaks film the New York Times said “The film appears to be an undifferentiated mess of story lines and hallucinations. There’s no reason to care which is which. Even Mr. Lynch’s eccentric touches become boring. The jokes are stillborn”.

The film with the lowest critics’ rating to win a Palme d’Or was the 1990 Nicolas Cage classic Wild At Heart (dir. David Lynch), which received 52 out of 100 from critics.

Cannes nominated films with the lowest Metascore (out of 100)

 FilmCannes resultMetascore
1Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with MeNominated 199228
28 ½ WomenNominated 199936
3The CaptiveNominated 201436
4KedmaNominated 200236
5Fast Food Fast WomenNominated 200036
6Only God ForgivesNominated 201337
7The SearchNominated 201437
8Fear and Loathing in Las VegasNominated 199841
9Southland TalesNominated 200644
10KikujiroNominated 199944
11Jefferson in ParisNominated 199545
12The PaperboyNominated 201245
13BlindnessNominated 200845
14Esther KahnNominated 200046
15ManderlayNominated 200546
16Spring FeverNominated 200947
17CrashNominated 199647
18Where the Truth LiesNominated 200547
19The IdiotsNominated 199847
20IncantatoNominated 200348

When critics and audiences disagree

Twin Peaks is one of the films at CannesIn the past, I’ve measured the similarities and differences between how film audiences and critics judge the films at Cannes (stephenfollows.com/do-film-critics-and-audiences-agree).  The average IMDb user score was 7.07 and the Metascore average was 72.9 out of 100.

The Cannes films audiences loved but critics loathed

 FilmCannes resultMetascoreIMDb UsersDifference
1Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me1992 Nominated287.244
2Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas1998 Nominated417.736
3Kikujiro1999 Nominated447.935
4The Search2014 Nominated376.831
5Fast Food Fast Women2000 Nominated366.529
6Manderlay2005 Nominated467.428
7Life Is Beautiful1998 Nominated598.627
8Kedma2002 Nominated366.024
9The Captive2014 Nominated365.923
10Irreversible2002 Nominated517.423
118 ½ Women1999 Nominated365.822
12The Idiots1998 Nominated476.922
13Blindness2008 Nominated456.621
14Esther Kahn2000 Nominated466.721
15Dogville2003 Nominated598.021
16Wild at Heart1990 Won Palme d'Or527.321
17Only God Forgives2013 Nominated375.720
18Incantato2003 Nominated486.820
19The Hudsucker Proxy1994 Nominated537.320
20Falling Down1993 Nominated567.620

The Cannes films critics loved but audiences loathed

 FilmCannes resultMetascoreIMDb UsersDifference
1Mr. Turner2014 Nominated947.024
2Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives2010 Won Palme d'Or876.621
3Timbuktu2014 Nominated917.318
44 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days2007 Won Palme d'Or977.918
5The Tree of Life2011 Won Palme d'Or856.718
6Vincere2009 Nominated856.817
7Gomorrah2008 Nominated877.017
8Inside Llewyn Davis2013 Nominated927.517
9The Class2008 Won Palme d'Or927.517
10The Headless Woman2008 Nominated816.516
11Paranoid Park2007 Nominated836.716
12Alexandra2007 Nominated856.916
13I'm Going Home2001 Nominated867.016
14Amour2012 Won Palme d'Or947.816
15Goodbye to Language2014 Nominated756.015
16Two Days One Night2014 Nominated897.415
17Rififi1955 Nominated978.215
18Pan's Labyrinth2006 Nominated988.315
19Service2008 Nominated766.214
20The Last Mistress2007 Nominated786.414

Notes

Data for today’s research came from the official Cannes festival site, IMDb and Metascore.

When reading today’s research, please consider the following notes… 

  • Cannes changes – In this article I have used the shorthand of referring to all films winning the main prize at Cannes Film Festival as having won the Palme d’Or.  In fact, the official name of the top prize in Cannes has changed over the years…
    • 1939 to 1954 – Grand Prix du Festival International du Film
    • 1995 to 1963 – Palme d’Or
    • 1964 to 1973 – Grand Prix du Festival
    • 1974 to date – Palme d’Or
  • Coping with few user ratings – For the research referencing IMDb user ratings, I excluded films at Cannes with fewer than 300 user ratings so that a small number of votes wouldn’t skew the results. This number is somewhat arbitrary as there is no objective measure of ‘enough’ votes. This criteria did not affect any films on the ‘highest scoring’ films table, but did exclude a number of films on the ‘lowest scoring’ table. All of these excluded films were released before the year 2000.
  • Missing Metascores – Not all films at Cannes have been reviewed by modern critics and therefore included in the Metascore. Looking back to all Cannes-nominated films since 1939, only 23% have a Metascore, however that number rises to 78% for films in Cannes between 2000-15 and 100% for films in Cannes in 2014.

Epilogue

The more I look into the films that have been nominated in Cannes, the more it brings home how political major film awards are.  My research earlier this year into the Oscars showed just how much time, effort and (most importantly) money hollywood ploughs into award season.  Cannes may have a more sophisticated air than the Oscars, but behind the scenes it’s all just politics.

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3 Responses

  1. Mark Pope May 25, 2015 at 11:37 pm #

    Politics and PR. Since you are using IMDB ratings as being valid for audience opinion, I would like to see you do a study of these ratings. Particularly the normal shape of the distribution curve for ratings from 1 to 10. I would like to see your analysis of the possible reason(s) when the curves take a completely different shape for certain films. I have noticed a strong trend in the pattern of the ratings for percent of each number from 1-10, the “distribution curve for ratings”. A curved shape that is closely replicated time after time for almost all films, even Les côtelettes which you found to have the second lowest IMDB ratings of all Cannes films you considered. One of this year’s important and controversial Cannes films, The Lobster, with an average “weighted” rating of 8.7 and an arithmetic mean of 8.2, breaks that pattern more than any film I have looked at, and to the larges degree. IMDB says “IMDb publishes weighted vote averages rather than raw data averages. Various filters are applied to the raw data in order to eliminate and reduce attempts at ‘vote stuffing’ by individuals more interested in changing the current rating of a movie than giving their true opinion of it. The exact methods we use will not be disclosed. This should ensure that the policy remains effective. The result is a more accurate vote average.” Let’s hope it is more effective at weeding out vote stuffing than Yelp’s algorithm is. At least with Yelp you can see how many votes are not counted. With IMDB I am not sure how they get the total number of IMDB user vote count as the numbers do not come close to adding up. Is the difference the votes that were deemed to be phony?

    With over 250 ratings so far, it is unlikely that the shape of this curve will change dramatically when 300 people have voted. The Lobster has 55% of the raters giving it a perfect 10 rating, an unheard of percentage. Pulp Fiction only has a 40% perfect 10 rating percentage. The 2 IMDB staff that rated it gave it a 5. The 15 “Top 1000” voters that rated it gave it an average 8.5. The 18 aged 30-44 female voters gave it an average 6.6. The metascore from critics is 83/100 with two critics giving it a 60/100. The discrepancy in these numbers are very suspicious for even the best regarded of films. The shape of its distribution curve for ratings is completely different from any other film I know of. It is an unusual film to have four times as many ratings from men as from women, unless it is a very violent film like Pulp Fiction, and an average of almost 1 point higher rating from men as from women. Is this tampered voting or did the Cannes award skew the results with so few people “mainstream” people seeing it do far? I don’t know. It would be nice to see a study of how Cannes awards affect the ratings votes early on for art-house films as well as root out the possibility that some PR firm hired people in some low wage countries, the vast majority of the raters were not in the USA, to skew the ratings.

    I would like to see you write an article about the ethics of the conflict of interest inherent in Public Relations firms failing to disclose that they are hiring newspaper film critics to write reviews for their filmmaker/distributor clients and hiring the same people to write articles about the same film festivals these clients are in competition at, while also having those same film festivals as PR clients. I don’t feel a PR firm should represent a film festival and Sony Pictures Corp with a film screening at that festival at the same time much less that a film critic should write film reviews for hire for PR firms for the same publications that pay them for reviews, without full disclosure.

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