It wouldn’t be too apt to call the Coen brothers the Kings of the Croisette or anything. They have amassed five awards at the Cannes Film Festival throughout their career, but Lars Von Trier, the Dardenne brothers, Michael Haneke and, certainly, Ken Loach have all won more.
However, with today’s announcement of awards at the 66th annual fest, the filmmaker siblings did enter a bit of rare air with their latest film, “Inside Llewyn Davis”: Joel Coen joined Haneke and Wim Wenders as the only filmmakers to have netted a Palme d’Or, a Grand Prix and a Best Director award at the festival. A few have won two of the three, from Buñuel to Clouzot* to Antonioni* to Altman (and Malick, too), but only Haneke, Wenders and now Coen have scored the hat trick.
Here’s a look back at the Coen brothers’ history with Cannes…
The first time the Coens found themselves in Competition was at the 44th annual fest in 1991, and things couldn’t have gone any better. The film was “Barton Fink” (one of my personal favorites from the Coens along with 2009’s “A Serious Man”), and the awards were plenty. It picked up the Palme d’Or in a rare unanimous decision from Roman Polanski’s jury (which also included actress Whoopi Goldberg, filmmaker Alan Parker, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and composer Vaneglis). But the love didn’t stop there. The film truly dominated the top honors as Joel Coen won Best Director and John Turturro won Best Actor.
In 1994 “The Hudsucker Proxy” was in Competition but went home empty-handed. 1996’s “Fargo” would be the next Coen film to land an award at the festival, with big brother Joel winning Best Director yet again. As for the Palme, the film yielded to eventual fellow Best Picture nominee “Secrets & Lies” from director Mike Leigh. Francis Ford Coppola was the jury president, joined by actress Greta Scacchi, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, filmmaker Atom Egoyan and costume designer Eiko Ishioka, among others.
“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” played in Competition four years later, though unlike “Hudsucker,” it would walk away from the year with a little bit of Oscar recognition (for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography). But a year later, the Coens would be back in the fray with 2001’s “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” Liv Ullmann’s jury (featuring actresses Charlotte Gainsbourg and Julia Ormond as well as filmmakers Terry Gilliam and Edward Yang) ended up torn on Best Director between Joel Coen and “Mulholland Dr.” helmer David Lynch. So they conceded a tie. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” didn’t make a lot of noise outside of cinematography notices during the awards season, but Lynch went on to a Best Director Oscar nomination. This was, however, the year Coen broke René Clément, Sergei Yutkevich and Robert Bresson’s shared record for Best Director wins at Cannes, a record he still holds.
There wasn’t much to write home about when 2004’s “The Ladykillers” played in Competition, though actress Irma P. Hall was afforded a special commendation by Quentin Tarantino’s jury in the form of a Jury Prize. Three years later, “No Country for Old Men” made a big impact on the landscape, though not on Stephen Frears’s jury; the group, featuring actresses Maggie Cheung, Toni Collette and Sarah Polley, snubbed it entirely. However, that wouldn’t phase the film and its dedicated awards push come Oscar season. The buzz was properly bottled and manipulated until the fall when the film scooped up critics award after critics award en route to Best Picture and Best Director wins at the Oscars.
And now, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” It’s probably the biggest story coming out of the festival this year as far as those of us with an eye toward awards season are concerned. Steven Spielberg’s jury (featuring the likes of filmmakers Ang Lee, Christian Mungiu and Lynne Ramsay, as well as actors Christoph Waltz and Nicole Kidman) handed the film the second place prize — the Grand Prix — rounding out the siblings’ three big honors over the years and putting them in the company of Michael Haneke and Wim Wenders in that regard. But it has angles on the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay races, to say nothing of the crafts departments.
As Greg Ellwood pointed out in his analysis of Oscar players coming out of the fest, CBS Films will be particular with this one, and superstar campaigner Terry Press (the former DreamWorks publicity maven who also had a hand in last year’s “Lincoln” push), along with the Coens’ producer, Scott Rudin, will certainly be gunning for recognition in the season. If the history of the Coens and Cannes awards are any indication, they should find their way to at least a few categories.
We’ll see how it shakes out when the season hits in a few months time. The film will likely travel to the Telluride and Toronto fests to stoke the flames a bit more, but for now, it’s secured a unique place for the Coens in the history o the Cannes Film Festival.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is set for limited release on December 6.
*Clouzot won the Special Jury Prize for “The Mystery of Picasso” in 1956, while Antonioni won the Jury Prize for “L’avventura” in 1960 and the Special Jury Prize for “L’eclisse” in 1962. Prior to the creation of the Grand Prix in 1967, these awards served as “second place” honors at the festival.