As well as being gratifying in and of itself, Thursday’s Best Picture Oscar nomination for Michael Haneke’s “Amour” is immensely pleasing to Oscar stat geeks, who can count up the many ways in which it breaks form in the top category: the first foreign-language nominee since 2006’s “Letters from Iwo Jima,” the first non-US foreign-language nominee since 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” the first French-language nominee since 1969’s “Z,” only the ninth foreign-language nominee overall, etc, etc.
But the stat we’ve picked up on today relates back to the start of its awards journey, where it won arguably the loftiest film award of all: the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It scarcely needs to be stated that Cannes and the Oscars occupy very different worlds, so their respective favorites rarely overlap — but “Amour” now becomes only the 16th Palme d’Or winner to convert that prestige into a Best Picture nomination. (Okay, not strictly, given that a few films on the list actually went to Cannes after Oscar night, but the overlap is the point.)
Moreover, to return to a theme you may have picked up in the first paragraph, “Amour” is the first foreign-language Palme d’Or winner to crack the Academy’s top race — 11 of the films on this exclusive list are American, with others boasting British, New Zealand or mixed European heritage.
Excitingly, “Amour” is the second straight Palme d’Or winner to make the Oscar crossover, after Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” also edged its way into the top race — that both these challenging arthouse prospects made it in speaks well of the recently elastic format of the Best Picture category, and is an encouraging sign for future Cannes winners that leave the festival with equivalent critical buzz.
Looking beyond the Palme d’Or, last year’s Best Picture winner “The Artist” premiered in Competition at Cannes (and won Best Actor for eventual Oscar champ Jean Dujardin), while fellow nominee “Midnight in Paris” opened the fest. This year, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” may have made its opening splash at Sundance, but it consolidated its buzz with a Camera d’Or win at Cannes too.
Cannes, then, remains a potential Oscar kingmaker, even as the festival concerns itself largely with auteurs who will never see the inside of the Dolby Theater — and wouldn’t really care to do so either, thank you very much. (We can but dream, Gaspar Noe.) In the gallery below, I take a chronological tour through the 16 moments the tastes of the Cannes jury and the Oscar voters collided at the highest level. Take a look.