Over the years, the Palme d'Or awards, which take place Saturday evening at the Palais des festivals in Cannes, have had some interesting competition for attention.
Until 2001, the European Hot 'd'Or (Golden Hot?) for adult videos were held just outside of town. Since that same year, British journalists have held the annual Palme Dog, in which they vote on the best performance by a dog at Cannes and have an awards ceremony at the U.K. pavilion on the last Saturday of the festival.
Though the festival gives out an irrational number of prizes - by critics, by juries in various sidebars - there remain a few unexplored opportunities for pomp and praise, which I'd like to rectify in a new slate of Alt.d'Or awards.
First though, my picks for this year's more traditional Palme contenders.
The Palme d'Or: Of Gods and Men, Xavier Beauvois's thoughtful and suspenseful film about the virtues and dangers of religion, focuses on the real-life tragedy of a handful of Cistercian monks who faced off with Islamic fundamentalist militants in the Algerian mountains in 1996. As well, it's a shoo-in for the Ecumenical Award, given to the Cannes film that promotes social and religious tolerance. As someone said after Tuesday morning's screening, "The Ecumenical jury can now hit the beach."
Grand Jury Prize (runner-up): Mike Leigh's Another Year. Some critics see Leigh in a holding pattern here in his bleak but comic portrait of a happily married middle-aged couple and their unhappy single friends. But Leigh's script and acting are perfectly pitched; in this ensemble piece, no one misses a note.
Best director: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, from Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is both playful and visually hypnotic. The story of a dying Buddhist man's journey into the jungle treats out-of-body experiences, re-incarnation and spiritual presences as the true realities of what we call life.
Best actor: Javier Bardem. As a doomed father and petty criminal in Barcelona, he energizes Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Biutiful.
Best Actress: Yun Jung-hee. As a woman struggling with the onset of Alzheimer's Disease and her grandson' s crime, she does a beautiful job showing someone slipping in and out of confusion and clarity.
Best screenplay: Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy - a film set in Italy and starring Juliette Binoche - plays like a blend of romantic comedy and Socratic dialogue on marriage.
Camera d'Or (First feature): Derek Cianfrance for Blue Valentine, a gritty marital breakup drama starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, creates a precise montage of moments, with different shooting styles for past and present sequences.
And now, the alternative Palmes awards.
The Kink d'Or: Always a difficult one. The all-too-public bride-deflowering scene in Bertrand Tavernier's The Princess of Montpensier?The grandmother in the Korean film Poetry who mounts a stroke victim in his bath to comfort him? Any other year, perhaps, but 2010's clear winner is a scene in Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall his Past Lives, in which a middle-aged princess climbs into a pool after a talking catfish, and then enjoys a rapturous erotic encounter with the creature.
The Death d'Or: The imaginatively contrived decapitation in Takeshi Kitano's gangster drama Outrage is a contender. Getting run over by a herd of cows in Stephen Frears's Tamara Drewe is good too. But it's hard to beat Korean star Jeon Do-youn in the erotic thriller The Housemaid: She gives a rich family something to remember when she throws herself off the balcony with a rope tied to a chandelier - and just before she hangs, turns herself into a human fireball.
The Berlitz d'Or: Multilingualism is common in Cannes movies. This year, for example, Abbas Kiarostami, whose native language is Farsi, made Certified Copy in English, French and Italian, while Ken Loach's Route Irish was in both English and whatever the language is that they yell in Liverpool (the French subtitles came in handy). The clear winner this year, though, was Olivier Assayas's five-and-a-half hour epic, Carlos. The film's star Edgar Ramirez already spoke fluent German, English and Spanish, then added phonetically spoken Arabic to his repertoire; the film also featured segments in Russian and Hungarian.
The Torture d'Or: Almost every Cannes festival features some sort of scandalous onscreen torture. During Srdjan Spasojevic's Directors' Fortnight entry The Serbian Film, about a porn star in a torture movie, a viewer was in such a hurry to exit the theatre, he did a face plant and broke his nose. Another torture scene in Philip Koch's Picco, a drama about the German youth prison system, had not just walk-outs, but run-outs. Even 73-year-old English veteran Ken Loach introduced some home-style water-boarding in his film about Iraq mercenaries. For style, and shock mixed with black humour, though, I'll vote for Kitano's Outrage, which features the decorative use of a dentist's drill on a man's cheeks.
The Traveler Alert D'Or: Among many foul places in the world, the prize here has to go to provincial Russia in Sergei Loznitsa's grim tale of a truck driver, My Joy, who takes a wrong turn and is repeatedly beaten, robbed and brutalized by police and local citizens. (On the plus side, adventurous tourists may note that vodka and prostitution appear to be plentiful and inexpensive.)
The Beast d'Or: In a festival that offered a rich menagerie of animal performances, the prize must go to a llama tied up behind a gas station in the second half of Jean-Luc Godard's largely impenetrable film Socialisme. One scene shows a woman silently reading a paperback of Balzac's Lost Illusions in front of a gas pump, while the llama shuffles and flicks its ears, as if to embody the captive audience's extreme impatience. Semaphore experts might decode the llama's actions thusly: "Are you sure this is the same guy who directed Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless?"