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The Best Winners of the Palm Dog, the Cannes Award for Canines

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Everette, Getty, Alamy

The Palme d’Or, the highest honor a film at the Cannes Film Festival can receive, is widely regarded as the most coveted award in the film industry. The Palme is synonymous with quality, prestigious cinema that stands unrivaled — perhaps even edging out the Oscars when it comes to status. The Palme d’Or is an award given to good films, but what about all the very good dogs? (Yes, yes they are!)

That’s where the Palm Dog (or Palm d’Og) comes in. First held in 2001, it’s an annual awards show at Cannes that, though technically independent of the festival itself, honors only the best pooch performances in the business. Every year, Palm Dog founder Toby Rose and a panel of international film critics watch a surprising number of Cannes films featuring dogs and give out a number of awards, including the Grand Jury prize, the Underdog, the PalmDogManitarian, and the more recent Palm Hound Dog (a special tribute to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis). This quirky canine offshoot has become a genuine highlight for dog and movie lovers around the world.

Now coming into its 22nd year (there was no winner in 2020 owing to the pandemic), the bespoke leather dog collar, embossed with the Palm Dog logo (a husky wearing a bow tie and sunglasses), has once more been placed around the neck of a good dog, a Border collie named Messi, who played a pivotal role in the French thriller Anatomy of a Fall. Messi won Best in Show over a crowded field that includes Lola the mongrel from Ken Loach’s The Old Oak, a Nazi pup from The Zone of Interest, and a pair of hunting dogs from May December.

In celebration of the Palm Dog’s return, we combed through each year since the awards show’s conception and got to work crafting the quintessential Palm Dog–awards Hall of Fame. To separate the best boys from the good boys, we picked only one recipient of the award from each edition of the competition, meaning that while The Souvenir: Part II’s pups took home a Palm in 2021, they didn’t quite make the cut over Sophie the dog’s scene-stealing role in Red Rocket, which also won her an award that year. Like the show itself, this list is exclusive to only the most elite performances by man’s best friend.

21. The Canine Cast in Godland (2022)

Sharing the role of unnamed Icelandic sheepdog

Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland is one of those movies that should be seen twice: once to marvel at the sheer beauty of the images onscreen and another to take in the silent devastation of its narrative. A tale of man versus nature, colonialism and lost faith, the film follows a Danish priest who has been tasked with traveling across the Icelandic wilderness in order to build a church at one of the existing settlements there.

Godland’s Palm Dog, a gorgeous Icelandic sheepdog, admittedly doesn’t do much in the film — he dances around camp, steals pastries from the plates of unsuspecting villagers while their backs are turned, and barely contains his excitement as he watches the movie’s protagonist snoozing in his tent. He does what he needs to do, at once completely in his element and not breaking an ounce of new ground. If Pálmason’s direction to him was to “just continuously walk through frame being a good boy,” then our unnamed sheepdog makes it look absolutely effortless. That’s good enough for us, but it lands the pup at the bottom of the list for doing the bare minimum and simply embracing its own nature.

20. Boss in Tamara Drewe (2010)

For the role of Boss

Stephen Frears’s sex-obsessed reworking of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd, about a young journalist (Gemma Arterton) who returns to her small hometown and gets tangled in love affairs with three different men, is a fun enough film that hasn’t exactly left much of a mark on any larger cinematic tapestry. The Palm Dog–winning performer, a boxer by the name of Boss, though, remains one of the film’s enduring joys. Boss is largely seen riding in style in the passenger seat of a yellow drop-top convertible alongside his owner, Ben (Dominic Cooper). His greatest strength as a performer is a cool and voguish smolder, and his second greatest strength is chasing cows. Toward the end of the movie, Boss accidentally commits murder by inciting a cow stampede that results in one of the main characters getting trampled to death, further leading to Boss’s execution by gunshot at the hands of a prissy villager. It’s a perplexing third act that puts a massive downer on a generally upbeat film and a pretty great dog performance.

19. Baby Boy in Behind the Candelabra (2013)

For the role of Baby Boy

When it’s all said and done, Michael Douglas’s most ambitious role just might have been Liberace in his whirlwind final years. Still, it wouldn’t quite land the same without him cradling Baby Boy in his arms nor could his tempestuous relationship with Scott Thorson ever have taken off without the blind, deaf, and almost totally useless poodle there to appeal to Thorson’s animal-loving instincts. Peter Bradshaw of the Palm Dog jury called the performance an exploration of a “profound existential paradox,” while Rose said the pooch “has a lot to answer for” for bringing the toxic lovers together. And Baby Boy himself? True to character, and ever the diva, Baby didn’t bother showing up to claim his prize at all.

18. All the Dogs in Mondovino (2004)

For the role of the dogs

As he accepted the prestigious leather collar on behalf of the canines in his 2004 documentary, director Jonathan Nossiter exclaimed that “no greater award for man or dog has ever been known,” and it’s exactly that spirit that, surprisingly, laces the DNA of Mondovino. Nossiter’s film isn’t about dogs — it’s about the globalization of the wine industry — but at times the documentary seems more preoccupied with the various breeds, from bulldogs to terriers, sitting under tables and farting than it does with the human subjects themselves. This results in Mondovino becoming one of the best sneak-dog movies of all time, if anything due to its director’s lack of focus.

17. Jaro in The Lobster (2015)

For the role of Bob

Jaro, the winner of 2015’s Palm Dog, was given the herculean task of playing a human in a dog’s body in Yorgos Lanthimos’s absurdist black comedy The Lobster, though, as it turns out, a dog playing a human in a dog’s body still pretty much plays beat for beat as a dog playing a dog in a dog’s body. Nevertheless, Bob the human-dog is a warning of what might befall our protagonist, David (Colin Farrell), who has 45 days to find a romantic partner at a mysterious unnamed hotel or be turned into an animal of his choice. It’s soon revealed that Bob is David’s brother, who had previously failed at this task and now follows David around as his pet. Bob isn’t the most technically impressive dog on this list, but what he lacks in acting chops, he makes up for as an impactful part of The Lobster’s narrative and the protagonist’s fate.

16. Set Designers in Dogville (2003)

For the role of Moses

For almost all of Dogville’s three-hour run time, Moses the dog can only be described as such in the loosest interpretation of the word, quite literally appearing as a shape outlined in chalk on a playground canvas. Lars von Trier’s stage-set opus follows the residents of the small mining town Dogville and their actions toward newcomer Grace (Nicole Kidman), a woman on the run from gangsters. Split into nine chapters, the film sees the town’s inhabitants embrace their inner demons, at first accepting Grace into their community but soon beginning to abuse their power over her. It’s not until the last few moments of von Trier’s allegory of the evil inherent in humanity that Moses is truly brought to life, his barks filling the silence wrought by the film’s violent climax. It’s the shortest screen time ever from a Palm Dog winner and still one of the most thematically potent.

15. Tähti in The Man Without a Past (2002)

For the role of Hannibal

There has been a lot of debate over the past year around the rise of nepotism in the film industry with many a star being dragged across the concrete in the process. Turns out there are nepo puppies, too. Tähti the dog is just the latest in his bloodline to not only make a living on the big screen but to appear in one of Aki Kaurismäki’s films; his mother and grandmother both made star turns in his earlier movies. But it’s hard to be mad at the mutt when he’s just so damn good at what he does. He plays the role of Hannibal, but unlike his namesake, he isn’t much interested in serial killing or frying up human body parts as he is buddying up with amnesiac M (Markku Peltola), who befriends the dog and a horde of increasingly bizarre characters after recovering from a near-death beating by a group of thugs.

14. Sophie in Red Rocket (2021)

For the role of Sophie

Red Rocket’s Palm Dog winner is a virtuoso of the reactionary comedic style of “doing absolutely nothing but still being extremely fun to watch.” On its own, such a performance might not land, but opposite Simon Rex’s bolt-of-thunder, washed-up porn star, Mikey Saber — who is himself a horny adolescent pup wearing the skin of a human — Sophie the dog’s passive spectator suddenly makes for a role reversal that breeds hilarity. It’s a pairing written in the stars, and their natural chemistry is far from just a double act, as Rex himself showed up to the Palm awards wearing a T-shirt that, scrawled in Sharpie, read, “VOTEZ POUR SOPHIE.”

13. The Entire Canine Cast in Diamantino (2018)

For the role of the giant Pekingese puppies

Giant puppies are the secret to Portuguese football star Diamantino’s talent and success — only they’re all in his head. The titanic Pekingese pups are featured for no more than a few minutes throughout the film, but their appearance is no less memorable for it, as they invade the soccer pitch in a flurry of fluff and sparkling pink smoke, bringing a sort of clarity to our Cristiano Ronaldo–inspired protagonist and allowing him to dominate the pitch. His life is upended when the dogs disappear and he subsequently loses Portugal the World Cup, forcing the champion turned disgrace to go on an enlightening journey to get his mojo back, coming up against his evil twin sisters, undercover tax auditors, and a fascist regime in the process.

Truth be told, the Diamantino visual-effects-team members were the true winners of the Grand Jury prize this year, taking a group of 12 pups (originally meant to be piglets, according to directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt) to the World Cup final in a splash of candy-floss-colored Surrealism. Among the canine crew were Betty, Queen Queen, and Baucus — who would reportedly be fluffed up and doused in Chanel No. 5 before shooting — making them the most high-luxury Palm Dog winners to date.

12. Lupo in Ava (2017)

For the role of Lupo

The dog in question is Lupo, a wolflike canine that, against the backdrop of director Léa Mysius’s vibrant summer, looks less black than he does a creature completely absent of light. Lupo is initially dognapped by the titular Ava, a 13-year-old girl who is rapidly losing her sight from a rare genetic condition. Along with Lupo and his owner, a young traveler named Juan, Ava embarks on a voyage of self-discovery on the Atlantic coast.

Lupo is this list’s most visually striking pooch, even when compared to Diamantino’s giant pups. He’s fierce when he needs to be, loyal, and his role doubles as an omen of our protagonist’s looming blindness and symbol of her eventual coming-of-age. But physicality is this dog’s superpower; his ability to intimidate constantly makes him the most interesting figure in any given frame. The film also features a tracking shot of Lupo sandwiched between Ava and Juan as they motorcycle across the coast, a moment so simultaneously cute and badass that it alone is worth the Palm Dog win.

11. Mops in Marie Antoinette (2006)

For the role of Mops

A squirmy, excitable pug going by the name of Mops shoots the equivalent of a blind buzzer beater in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 dramedy, Marie Antoinette. He appears onscreen for about seven and a half minutes (which amounts to three minutes more than Tom Hardy) before being ripped away from a tearful Kirsten Dunst by a royal representative of France. It’s this dog-snatching moment that earns the French monarchy just about everything that was coming to it (well, that and some real historical crimes, but mostly the dog). A few more dogs appear in the film, but none hold a candle to the sheer adorability of Mops.

10. The Entire Canine Ensemble in Mid Road Gang (2007)

For the role of the stray dogs

Mid Road Gang is by all accounts not a good movie, but it does have some of the most accomplished dog performances on this list. The obscure 2007 Thai comedy-drama, following a pack of stray dogs searching for a better life in suburban Bangkok, has become somewhat of a nostalgic cult classic for Thai filmgoers who fondly remember watching this diverse group of pooches roving around the city. The biggest (bow)wow moment comes from a poodle that takes to barrel-rolling to send a villainous Doberman bowling into a muddy creek.

It’s a feature that screams direct to video, which makes it all the sweeter that this underdog squadron of ragtag heroes took home the Palm Dog collar in 2007 (nominated alongside Yuki from the animated feature Persepolis, a much better film but a less interesting dog performance). As lackluster as the film itself is, you can’t help but admire the high level of professionalism and showmanship of the dogs onscreen, proving that even the worst film to win the Palm Dog can, on occasion, be the most impressive.

9. Otis in The Anniversary Party (2001)

For the role of Otis

There’s a moment early on in The Anniversary Party when it’s established that Alan Cumming’s character, Joe, and his dog, Otis, have a running feud with their pompous neighbor, Ryan, and his dog, Sheila. Very quickly, to avoid a heated argument in a civilized social setting, Joe lays down a “Dog talk is banned” rule. It’s a very mature decision that is rendered worthless exactly 60 seconds later, when Ryan the pompous neighbor gives Otis the worst trash-talking of the little mutt’s life. At that point, it becomes clear that this wouldn’t just be a good movie (which it is) but a great dog movie (which it definitely is). Otis, fully deserving of his Palm Dog, is the silent centerpiece of Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s directorial collaboration, in which they also star as a free-spirited and turbulent couple who are very much in love and very much fractured. Otis, the film’s problem and resolution, pushes the two lovers into an emotional climax that could make or break them. The pooch would later appear in 2005’s Son of the Mask — also starring Cumming — a role that would spell doom for his previously celebrated acting career. Still, it’s no wonder that this understated performance became the first-ever flick to take home the iconic leather collar.

8. Smurf the Terrier in Sightseers (2012)

For the dual roles of Banjo and Poppy

“We don’t care about being mean; we care about being happy,” says Alice Lowe’s Tina as she prepares to steal Banjo the dog from his overprotective owners. Banjo reminds Tina of her late dog, Poppy, who accidentally impaled herself on a pair of knitting needles. The deceased dog is the specter looming over Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, a black comedy that follows a British couple as they take a road trip along the English coast. What starts off as a romantic getaway quickly turns violent as the couple begin murdering those whom they meet along the way for increasingly iniquitous reasons.

Smurf the terrier plays both Poppy and Banjo, effortlessly taking on the role of an innocent pup caught between a bickering couple on a murderous rampage. Every actor at some point is brought to a crossroads: Is it worth surrendering personal dignity in favor of cinematic immortality? For little Smurf, this crossroads presents itself between Steve Oram’s left and right butt cheeks. It’s a brief moment that sees the dog sticking his tongue up the middle-aged Englishman’s bare arse, but it prompts one of the best one-liners in the movie from Oram’s Chris, who curses the pup and calls him “a fucking pervert.” If that kind of commitment from a dog isn’t worth a place in the top ten, I don’t know what is.

7. Special-Effects Dog in Up (2009)

For the role of Dug

Few attempts to anthropomorphize dogs have as accurately captured what a dog might really be thinking. Dug, the golden retriever in Pixar’s Up, follows an old widower who, along with a preppy Boy Scout, sets off in search of a faraway paradise that his late wife dreamed of visiting. Dug is simpleminded, enthusiastic, loyal to a tee, and loses all self-control at the sight of a squirrel. It’s hard to get animated sidekicks right, especially since it feels as if almost every version of the archetype has been exhausted, but Dug, voiced by Bob Peterson, felt like a genuine breath of fresh air, providing welcome comic relief to a story that’s quite heavy at times.

6. Lucy in Wendy and Lucy (2008)

For the role of Lucy

Running at a smooth 80 minutes, Kelly Reichardt’s quiet drama tells, like much of her work, of true friendship torn apart by circumstance. In Old Joy, that circumstance comes in the form of adulthood and maturation, while in First Cow, early capitalism is the make and break of a tender bond. In Wendy and Lucy, poverty and homelessness (more nasty side effects of capitalism) force apart Wendy, a lonely drifter, and her only companion: a loyal mixed breed named Lucy. The good girl in the feature is played by Reichardt’s own dog of the same name and gives a truly emotional performance opposite Michelle Williams. If you’ve ever left your home for work or school, turned around moments before closing the door behind you to see your faithful pet looking up at you, doe-eyed and tail-wagging, then you may want to bring tissues to this one.

5. Bruno in The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005)

For the role of Zochor

In Byambasuren Davaa’s meditative fable, The Cave of the Yellow Dog, the eldest child of a family of Mongolian nomads finds a scrappy, curious dog in a cave and decides to keep him, much to the chagrin of her parents. What follows is a slice-of-life drama that explores the tranquil, simple, and sometimes stressful life of the nomads. At the film’s climax, the dog — named Zochor (meaning spot) but played by a little puppy named Bruno — saves a baby from a very hungry pack of vultures. The Palm Dog is the bare minimum this little guy deserves. He’s not just a dog but a goddamned hero.

4. Nellie in Paterson (2016)

For the role of Marvin

The dog in question here — Marvin, played by the late Nellie, who won his Palm posthumously — has the unfair advantage of being a British bulldog and thus an effortlessly enjoyable screen presence in Jim Jarmusch’s profoundly meditative Paterson. The titular character, played by Adam Driver, is a bus driver and amateur poet who spends his days writing poetry between shifts. Like Otis in The Anniversary Party, Marvin triggers the biggest point of conflict for the introspective and existentially hung up Paterson after he innocently rips his treasured notebook to shreds, sending him into a spiral. In doing so, though, Marvin ultimately leads his owner to higher enlightenment, prompting Paterson to discover the value in new beginnings. It’s a quiet performance in a quiet film, but Marvin brings a hidden cosmic wisdom to Nellie that is hard not to appreciate after the credits have rolled.

3. The Entire Canine Ensemble in White God (2015)

For the role of the dogs

Many of the performances on this list are largely concerned with domestication, with each dog showing unyielding loyalty to their human parent. Generally, if a dog responds to their master’s commands subserviently, they’re branded with the universal title “good boy/girl.” That’s the way it’s always been. In Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, though, it’s the dog’s turn to deal out judgment.

A pack of hundreds of abused and neglected strays, led by the mixed-breed Hagen, takes to the streets of Budapest in violent revolt after a law is passed by the Hungarian government that vilifies mongrels. While the events of the film are sometimes unbelievably fantastical (the dogs often demonstrate human feats of awareness), Mundruczó’s allegory for the plight of Europe’s disenfranchised minorities makes this one of the most gut-wrenching dog films to exist — period.

2. Sayuri the Pit Bull in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

For the roll of Brandy

Sayuri the pit bull plays Brandy, the other Pitt in Quentin Tarantino’s ode to 1960s-era Hollywood and the fiercely loyal pet to Brad’s laid-back psychopath, Cliff Booth. Along with Cliff, the impeccably trained pit leads the bloody charge against those who, in our reality, would gain infamy for their roles in the brutal Tate-LaBianca murders. This essentially makes Brandy the first dog in cinema to actively change the course of history as we know it. The beauty in Sayuri’s performance lies, among other things, in her comedic chops, whether she’s not so patiently waiting for Cliff to serve dinner or she’s cutting loose on the crotch of would-be murderer Tex. This is a dog that can take direction, and she syncs impeccably with the Tarantino style. As Tarantino accepted the award on Sayuri’s behalf, he announced that she had “brought the Palm Dog home to America.” The United States has not bore witness to such moving patriotism in a dog’s age.

1. Uggie in The Artist (2011)

For the role of Jack

French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius’s love letter to silent movies, The Artist, may remain one of the Oscars’s most forgettable and polarizing Best Picture winners, but Uggie the Jack Russell terrier’s scene-stealing performance as Jack endures as the film’s crowning achievement. A true showman in the vein of the silent-screen legends that preceded him, Uggie’s star turn captures the sophistication, charisma, musicality, and precision that came to define the movies of that era. This Best Picture winner might not stand the test of time, but in many ways, it’s the be-all and end-all of onscreen dog performances and the perfect pup to carry the mantle of the Palm Dog — so much so that the Cannes institution itself named Uggie the “Palm Dog of Palm Dogs” in 2020. Uggie died a few years after The Artist was released, but his legacy remains a thing of immortality.

The Best Winners of the Palm Dog, the Canine Cannes Award