Can Cannes champ ‘The Tree of Life’ take root with Oscars?

Turns out Terrence Malick‘s long-awaited “The Tree of Life” was worth the effort as it claimed the top prize of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival Sunday. The film — which stars Sean Penn as a lost soul looking for the meaning of life and, in flashbacks, Brad Pitt as his father — was embraced by the critics but met with a chillier reception during its public screenings along the Croisette. Malick, who won the director prize here for his second film “Days of Heaven” in 1979, was not on hand to accept this honor.

“The Tree of Life” is only the third film from Terrence Malick since “Days of Heaven.” His 1998 WWII drama “The Thin Red Line” was overshadowed by Steven Spielberg‘s “Saving Private Ryan” but still contended for seven Oscars including Best Picture as well as bids by Malick for both helming and scripting. However, his 2005 picture “A New World” was a dud, failing to win over critics or the public.

The track record of Cannes champs at the Oscars is a mixed one. Only one film has won both the Palme d’Or and the Academy Award for Best Picture — “Marty” back in 1955. Other top title holders from Cannes that contended for the academy’s big prize include “Friendly Persuasion” (1957), “M*A*S*H” (1970), “The Conversation” (1974), “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Apocalypse Now” (1979), “All That Jazz” (1980), “Missing” (1982), “The Mission” (1986), “The Piano” (1993), “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “Secrets and Lies” (1996), and “The Pianist” (2002).

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