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10 American Movies That Won the Palme d'Or at Cannes

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Wikimedia Commons

The 66th annual Cannes Film Festival is in full swing. There are many films from world-renowned directors in heated competition for the coveted Palme d’Or (The Golden Palm) Award, including Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Only God Forgives, Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, and Joel & Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis. Although Cannes is an international film festival, flicks from the United States often win the festival’s grand prize. Here are 10 American movies that won the Palme d’Or Award.

1. The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick’s time-shifting narrative about discipline and grace was a very polarizing film when it was first released in 2011. After The Tree of Life debuted at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, half of the 2400-seat Grand Auditorium audience heckled and booed the surreal film, while its supporters cheered. The Tree of Life remains a very divisive film among general audiences and critics alike, but was eventually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture later in the year.

2. Fahrenheit 9/11

Fresh off his Academy Award for Bowling For Columbine, Michael Moore’s follow-up was the first American-made documentary to win the Palme d’Or when it debuted at the 57th Cannes Film Festival in 2004. Fahrenheit 9/11 received a 20-minute standing ovation after it was first screened. Famously, director Quentin Tarantino, who was the president of the festival’s jury that year, told Michael Moore that his film didn’t win the grand prize because of its politics, but rather its accomplishment as a piece of cinema.

3. Elephant

The first film in director Gus Van Sant’s Death Trilogy—along with the films Gerry and Last DaysElephant took a fictional look at the mass shooting at Columbine High School. Reviews of the film were mixed, and Elephant remains a very controversial film, even being blamed by some for spawning copycat school shootings.

4. Pulp Fiction

Director Quentin Tarantino took the world by storm with the release of Pulp Fiction at the 47th Cannes Film Festival in 1994. The festival’s jury loved the film’s sharp wit, non-linear structure, and in-depth storytelling. When Pulp Fiction opened in the US, the film took the No. 1 spot at the box office in its first week of release.

Today, Pulp Fiction is considered one of the best movies of the 1990s.

5. The Lost Weekend

Before the Palme d’Or was the highest award, the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film was the most prestigious honor a film could aspire to during the Cannes Film Festival. In 1945, Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend—which took a dark look at alcoholism in America—received the top prize. The film would go on to win four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Ray Milland.

6. Marty

Director Delbert Mann’s Marty was the first film to unanimously win the top prize in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. Based on Paddy Chayefsky’s 1953 teleplay, Marty told the story of a socially awkward unmarried 34-year-old man (Ernest Borgnine) who still lived with his mother. Marty, along with The Lost Weekend, are the only two films to win both the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Picture.

7. Taxi Driver

Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough film was the Italian-American director’s first critical and commercial hit in the United States. Time magazine put the film on its list of Top 100 Films of All Time.

8. Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was the director’s second Palme d’Or-winning film (the first was The Conversation in 1974). The epic Vietnam War film showcased an all-star cast including Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen.

With production delays due to a massive typhoon in the Philippines, the early recasting of Martin Sheen for Harvey Keitel, and the theft of the film’s entire payroll, getting Apocalypse Now made was a giant undertaking for Francis Ford Coppola. The film’s production woes were masterfully documented in the film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.

Despite the troubled production, Apocalypse Now was later nominated for many Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing, and is one of the best films to examine the Vietnam War.

9. Wild At Heart

One of David Lynch’s most controversial films, Wild At Heart received an abundance of applause and wild cheers when it debuted at the 43rd Cannes Film Festival in 1990. But when the film won the Palme’ d’Or, a few film critics—including Roger Ebert—booed and jeered the jury’s selection for the festival’s prestigious top prize. Wild At Heart is a fevered dream of brutality and sexual exploitation, but at its heart is a genuine romance between its characters Lula and Sailor, two outlaws played by Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage.

David Lynch was forced to censor the film for an R rating for its American release, but international audience got to enjoy an uncut and uncensored version.

10. Barton Fink

The Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink was a big winner at the 44th Cannes Film Festival in 1991. The strange film won Best Director for Joel Coen and Best Actor for John Turturro in addition to the festival's top prize. To prevent other films from receiving so many accolades in the future, the festival organizers and programmers limited the number of awards a single film could win to two.

Despite its many honors including multiple Academy Award nominations, Barton Fink was a disappointing box office performer. It failed to register with general audiences because of its specific and yet abstruse subject matter and narrative.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]