The Palme d’Or is the Cannes Film Festival’s most prized asset – the highest award bestowed upon the jury’s choice of the best film in the competition at the end of the festival. But just like the Oscars bestow honors on a handful of recipients at a separate event — the Governors Awards — Cannes has, in its 75 years, given some 15 honorary Palms d’Or to directors and actors who deserve special recognition for their work.

This year there was an honorary award forest Whitaker, who accepted his palm at the opening ceremony on Tuesday evening. But it turns out he wasn’t the only one to receive a special lifetime achievement award this year: Beim Top Gun: Maverick Premieres Wednesday night Tom cruise was surprised on stage with an honorary award, capping a day of celebration for the A-list movie star. “I’m just going to take it all in and not forget this evening,” he said as he looked out at the black-tie-clad crowd seated to watch Top Gun: Maverick.

The Palm of Honor was the finishing touch on a day dedicated to his film for Cruise, who has not been to the festival since 1992 far away

The day began with a masterclass talk with Cruise, who reflected on his career and emphasized his passion for studying and learning about film. He talked about meeting with directors and writers as often as possible — and even setting up a meeting with them Sydney Pollack when he was 19 years old. “I studied movies, not just the names in the credits, but I tried to understand who did what,” he said. Cruise also talked a bit about the new top gun, which comes 35 years after the original film and says the studio wanted to make a sequel almost immediately, but it wasn’t ready yet. “Working on sequels has taught me that I can have a dialogue with an audience,” he said.

Top Gun: Maverick was originally intended to be released in 2019 but has been pushed ahead to finalize the technical aspects of the film in 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the release was again delayed multiple times, ending up with this current release date of May 27. Cruise insisted that releasing the film on streaming was never an option: “That would never happen. That would never happen.”

For a conversation that would focus on Cruise and his turbulent film career, the actor often turned the attention back to the people he works with and makes films for: the audience. The 59-year-old actor – famous for directing dangerous scenes himself and a strong supporter of the cinematic cinematic experience – admitted he gets scared doing his own stunts but that he made the choice to improve the art form. “Preparation is everything, even if you throw it away,” he said. “With everything I do, I don’t want people to see the work behind it.”

After the hour-long master class, Cruise and his Top Gun: Maverick Cast – including Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm and GlenPowell – walked the red carpet at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, with the original score and “Danger Zone” from the 1986 film in the background. Before they entered the theater, fighter jets flew overhead, trailing red, white, and blue smoke. Cruise entered the theater first – traditionally, the director and the entire cast of the film enter the theater together – to a standing ovation. In a further break from tradition, Cruise also spoke to the crowd before the screening and was then awarded his surprise Palme d’Or.

After the film, in which Cruise’s Maverick returns to Top Gun to train a group of Navy aviators for a seemingly impossible mission, the crowd was treated to another treat on their way out: a lavish fireworks show.

Cruise and his cast will fly to London tomorrow for another premiere, but his tumultuous day at Cannes was one of the most celebratory events the festival has seen in many years. “Thank you for this time,” he told the crowd at the Lumiere theater. “I make these films for all of you.”

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