US director Terrence Malick won the Palme d'Or for best picture at the Cannes film festival on Sunday for The Tree of Life, a meditative, metaphysical epic starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.
Only his fifth feature, the contemplation on the origins of life and where we go when we die was among the firm favourites to walk off with the coveted award, one of the most prized in the movie calendar after the Oscars.
There was an award for Melancholia directed by Denmark's Lars Von Trier, which remained in competition despite his shock expulsion from the festival for jokingly saying he had some sympathy for Hitler during a press conference.
US actress Kirsten Dunst won the best actress category for her role in his portrayal of a cosmic collision that ends all life, which critics said was a downbeat companion piece to Malick's more optimistic vision.
"Wow, what a week it's been!" said Dunst, who was likely to prove a popular winner for her portrayal of the troubled sister Justine.
"Thank you so much for this honour, which is a once-in-a -lifetime thing. And thank you to the Cannes film festival for letting it still be in competition."
She also thanked Von Trier, who was not allowed within 100 metres of the main festival building where the glitzy awards ceremony took place.
The runner-up Grand Prix went to two films -- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan and The Kid With a Bike by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
The brothers had been in with a chance of winning an unprecedented third Golden Palm at the world's biggest festival.
Best actor went to Jean Dujardin for his role in The Artist, a re-make of a 1920s silent, black-and-white romance that transported audiences back to the "pre-talkie" era in Hollywood.
Denmark's Nicolas Winding Refn won best director for his high-octane thriller Drive. Best screenplay went to Israeli director Joseph Cedar for Footnote.
The ceremony brought the curtain down on a Cannes festival that will be remembered for the unprecedented expulsion of Von Trier, who won the Palme d'Or in 2000.
Many movie goers disagreed with the decision to ban him, which could damage his reputation and ability to make movies in the future.
In addition to the films, the A-listers came out in force, with Angelina Jolie, Pitt, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Penn, jury president Robert De Niro and Ryan Gosling all gracing the grand red carpet that leads to the main festival cinema.
Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Jamie Foxx, Janet Jackson and Gwen Stefani were among the big names hitting the party circuit or performing in Cannes.