Friday, January 22, 2010

And the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar goes to...

The White Ribbon. Yep, it's all over, folks. Of course, that is the buried lead. The actual news:

AMPAS has whittled down the contenders for this year's Best Foreign Language Film category, a process they engage in every year. The landscape has been reduced to a nine-film shortlist, all in contention to fill the five slots in the category. Over a three-day period, voters will view the films and then make their determinations. The five nominees will be announced, with the rest of this year's Oscar field, on February 2nd.

The shortlist:

El Secreto de Sus Ojos, Argentina
Samson & Delilah, Australia
The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner, Bulgaria
Un Proph├Ęte, France
The White Ribbon, Germany
Ajami, Israel
Kelin, Kazakhstan
Winter in Wartime, The Netherlands
The Milk of Sorrow, Peru

Notice the omission of Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces from the final list, as well as the celebrated Romanian film, Police, Adjective, thus leaving Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon as the most high-profile, widely-seen film left in the race.

To which you would say, "but they intend to sit down and view all the films before voting, don't they?" And, yeah, they do...and they will. But the Academy is a prime example of Group-Think -- the consensus has already been reached before the members enter the screening room. They like a film that can be seen as a front-runner...even in the small, "arty" category filled with pictures most Oscar viewers have never seen.

Almodovar's wonderful film was overlooked most likely because he has been celebrated for a long time (even though his only Oscar was for All About My Mother in 2000, and nearly all of the films he made since have been even better). Police, Adjective may have been dismissed for not complying with the Academy's labyrinthine eligibility system. Who knows. The Academy likes to reward films that have already been established as praise-worthy, and White Ribbon has received the most high-profile accolades of all the films mentioned in this article. It is also an opportunity for the Academy to honor Michael Haneke, because his latest just happened to break the mold and receive widespread accolades, even though he has been making fascinating, complex, profoundly relevant works for years without recognition.

Haneke is the kind of director Oscar usually ignores. He is a brilliant, audacious filmmaker whose films viciously indict the citizens of the world -- especially the audience members who view his films -- and he is a highly respected artist, but Oscar likes less dangerous fare. Here is a Haneke film that has received mainstream acceptance, and as such, the Academy will feel he is "due."

Not saying I have a problem with the choice, if the eventual winner does end up being The White Ribbon. I just grow more and more fascinated with how the Academy is ever-so-predictable. And while I cannot entirely discount films with some industry buzz, like Un Proph├Ęte or Samson & Delilah, it seems clear that -- especially with the overlooking of the year's other highly celebrated Foreign films -- The White Ribbon has become the juggernaut. It is the Avatar of the Foreign Film race.

Goodness, would that ever disgust a guy like Michael Haneke.


Anonymous said...

Broken Embraces was not eligible because it wasn't put forward by Spain.

J McKiernan said...

It's true. Upon further research, Spain's submission was "El Baile de la Victoria" ("The Dancer and the Thief"), by Fernando Trueba.

"Police, Adjective," however, was indeed Romania's Oscar submission. And it didn't make the cut, despite being one of the most critically acclaimed foreign films of the year.

The most critically celebrated Foreign film of the year, if we use top ten lists as our barometer, is Olivier Assayas' "Summer Hours," which was not put forward by France, who went with "A Prophet."