Foreign film race slowly taking shape

Posted by · 3:18 pm · October 5th, 2009

The White RibbonAs I said before, the October 1 “deadline” for Best Foreign Language Film submissions isn’t quite as rigid as it sounds: assorted additions and alterations tend to be made before the Academy officially announces the list.

The first of these late developments comes from Colombia, with the late submission of Ciro Guerra’s “The Wind Journeys,” which bowed at Cannes and recently played at Toronto. A tale of an elderly accordion player travelling the country with the young musician he’s mentoring, it apparently combines gentle sentiment, generational themes with picturesque landscapes. Lots for the Academy to like there, perhaps.

With the unveiling of a semi-solid list of contenders, you’ll notice that Kris has committed to some predictions in the category. Meanwhile, I’ve updated mine here. A stab in the dark really, particularly without having seen the vast majority of the films, though there is a level of reasoning here and there.

Why, for instance, Denmark’s “Terribly Happy,” a darkly comic thriller that hardly seems to represent typical Academy-bait in the category? Well, the fact that an English-language remake is already in the works is one sign. The fact that the remake is being produced by Mark Johnson — the chairman of the Academy’s foreign-language committee — is another. Or not. There’s no telling with these guys.

Kris and I have each taken an early punt on a different high-profile submission that unpopularly beat out more acclaimed contenders: Italian family saga “Baaria” and Chinese musical biopic “Forever Enthralled,” respectively. Both have the epic sweep voters often respond to, while Academy and critical opinion frequently diverge in this category.

Meanwhile, at this early stage we’re both leaving out the film that many presume to be the frontrunner: Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner “The White Ribbon.” I still can’t shake the hunch that Haneke’s austere (some might say cold) auteur’s stamp simply isn’t the Academy’s bag, no matter how acclaimed the film. Are we heading for a “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”-style fallout here?

Perhaps not. As Nathaniel Rogers points out in his preliminary survey of the category, the Academy is capable of throwing curveballs in this race, embracing films that hardly seem Oscar-friendly (Aki Kaurismaki’s gleefully bizarre “The Man Without a Past” is one of the best recent examples) while sidelining ones that seem to play right into their hands. (How on earth did “Volver” miss in 2006?)

I’ll stop short of saying we should give them more credit — that “Departures” win still stings, after all — but we should never pretend to know exactly what they’re thinking.

→ 18 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

18 responses so far

  • 1 10-05-2009 at 3:23 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I’m so glad to see a website with near-unanimity on the Waltz with Bashir loss.

  • 2 10-05-2009 at 3:25 pm

    James D. said...

    How can you list The White Ribbon as a Cinematography nominee, but yet it does not get on the Foreign Language List? I understand a Cinematography nominee does not always translate into anything else, but if a foreign film gets that much nomination, shouldn’t it be able to reach the Foreign Language nomination?

    I agree that the Departures win stings, but not because of Waltz with Bashir, but because of The Class.

  • 3 10-05-2009 at 3:28 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Robert: Actually, I don’t particularly care for “Bashir” — though it was more deserving than “Departures,” obviously.

    I was (and still am) all about “The Class.” Best film of 2008, as I’ve said often before.

  • 4 10-05-2009 at 3:34 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    James: There’s actually plenty of precedent for foreign contenders scoring technical nods while falling short in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Just a few years ago, “House of Flying Daggers” scored a lone cinematography nod. Ditto “Curse of the Golden Flower” in costume design.

    Hell, “Volver” couldn’t make the foreign-language five with a Best Actress nomination in its pocket. With wholly different branches voting, these things don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

  • 5 10-05-2009 at 3:57 pm

    Chris said...

    I’m just curious: have you seen “A Prophet” by now?

    I’d like to know because of my prediction that it would be on your year-end top 10. ;)

  • 6 10-05-2009 at 4:00 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Not yet. But I’m seeing it sometime in the next fortnight. Can’t wait.

  • 7 10-05-2009 at 4:25 pm

    André said...

    just came home from seeing “The White Ribbon” and I have to say, I’ll be really pissed if it doesn’t get some love come Oscar time.

    an absolutely amazing film… the more I think about it the more it blows me away. also, it’s technically almost flawless.

    I guess what I mean is… HOLY CRAP this film is good!

  • 8 10-05-2009 at 4:52 pm

    slayton said...

    I’m predicting:
    “The White Ribbon”, which is as close as Haneke will probably ever get to Academy recognition unless he makes something dead-conventional next time. I’m thinking that the Palme will propel it to a nomination, seeing as “The Class” managed that last year – and it wouldn’t have been nominated had it not won the Palme.

    “A Prophet”
    “I Can’t Live Without You” – homeless single dad loses his daughter to the government and tries to get her back. baity, much?
    “Letters to Father Jacob” – a hardened ex-convict learns to look at life a different way after starting work as assistant to a blind priest in a small Finnish town. I think this one could actually win.
    “The Secret in Their Eyes” – decades-spanning crime thriller with past-winner pedigree and lots of flashbacks (the academy loves those!)

    Despite critical acclaim, I think “I Killed My Mother”, “The Milk of Sorrow”, “Home” and “Dogtooth” have snowballs’ chances in hell of getting nominations. The latter three are just far too left-of-centre and the first one is by a 19 year old director, and I’m sure that the across-the-board ancient FL branch will actually not vote for Dolan’s film on purpose out of spite re: his age

  • 9 10-05-2009 at 5:46 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Slayton: The Palme d’Or didn’t help “4 Months.” I’m just saying.

    I’m with you on “Father Jacob” … sight unseen, it sure seems right up their alley.

  • 10 10-05-2009 at 8:05 pm

    Glenn said...

    Interesting that you’ve both picked “Samson & Delilah”. I have faith, but can’t say I’ll be surprised in the slightest if it fails to snatch a nomination.

  • 11 10-06-2009 at 1:10 am

    Ali E. said...

    “Letters to Father Jacob” may be the “Revanche” of this year…

  • 12 10-06-2009 at 2:57 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Revanche” wasn’t exactly an easy film or an obvious Oscar pick. I didn’t like it much, but it was quite frosty and explicit by Academy standards. Can you explain the comparison?

  • 13 10-06-2009 at 4:11 am

    Ali E. said...

    a story of redemption with solid dramatic structure and well developed character arcs… I thought Revanche was just the kinda film the Academy members like… and it’s actually a film
    I also admired very much… I haven’t seen “Letters to Father Jacob” yet, but everthing I read so far lead me to think this way…

  • 14 10-06-2009 at 5:32 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ah, that makes more sense. (The request for an explanation was sincerely curious, not snarky, just in case it read wrong.)

    I keep thinking I need to give “Revanche” another shot, as so many people I respect think so highly of it. I saw it last year at the London Film Festival, where it was the last of 4 or 5 screenings I had that day — my cranky tiredness may have affected my viewing.

  • 15 10-06-2009 at 6:48 am

    Ali E. said...

    don’t worry Guy, I haven’t read it wrong… :)

    and you should give Revanche another shot… it’s a really good movie…

  • 16 10-06-2009 at 7:16 am

    Mike_M said...

    Didn’t Pan’s Labyrinth win best Cinematography but wasn’t up for Best Foreign Language (in my mind it should have been Best Pic, let alone Best Foreign Lang Pic).

    I concur with Ali E, Revanche was really good.

  • 17 10-06-2009 at 7:32 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    No, “Pan’s Labyrinth” was actually nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Still, the fact that it lost that award despite multiple other nods is further proof that voters in the foreign-language race don’t necessarily feel the need to co-ordinate with other categories.

    (See also “Amelie,” “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “Cousin, Cousine,” etc.)

  • 18 12-13-2009 at 11:27 am

    Ross said...

    Is the Academy having this committee having the right to titles? If it does, then THE WHITE RIBBON is in for sure.

    I believe that’s how they got THE CLASS and WALTZ WITH BASHIR into the final five last year.