Foreign notes

Posted by · 12:08 pm · January 20th, 2010

The Milk of SorrowWell, as I suspected, my predictions for the Academy’s foreign film shortlist were mainly off the mark, though I maintained my 4-from-9 strike rate from last year … so, yay for consistency.

That said, I’m not terribly surprised by the films that did make the cut. As I wrote earlier today, I knew one of the WWII-themed films in the mix would make the cut — but plumped for Norway’s “Max Manus” instead of the Netherlands’ “Winter in Wartime.” And festival hit “Samson and Delilah” was high on my radar, a film I suspected the executive committee might save (as I’m sure was the case).

I foolishly blanked on Argentina’s “The Secret in Their Eyes,” a romantic thriller that was extremely well received at Toronto in the fall, and may yet be the spoiler in this race. I’d received word that this was one to watch, but it slipped my mind this morning.

But I can honestly say I didn’t see Kazakhstan’s “Kelin” or Bulgaria’s rather awesomely titled “The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner” coming.

As chance would have it, the four titles I did predict are the only ones I’ve seen on the shortlist. “A Prophet” and “The White Ribbon,” of course, remain the presumed frontrunners in this race. My thoughts on both films are on the record.

But while I’ve been predicting all along that Michael Haneke’s Golden Globe-winner will get snubbed on nomination morning, this list now leads me to think otherwise — with soft Oscar bait like “Baaria” and “Forever Enthralled” omitted in favor of more challenging, lower-profile works, it seems likely that both the year’s arthouse juggernauts will make the cut. Whether either of them can win is another question entirely.

As for the remain two, I endorse the adventurous inclusion of Claudia Llosa’s Berlin champ “The Milk of Sorrow,” even if I can’t entirely endorse the film itself: it’s a rigorous, beautifully crafted study of female repression across multiple generations, but I found its super-solemn earnestness a little hard to warm to.

Rather better is Israel’s “Ajami,” a densely structured but sharply paced portrait of Jaffa culture wars, boasting the media-friendly novelty of Israeli and Palestinian co-directors. Following “Beaufort” and “Waltz With Bashir,” both of which I personally found less rewarding than “Ajami,” I fully expect Israel to land its third consecutive nomination in this category.

By and large, with this shortlist, the Academy has dodged the embarrassment of previous years — there are no stunning snubs on the scale of “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” or “Gomorrah,” though many critics will mourn the exclusion of “Police, Adjective.” (I saw that one coming.)

Some might be surprised that the executive committee didn’t step in to save the lavishly acclaimed Romanian entry, though I suspect they had their hands full protecting other critical darlings. (Looking at the balance of the list, my guess is that “Samson and Delilah” and either the Haneke or the Audiard — or perhaps even both — needed the extra help.)

Okay, so my months-long hunch that Finland’s “Letters to Father Jacob” would be this year’s “Departures” was off-base. My guess, then, is that we’re looking at nominations for France, Germany, Israel, Argentina and The Netherlands. (So it’s all but assured that most of those won’t make it.)

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24 responses so far

  • 1 1-20-2010 at 12:11 pm

    Morgan said...

    I think “The White Ribbon” vs. “A Prophet” is going to be the biggest baddest matchup since “Pan’s Labyrinth” vs. “The Lives of Others” … and possibly the only exciting contest of this year’s Oscars, alas…

  • 2 1-20-2010 at 12:12 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Why can’t I shake this hunch that something else will win?

  • 3 1-20-2010 at 12:23 pm

    Nigel Bridgeman said...

    I’m confident that Samson & Delilah won’t be nominated. Beautiful, near-faultless film, but will they pick a film with minimal dialogue, half of which is English? I hope they do but I’m not counting on it.

  • 4 1-20-2010 at 12:31 pm

    head_wizard said...

    One of their storngest lists but I have to agree when it comes to foreign language the Academy has a terrible track record.

  • 5 1-20-2010 at 12:39 pm

    McAllister said...

    I am seriously in love with “Ajami.” I haven’t been so like this since “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”

  • 6 1-20-2010 at 12:45 pm

    Ross said...

    I’m keeping my fingers hopelessly crossed for Samson and Delilah. In vain, I’m sure, but crossed nonetheless.

  • 7 1-20-2010 at 12:48 pm

    Satu said...

    Blaah.. I so hoped Father Jacob would make it. Haven’t seen most of these films so can’t really say which would have been the most deserving but beeing from Finland I hoped we would get some Oscar glory just once :D

  • 8 1-20-2010 at 12:54 pm

    Chase K. said...

    The “Best Foreign Language Film” category might as well be re-named to: “Best Film That Will Be Released Sometime Next Year”.

    Seriously, “The White Ribbon” finally opens near me in two weeks – “A Prophet” not until March. “Police, Adjective?” No chance. Do any of the rest even have distributors?

  • 9 1-20-2010 at 12:54 pm

    Michael said...

    Has anyone seen “The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner” or “Kelin” that can comment on what they are like? I am not finding very many reviews and they are definitely not available yet on Netflix. I assume they are pretty good if they made it this far on the Academy’s shortlist but you can never tell.

    I remember last year when “Revanche” was nominated over “Gomorrah”, I was pretty pissed (b/c I had never even heard of Revanche before) – but I have since seen it and it is now one of my favorite films from that year. So I do agree that mostly this branch of the Academy makes more mistakes than any other, but every now and then they do cause an unheard of gem to come to the forefront which is pretty exciting too.

  • 10 1-20-2010 at 1:01 pm

    Andr913 said...

    I predict White Ribbon, but if they pull a 2006, A Prophet will win.

  • 11 1-20-2010 at 1:04 pm

    RandomThoughts said...

    A Prophet is my favorite film this year. Hope it wins.

  • 12 1-20-2010 at 1:14 pm

    David said...

    There are always surprises here but I think that the nominees will be:

    El Secreto de sus Ojos, Argentina
    The White Ribbon, Germany
    Un Prophete, France
    Winter in Wartime, Netherlands
    Ajami, Israel

  • 13 1-20-2010 at 1:58 pm

    Basque said...

    The secret in their eyes is not as good as “A prophet” or “The white ribbon” but it is emotional, surprising and academic, and, in my opinion, it´s the one that will take the oscar home

  • 14 1-20-2010 at 4:51 pm

    Sound Designer Dan said...

    I’m a bit disappointed that Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother” didn’t make it. But Korea never makes it to the final nominees.

  • 15 1-20-2010 at 9:25 pm

    Glenn said...

    I’m so happy for “Samson & Delilah”! If Quentin and Pedro get to read that title out – even as just a nominee – i think I’ll die of happiness (before quickly being revived, natch).

    They seemed to have a fondness for South America this year though, didn’t they? If only Chile had half a brain and submitted “The Maid”.

  • 16 1-20-2010 at 11:45 pm

    Walr7s said...

    Seen so far:
    Argentina, “El Secreto de Sus Ojos”
    Australia, “Samson & Delilah”
    Bulgaria, “The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner”
    France, “Un Prophète”
    Germany, “The White Ribbon”
    Peru, “The Milk of Sorrow”

    Ranking them:
    1. Argentina, “El Secreto de Sus Ojos” [9.7/10]
    2. Germany, “The White Ribbon” [8.9/10]
    3. Bulgaria, “The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner” [8.4/10]
    4. Peru, “The Milk of Sorrow” [8.1/10]
    5. France, “Un Prophète” [7.5/10]
    6. Australia, “Samson & Delilah” [5.3/10]

    My Verdict:
    Germany will have a hard time pulling sentimental votes. Why do I say this? In the past few years, the one that made people cry the most won. That’s why Germany might go the usual critics’ darling route and not end up winning. Having just seen Bulgaria tonight, I think it is perfectly safe to call it a dark horse for the win, it’s a massive tearjerker. Argentina is still my pick as the frontrunner, and rightfully so. It’s a powerhouse achievement all across the board and packs an emotional punch. France, well, just isn’t getting that great of reception with US audiences so far. Peru is an impressive directorial achievement but doesn’t have the story to ensure a win. And well, Australia, they’re certainly not going to go for that.

    Now all I got left are Israel, Kazakhstan, and the Netherlands, and I highly doubt any of these will be threats.

  • 17 1-21-2010 at 7:24 am

    PabloV99 said...

    I just can say that “El secreto de sus ojos (The secret in their eyes)” is one of the best pictures I ever see, is one of that movies that, when you leave the theater, remains in a corner of your mind and you can’t avoid that the scenes (and feelings, and questions) comes again and again to your head…
    Obviously I would like that El Secreto… wins an Oscar, because I’m from Argentina and my heart is with it, but… the more I desire is that all people can view it because is really a jewel.
    And, at least for all those who say “that movie is the better” or “that must win”. You can’t compare one movie whith another one that you haven’t saw!! Please go to theater and see all the candidates before write your opinion or vote!!
    As yet I could not see all candidates, then I can’t make my list. I just can express my deepest desire with this movie.

  • 18 1-22-2010 at 6:29 am

    pony said...

    Does anyone know what’s the deal with “Sin Nombre”? Is the film Mexican or American? Why wasn’t it submitted by either country (being as good as it is and having received all the accolades it has since so early in the year)? What’s the rule regarding the US being unable to submit films made in a foreing language (such as “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Apocalypto”, which I believe did get Globe noms)?

  • 19 1-22-2010 at 6:38 am

    Liz said...


    I might be wrong, but I think the reason why American movies made in a foreign language are ineligible has something to do with the director’s native language not being the film’s language.

    Like I said, not sure, but I think that had something to do with Michael Hanake’s “Cache” being disqualified.

  • 20 1-22-2010 at 7:25 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Liz: “Cache” was disqualified under a now-obselete rule stating that a film had to be in the official language of the submitting country. (It was submitted by Austria, but has French dialogue.) Thanks to the ensuing outcry, the rule was abandoned the following year.

    The U.S. is not permitted to enter the Best Foreign Language Film race under any circumstances, in the interests of keeping the award global and avoiding national bias.

  • 21 1-22-2010 at 7:48 am

    Liz said...

    That’s interesting, Guy. I didn’t know that rule was no longer in play.

    So, if Pedro Almodovar makes a movie entirely in Japanese, would that be eligible as Spain’s Oscar entry? Or would it have to be Japan’s Oscar entry?

  • 22 1-22-2010 at 7:58 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    If it was a Spanish-financed production, then it would be Spain’s entry, regardless of language.

    For example, the rule change enabled the Hindi-language “Water” to be nominated as Canada’s entry in the 2006 race. (The very first year after the rule change, as it happens.) Previously, Canada could only submit French-language films.

    When it comes to international co-productions, it’s up to the countries themselves to fight out who gets to submit the film. This year, for example, Austria was quite miffed that Germany submitted “The White Ribbon,” despite Haneke being a largely Austrian (but German-born) filmmaker. It can get quite complicated.

  • 23 1-22-2010 at 9:57 pm

    pony said...

    Thank you, Liz and Guy! So… “Sin Nombre”?

  • 24 1-23-2010 at 5:26 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I think “Sin Nombre” was too much an American production to qualify as Mexico’s selection, but don’t quote me on that.