France leads latest batch of Oscar entries

Posted by · 7:52 am · September 19th, 2010

As you may have noticed, we’ve been doing our best to keep you abreast of submissions for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar — the deadline for which is officially (but not definitively) October 1. At last count, 27 countries have entered films, and we now have a separate page where you can keep track of the growing list. (You can also find a link to it under the foreign-language category in the right-hand sidebar.)

The most prominent contender to enter the race since my last update is France’s “Of Gods and Men,” also known on these pages as the monk movie I embarrassingly couldn’t stay awake for at Cannes, where it wound up taking the Grand Prix. (We’ll be having a rematch at the London Film Festival next month — I look forward to tackling the film again with more than two hours’ sleep behind me.)

It’s a wholly unsurprising pick, following as it does the country’s simple selection formula since 2007: just choose the French film that took the highest honors on the Croisette. It’s worked for the last two years running, with “The Class” and “A Prophet” both landing nominations.

Still, I wonder if Xavier Beauvois’s meditative (read: molasses-slow) documentation of the 1996 massacre of a group of Trappist monks in Algeria might not be a tougher sell to the Academy — even if, like those last two nominees, it has Sony Pictures Classics in its corner. The film is certainly noble enough for the voters’ liking, but may be a touch on the austere side. Obviously, I’ll be in a better position to judge once I’ve seen more than 30 minutes of the film.

The selection must come as a bit of a blow to France’s more upbeat, middlebrow crossover contender “The Concert,” which was being floated as a Best Picture possibility a few months back. (Now that The Weinstein Company has a solid horse in “The King’s Speech,” I’m guessing that’s the last we’ll hear of it.) I maintain that “The Concert” — turgid schmaltz that has nonetheless found a receptive audience — would have been an automatic nominee (and possible winner), so I’m grateful that the French have aimed a little higher.

People tend to think of France as the default nominee in this category, but lately, Germany has been on even more of a roll, with five nominations (and one win) in the past six years. This year’s entry, Feo Aladag’s “When We Leave,” doesn’t sound like the best bet to extend that run, even if it did take top honors at the Tribeca Film Festival in May. A study of a young Turkish-German woman asserting her independence, it is, unlike the country’s five recent nominees, not a period piece. (Nor is it even tangentially about the Holocaust.)

The one German submission in the last six years not to impress voters? Fatih Akin’s praised-to-the-skies “The Edge of  Heaven,” a contemporary drama centered on Turkish immigrants. Go figure.

“When We Leave” premiered at the Berlinale in February, as did Turkey’s recently-announced submission, “Honey” — the film that won the festival’s Golden Bear award in a tepid Competition year. Typically, I managed to miss it while I was in Berlin, though there was little talk about it leading up to the prize. On paper, the film reads like catnip to this voting branch — mute 6 year-old boy goes in search of his beekeeper father — but I also gather it’s rather a remote piece of work.

Also new to the race since my last update: Belgium’s “Illegal,” Slovakia’s “The Border” and Switzerland’s “La petite chambre.” Check out the in-progress submissions list here, and do chip in with any perspective you may have on the contenders.

[Photo: Sony Pictures Classics]

→ 14 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

14 responses so far

  • 1 9-19-2010 at 8:02 am

    Joel said...

    Way to go! I LOVE the comprehensive coverage of the Best Foreign Language Film submissions. I am trying to check out Thailand’s entry at the film festival near where I live this month.

  • 2 9-19-2010 at 8:28 am

    Markku said...

    In your last post you requested some information about some of the more obscure contenders.

    Well, for starters, you van scratch Finland’s “Steam of Life” off from your list of serious contenders. It is an arty documentary featuring interviews with various Finnish men while they bathe in saunas. Naked. They talk about their lives, their loves and hardships. There’s no single subject, it’s just basically a series of intimate confessions. (Not intimate like that, though!)

    Here’s the trailer (NSFW!):

    Don’t get me wrong, it is a fine film, heart wrenching at times, even. But it’s still an eccentric documentary and a veritable sausage fest. No way in hell will the Academy go for it.

  • 3 9-19-2010 at 8:37 am

    James D. said...

    Lodge, your coverage of the Best Foreign Film contenders is the best I know of. Keep it up.

    With that said, thank goodness The Concert is being buried.

  • 4 9-19-2010 at 9:31 am

    ChrisG said...

    The international title for “Die Fremde” is “When we leave”? – Interesting. I’m glad they picked this film, because I expected “Unter Bauern” (Saviors in the Night) or “Jud Süß” (Jew Suss: Rise and Fall) to be the chosen one. The German submissions of the 2000s were pretty much always the easy ones, since the Academy seemed to like German films dealing with their past. But “Head on” and “Edge of Heaven” are so so much better than “The Lives of Others”, “Baader Meinhof Complex” or “Downfall”.
    Thus I’m quite sure: No best foreign film nod for Germany this time.

  • 5 9-19-2010 at 9:47 am

    han said...

    incendies is gonna win.

  • 6 9-19-2010 at 9:54 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Han: I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about “Incendies” — sadly, I missed my window to see it at Venice. But isn’t it rather heavyweight for the Academy? (Of course, it still has to be confirmed as Canada’s submission, doesn’t it?)

    Markku: Thanks. I’d heard “Steam of Life” was a documentary — bar a highly narrative, genre-fudging effort like “Waltz With Bashir,” I agree with you that that’s an Academy write-off.

  • 7 9-19-2010 at 10:15 am

    han said...

    i just see two obvious possibilities: incendies could win if canada submit it. italy could take the oscar home with i am love.

  • 8 9-19-2010 at 10:29 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I think “I Am Love” is too arch and stylised to win over the majority of voters. Indeed, just getting selected as Italy’s entry is a bit of a hurdle — I’m told that the film has a number of detractors in the local industry. My money is on the Italians submitting Cannes winner “Our Life.”

  • 9 9-19-2010 at 10:42 am

    Free said...

    Thanks for the updates. Don’t feel bad about falling asleep during a slow but likely Oscar-nominated foreign film. I slept through 2003’s The Twilight Samurai, and it wound up getting nominated, so go figure.

  • 10 9-19-2010 at 10:52 am

    McAllister said...

    This is easily one of my favorite categories. Thanks for all the coverage. Still eagerily awaited the submission from Israel.

  • 11 9-19-2010 at 11:08 am

    McAllister said...

    A possible submission for Israel.. “Intimate Grammar.” It has received 12 Ophir nominations (the Israeli Oscars… “Ajami” won last year, “Waltz with Bashir” the year before) and won the top prize at the Jerusalem Film Fest.

  • 12 9-19-2010 at 3:50 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I began to nod off during “A Prophet,” so don’t worry!

  • 13 9-19-2010 at 7:35 pm

    Glenn said...

    “I Am Love” could get nominated on name basis alone at this stage, couldn’t it? Are there ANY big titles out there? There’s some we’ve heard about via festivals, but none like White Ribbon or Prophet.

  • 14 9-19-2010 at 7:44 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Glenn: The Academy isn’t always that concerned with name appeal in this category — look at that weird 2007 race, after all. I still think “I Am Love” isn’t the most likely Italian selection: “Our Life” is more earnest and more self-important. We’ll have a confirmed shortlist tomorrow, I believe.