Italy and Spain enter foreign Oscar race

Posted by · 3:04 pm · September 29th, 2010

With the official (though not necessarily final) deadline for submissions just two days away, there’s been a flood of new additions to the list in the past few days, including two big guns that were holding out on us — Italy and Spain. (Check out our updated list, now up to 55 titles, here.)

Among those who follow this race, all eyes were on Italy’s selection, and not just because the country still holds the record for most wins in the category. (The Italians’ fortunes have dipped rather in recent years, however: since “Life is Beautiful” triumphed in 1998, they’ve managed only a single unsuccessful nod.) With a shortlist of 10 contenders to choose from, it was difficult to predict which way the Italian selectors might lean.

Many Oscar-watchers assumed that the high-profile Tilda Swinton starrer “I Am Love” would get picked, but that was always unlikely: far less well-received in its home country than in English-speaking territories, chances are the film’s stylistic excesses wouldn’t have been to the Academy’s taste either.

A safer bet seemed to be the earnest if unexciting family drama “Our Life,” for which Elio Germano won the Best Actor award at Cannes in May, and relatively popular directors like Gabriele Muccino and Ferzan Ozpetek also had works in the running.

As it turned out, the country surprised many by opting for Paolo Virzi’s “The First Beautiful Thing,” a comedy about a curmudgeonly university professor charged with looking after his dying mother. The film seems to be a largely unknown quantity in the English-speaking critical world, but reports suggest it’s a slight, sentimental work.

Meanwhile, after being unable to submit Mexican co-production “Biutiful” for themselves, Spain has supplied the race with its second vehicle for a Spanish-speaking crossover star, this one showcasing Gael García Bernal. (In a neat bit of symmetry, Mexico’s entry is anchored by a Spaniard, and Spain’s by a Mexican.) “Even the Rain” is a film-within-a-film starring Bernal as a director presiding over a troubled Christopher Columbus biopic shoot in Bolivia, helmed by well-regarded actress-turned-director Icíar Bollaín and written by her husband, regular Ken Loach collaborator Paul Laverty.

The film only opens in Spain in January next year, which ostensibly goes against Academy regulations for the category (submissions must have been locally released prior to October 1), but I am informed that a qualifying release has been arranged. Meanwhile< I’ll be sure to catch up with the film at the London Film Festival next month.

Meanwhile, other countries to have submitted entries since my last update include China (domestic blockbuster “Aftershock”), Colombia (“Crab Trap”), Hong Kong (“Echoes of the Rainbow”), Iceland (“Mamma Gógó”), Indonesia (“How Funny (This Country Is)”), Nicaragua (“La Yuma”) and Portugal (“To Die Like a Man” — sorry, Manoel de Oliveira fans). That leaves reigning champion Argentina as perhaps the most significant country yet to enter.


→ 19 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

19 responses so far

  • 1 9-29-2010 at 3:39 pm

    John said...

    Is it just me, or does this category seem a lot more low-profile than in previous years?

  • 2 9-29-2010 at 3:43 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’ve heard a few people saying that. I don’t think so, but maybe that’s just because I’m more familiar with many of these films from the festival circuit.

  • 3 9-29-2010 at 3:59 pm

    Lance said...

    I thought Spain had submitted “Cell 211” Don’t they always go with what wins the Goya?

  • 4 9-29-2010 at 4:07 pm

    Pablo (BOG) said...

    Lance: Thats not always the case. The perfect example was when they submitted The Dancer and the Thief over Broken Embraces which had a higher profile or when The Blind Sunflowers got selected over Camino, best pic in the goya’s in 2008

  • 5 9-29-2010 at 4:18 pm

    Brady said...

    Watch out for Aftershock. It’s the whole country’s new favorite movie. And it’s deeply affecting and about a harrowing and exciting look at one of the greatest natural disasters China has ever faced. Check it out.

  • 6 9-29-2010 at 4:34 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Lance: As Pablo says, the Spanish selection is not dependent on the Goyas — not least since the Goyas take place early in the year, meaning eligibility dates wouldn’t always be compatible. The last top Goya winner to enter the Oscar race was “Volver” in 2006-7, and even then, it only won the Goya after it was submitted to the Academy.

    You might be thinking of Israel, which operates on the system you describe.

  • 7 9-29-2010 at 4:41 pm

    Tye-Grr said...

    Excited about that Gael film. He’s a wonderful actor.

  • 8 9-29-2010 at 4:55 pm

    Gil said...

    I saw “Aftershock” at TIFF, and I could see the foreign language branch going for it: intimate and emotional human drama based around a historically significant event, traditional style, uplifting ending…

    If it weren’t for the fact that the movie is really BAD, I wouldn’t hesitate to predict it.

  • 9 9-29-2010 at 5:36 pm

    Jordan Cronk said...

    Very excited for TO DIE LIKE A MAN, though based on the other two João Pedro Rodrigues films I’ve seen, I can’t imagine this going very far in the race. I hear it’s quite excellent however.

  • 10 9-29-2010 at 6:10 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    Can someone please explain the “official but not final” deadline thing to me, please?

  • 11 9-29-2010 at 6:19 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Nothing much to explain: the Academy occasionally makes allowances for latecomers, while some countries’ submissions can change post-deadline, usually owing to eligibility issues.

  • 12 9-29-2010 at 11:26 pm

    Glenn said...

    John, you’re right, but that’s got to do with several things. The distribution of foreign language titles is like a dried up creek bed right now. Only the most commercial of titles seem to permeate through to any sort of widespread notice in America with many of the selected titles never going on to get releases.

    Secondly, I think it’s just a change in the film industry. Long gone are the days when directors of Kurosawa or Fellini’s caliber would remain making films in their own country for decades. Almodovar is the only name off the top of my head that has had international and Oscar breakthrough and remained true to his home country. These days the moment you win an Oscar in this category you get snapped up by Hollywood to make a big budget movies (Rendition, Wolverine, The Tourist, etc).

    Thirdly, many of the high profile titles have big questions marks against them. Do we really see the Academy going for “Uncle Boonmee”? Doubtful.

  • 13 9-30-2010 at 1:17 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I think executive committee might force “Uncle Boonmee” onto the shortlist simply so they can look hip. But yes, it’s a stretch to imagine the general votership putting it into the final five.

  • 14 9-30-2010 at 1:28 am

    gioele said...

    Personally for the contenders Oscar i suggests the italian film “the first beatiful thing” by italian director Paolo Virzì, one of the greatest film by year with three great best actor/actesses :Valerio Mastandrea(best leading actor),Micaela Ramazzotti a(best leading actress) and Stefania Sandrelli(best supporting actress)…is a film fully rich of emotions,laughs and brines….

  • 15 9-30-2010 at 4:57 am

    interstellar said...

    –>(re:Italy) damn, I didn’tlike it.

    Again popularity over quality — I Am Love is better.
    In these last years, also, there were better movies (like viola di mare, giovanna’s father) that have not been chosen because not popular in the States or not released at all.
    On the other hand Academy has really different tastes compared to those of European juries.

  • 16 9-30-2010 at 12:00 pm

    no rules for fools? said...

    How is it that some foreign film entries get to “ignore” the rules and submit films that haven’t had a qualifying run or which aren’t even written/directed or filmed by people from the country submitting (i.e. by Americans)? Have the “foreign film” rules totally been thrown out?

  • 17 9-30-2010 at 12:09 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    Thanks, Guy.

  • 18 9-30-2010 at 6:35 pm

    Jorge Rodrigues said...

    @Jordan: TO DIE LIKE A MAN is an even tougher sell that “The Ghost”, the other critically-acclaimed movie by João Pedro Rodrigues.

    It tells a story about a transvestite who tries to erase all his (her?) past as a male but unfortunately (and predictably, hence the title) dies before reaching his (her?) goal, “dying like a man”. It has a tremendously bad performance by the lead actor though. It is a very strong film, but it’s not something you’d be willing to see at the movies if you’re not into movies who are difficult to digest. The movie is great except for its last 1/3. I’d give it a B-.

    If you want to check out the trailer:

    And btw, if I was going to choose my country’s submission, I’d go with EMBARGO instead of this TO DIE LIKE A MAN. It’s “Saramago meets the Coen bros”. Amazing stuff.

  • 19 10-01-2010 at 2:34 am

    gioele said...

    with this e-mail i wish to ANNOUNCE a great italian film full of emotions ,moments of laughs, a great daily story in the years’s 60 of an italian family , where the centrals characters are a mother and the son that remembers teh your life with the youngest sister until the mother’s dead. A film yearningly and enjoyable full of contrivances …the actress,Micaela Ramazzotti, the mother young , Stefania Sandrelli the old mother and Valerio Mastandrea, the son, a teacher very apprehension enjoyable are fantastics in their interpretations . A new film…very very good…
    Personally Valerio Mastandrea deserves a nomination for the best lading actor …is a great performance as good as Stefania Sandrelli earns the bust supporting actress and Micaela Ramazzotti like best leading actress…