The not-impossible dream: an Oscar nomination (or two) for 'Holy Motors'

Posted by · 7:45 pm · November 26th, 2012

With awards season now unavoidably under way — the Oscar nominations are just over six weeks away, if you can get your head around that — I’m facing the possibility of another year where few of my personal favorites are in the hunt. Of course, I have yet to see the likes of “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables” or even “Lincoln”: I could fall in love with any one of them, as so many others have, and thus have something to root for as fervently as I did “The Hurt Locker” a few years ago. For now, however, the projected Best Picture roster and the early drafts of my 2012 Top 10 mostly appear poles apart. 

Which is all the more reason to get invested in the finer details of the race: the narrow openings and blind spots that could benefit less expected films in less keenly scrutinized categories. Be it last year’s Best Sound Editing nod for “Drive,” a Costume Design mention for “Bright Star” or an Original Song bid for “Dancer in the Dark” — making Lars von Trier an Oscar-nominated songwriter, if nothing else — I’ve come to treasure isolated votes of Academy approval for adored outsiders. Such nominations are almost comical in how inadequately they represent the films’ qualities, but there’s something perversely satisfying about seeing these largely uninvited Cinderellas turning up at the dance after all. And the outlier I’m rooting for most this year? “Holy Motors.” 

On the face of it, it’s patently absurd to mention Léos Carax’s dizzy French odyssey into (and out of) dreams, performance and the director’s own particular cinematic obsessions in the same sentence as the Academy Awards. Taken as a collective, the Academy wouldn’t touch this surrealist crazy-quilt with a bargepole, and that’s if they even bothered to see it in the first place. Taken as a collection of independent and independent-minded entities, however, the Academy offers rather more leeway to Carax’s film: if not for the director and his virtuoso leading man Denis Lavant, then with two of the Academy’s least predictable technical branches.  

In a recent Oscar Talk pocast, Kris touched on the possibility of a Best Makeup & Hairstyling nomination for the film — which would certainly be appropriate recognition, given that the entire film is predicated on the notion of diguise. Not only does the film show us Lavant’s shape-shifting protagonist taking a multitude of forms, from a bent-backed crone to a flame-haired Rumpelstiltskin of sorts, but it repeatedly lets us in on the process of his metamorphosis, as Lavant applies, removes and switches his transformative prosthetic layers.

It’s as direct and lovingly reflective a showcase of the makeup artist’s craft as anything we’ve seen in recent years, and I couldn’t agree more with Kris’ assertion that the film deserves to take the makeup Oscar in a walk. He currently has it in the Top 10 on the category’s Contenders page — and though the competition is unusually stiff this year, I like its chances of reaching the bakeoff stage.

Though Gerard didn’t mention the film in his recent Tech Support survey of the category, he correctly pointed out how open-minded this branch is to foreign-language fare, and not just high-profile contenders like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Sea Inside” and “La Vie en Rose”: “Il Divo” was a delightfully improbable nominee a few years back, while “Gainsbourg” made the bakeoff last year. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them stump for “Holy Motors.”

More surprising would be a nomination for Best Original Song. Yet in a category that goes out of its way to surprise us every year, I’m not going to count out the possibility — not least because “Holy Motors” boasts one of the best, and most evocatively incorporated, original tunes of the year. Performed on screen by Kylie Minogue in the film’s most romantically melancholic set piece, “Who Were We” is a swirling, semi-narrative pop aria that, in its lush orchestration and wistful emotional undertow, hearkens back to 1960s-era Michel Legrand. If you haven’t seen the film, you can get a brief taste of its on-screen context in the clip below.

Set in an abandoned department store, it’s the kind of isolated scene that could play well in the music branch’s viewing-and-voting process, if submitted for consideration. Indeed, with its impact wholly self-contained, it could positively benefit from voters not seeing the rest of the film. And once more, this branch has been kinder than most to foreign films in recent years — a lot of people hadn’t even heard of “Paris 36” before it turned up in this category three years ago — while the fact that the song itself is in English lends this exotic contender a best-of-both-worlds quality. On the flip side, it’s lyrically a bit spare for their tastes, on top of its more obvious long-shot qualifications.

Still, we can hope. After getting ignored by the Cannes jury and missing even the longlist for the European Film Awards (which, incidentally, I’ll be covering from Malta this weekend), Carax’s very odd duck is quite used to sitting out the awards game — which would make a bolt-from-the-blue Oscar nod or two all the sweeter.


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