Every year around this time my fellow local critics and
myself look at the short list of Foreign
Language Oscar Nominees nominees
and we say, “Huh?
These are the nine films selected by an Academy committee
from the 60 odd submissions from individual countries to be voted on by the
Academy at large for the five final nominees. Invariably most have not been
seen or released here in the US -- the distributors no doubt waiting to see if
they get any Oscar cachet before they take the plunge. This year, however, I
was able as FIPRESCI juror at the Palm Springs Festival to get an early look at these and many more, and my first observation is that
the choices are a lot edgier than the usual combination of schmaltz, sex and
Maybe this year the final choices will also be a bit
challenging, though when the selections go before the whole Academy I doubt it.
At any rate, here are my thoughts on the elite nine and their chances to make
the final cut and win the big prize (hey, I already stuck my neck out on the
other major nominations, this should be a piece of cake).
“The Baader-Meinhof Complex.” Uli Edel’s frenetic account of the
decades long reign of terror of those murderous, fun-loving pseudo-Leninist
loonies left me torn between an impulse to overthrow the establishment and
revulsion at what idiots they were. For those who didn’t connect the dots while
these events were in the headlines, this is a valuable educational experience,
but I can’t see the limousine liberals or crusty codgers in the Academy going
“The Class.” I was happy that my fellow jurors were as stymied as
myself at the high praise (not to mention the Palm d’Or) this verite-like tale
about a dysfunctional Parisian high school class has been receiving. The
teacher is an idiot and the kids are insufferable; call it “To Sir, With Hate.”
It might squeeze in, but I’d say it won’t make the grade“Departures.” Yojiro Takita’s often lovely, funny and moving
fable makes death, loss and broken families seem okay and was the audience
prize winner at Palm Springs.
The average age of the Palm Springs
attendee is at least 65, which probably matches that of the average Academy
member, so this is a surefire nominee. My guess is that it will win as well.
“Everlasting Moments.” With the emphasis on everlasting. Veteran
Swedish director Jan Troell’s period family saga is a crock, but with its often
gorgeous photography, showy performances, platitudes posing as profundities and
a talking horse named Kropotkin, it fulfills Hollywood’s definition of arty foreign film
and is therefore a shoo-in.
“The Necessities of Life.” That old formula of lonely
adult/stricken child never fails and Benoit Pilon’s restrained and poignant
tale of an Inuit taken from his family to a TB clinic in the city is an
outstanding example of it. The FIPRESCI jury gave its Best Actor Prize to Natar
Ungalaag for his limpid, heartbreaking performance. But that shouldn’t stop the
Academy from nominating “Necessities.”
“Revanche.” Austrian director Gotz Spielmann puts a
perverse, personal stamp on the film noir in this twisty, detached and weirdly
redemptive tale of crime, punishment and revenge. Of course the FIPRESCI jury
chose it as Best Picture and the majority of Academy members probably won’t
make it through the first half hour.
“Tear This Heart Out.” Mexican director Roberto Schneider’s big
showy, over-produced period drama based on a pulpy book with plentiful,
tasteful female nudity balanced off by a pseudo-empowered heroine. This has
nominee written all over it.
“Three Monkeys.” I am stupefied and delighted that Turkish
director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s minimal,
amoral morality tale, not his best but still a near masterpiece, got this far.
An oversight that will be corrected, so he should enjoy the attention while he
“Waltz With Bashir.” Another anomaly, and Ari Folman’s animated
tour of hell, a.k.a the Invasion of Lebanon 1982, might even win. Hey, a black
guy got elected president. Anything is possible.