Sunday, October 04, 2009

Foreign Film Hoopla, 60+ Oscar Submissions

In the years I've been documenting Oscar's once largely undocumented foreign film category, we've seen the number of players creep up virtually every year, despite the concurrent dwindling of foreign film distribution in the United States. In 2001 for example when I first began tracking it and sharing the info online, there were 51 official submissions for Best Foreign Language Film. Last year there were 67. For the 2009 Oscar race (the submission deadline has now passed) we've now heard from 62 countries. But that doesn't mean the official list will only be 62 films. In the eight years I've been documenting this race, something always changes between the submission deadline and Oscar's official announcement of the list (coming soon): Films are disqualified, last minute switcheroos happen, countries that didn't make noise when they first submitted are revealed. There will be drama... albeit the mostly invisible kind.

You can see more about these 62 entries (cast, posters, miscellania) on the super comprehensive charts at The Film Experience
We'll have a lot more once things are "official" but here's a few early topics to think about...

Clockwise from top left: Albania's Alive, Luxembourg's Réfractaire, Czech
Republic's Protektor, Macedonia's Wingless and Iran's About Elly

World War II Fetish
World War II is to "Best Foreign Language Film" what Disabilities are to "Best Actor" and what DeGlam is to "Best Actress" and what Longsuffering Spouse is to "Supporting Actress"; the juiciest of bait for AMPAS taste buds. So we have to suspect that the following five films have a tiny boost in the competition: Norway's Max Manus, Luxembourg's Réfractaire (with Love Songs' breakout young star Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), the Czech Republic's Protektor, Slovakia's Broken Promise and Slovenia's Landscape No. 2 which you can actually already rent from Netflix.

The Stars
Having a recognizable face in your movie can sometimes put you on a voter's good side. They are only human and who among us isn't won over (at least initially) by the presence of a familiar well loved face? Switzerland's Home has the great Isabelle Huppert, Italy's Baaria has Raoul Bova, China's operatic biopic Forever Enthralled has Ziyi Zhang, Mexico's Backyard (see previous post) has Jimmy Smits, Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes AND Spain's The Dancer and the Thief both star Ricardo Darin.

Clockwise from top left: China's Forever Enthralled, Switzerland's Home,
Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes and Romania's Police, Adjective

Critical Darlings
Oscar has been rejiggering the rules in this category in a number of ways these past few years to try and curb the animosity that they often engender in the press when they skip extremely well-regarded foreign films like Romania's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Critical raves and festival prizes are no guarantee but contrary to the protestations of disgruntled cinephiles, they do not hurt.

Films that already have an enviable pool of well wishers include Germany's The White Ribbon from Michael Haneke (who was invited to join the Academy two years back), France's Un Prophete, Canada's I Killed My Mother, Australia's Samson and Delilah, Greece's Dogtooth, Korea's Mother and Romania's Police, Adjective.

You can argue that some of these pictures are anti-Bait... but let's be fair: the Academy can and does surprise. Sometimes they go against their grain and embrace the violently confrontational (Mexico's Amores Perros), the unusually risque (Austria's Revanche) or the utterly alien (Finland's The Man Without a Past). Anything can happen even if Anything usually doesn't.

the submission charts
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27 comments:

amir_uk said...

I hope, really hope, that Ursula Meier's Home (Switzerland's submission) is nominated.

A startling new voice in European cinema that picks up what Jean-Luc Godard's Week-end began and Michael Haneke's The Seventh Continent left off...

My review: http://www.thenational.ae/article/20081022/ART/995879809#

And yes, it does star the incredible, incomparable Isabelle Huppert.

amir_uk said...

Also, Nathaniel, thanks for throwing a spotlight on this category. It's one of my favourites, and I'm eager to see what each country has submitted. Couldn't do it without your coverage.

Univarn said...

I have to admit this is the category I least like as a Oscar vote. Not because I don't love the recognition these films get but because I can't remember the last time I agreed with the eventual winner. Though of course all the trouble last year with Let the Right One In annoyed me (though it was as much the producers & Sweden's fault).

I'll always look forward to the nominees though, gives me a chance to seek out films I would never hear about otherwise.

Arkaan said...

I don't really quite understand the purpose of the foreign language film category, as much as I enjoy some of the films selected.

That said, while they can surprise, Nathaniel, they often do so in a negative, not positive way.

Anonymous said...

nathaniel i love your site but it is really annoying when you say that you are going to update your oscar predictions and then you dont...not the way to retain readers.

Amir said...

i watched "un prophete", the other day, and i really loved it. i've watched about 50 movies thus far in the year, and among those, i have a hard time choosing between this movie and iran's "about elly" as the best of the year.

hopefully, the berlin best director, and tribeca best picture will help boost "about elly's" chances in this category.

of course, being an iranian myself, i can't wait to see the second nomination for iran happening.

Iggy said...

I've been reading the synopses of all of them (Sunday afternoons can be so dull...), and that (the variety) together with the way they are shown on your site with their respective posters, have made me realize this category is like compressing the Olympics to broadcast them during a Superbowl commercial break.

NATHANIEL R said...

anon 2:07 i'm not really worried about retention for people who can't handle it if i'm a day or four late. I've already lost those people years ago. I have never been and will never be a corporation with many employees who can spend countless hours tinkering with elaborate charts at exactly the time people hope I will or even (unfortunately) when I sometimes announce that I will. I should probably just not announce my intentions... but it's a way to keep myself motivated to know "gah! i gotta get those charts done"

I have a life and sometimes free complicated oscar charts take me a while to churn out. working on them now but sometimes they don't happen as fast.

Iggy i know! ha ha. i so wish there were more hours in every day. I sometimes wish that just ONE year i could have access to all 60+ submissions and really do them justice. I'm so curious to know, for example, if there are any years in which the lineup is stronger than the best picture lineup. I'm sure it's happened.

amir i do think about elly seems to have a good shot.

Spartak said...

Untill now I watched films from those countries:
China - Though I liked this one,but I don't think that it deserve to be nominated (or even in January list) and I don't think it would be...
Denmark - Didn't understand this movie...The idea behind the film is not so bad,but this dark drama\thriller was not so succesful in my eyes...No chances...
France - It was said a lot before...I think that it would make at least to January short list...
Hungary - Not bad,but it is not Oscar movie...
Israel - I didn't like this movie (if you want I can make a post explaining),though it gets superb reviews,so maybe I should watch it again (I am from Israek,so I care),until then...No chances.
Kazakhstan - It is gem that I am not sure academy will appreciate...
Ermek Tursunov proves that it is possible to provide art without single word!
Mexico - Another crime-thriller...Nothing special...
Norway - As you told before WW2 is a sure bet...Academy likes WW2 movies,me too (not everything,but this one is good)...So I can see this movie get nomination or maybe even win...
Peru - One of my own favourites,but it seem to me that the picture doesn't meet academy tastes,pity...So,I can't see it getting even into January shortlist.
Philippines - Maybe the worst one I have seen untill now...No chances.
Sweden - Seems a lot like two years ago Roy Andersson's "You,the living",which I didn't like,neither this one...No chances.
Switzerland - I can't say that I really dislike this movie,but something didn't work for me in this one.

During next week I hope to see:Estonia,Georgia,Mongolia,Russia and Uruguay...

Marsha Mason said...

You forgot a bait category for Best Supporting Actor. May I suggest "hammy loudmouth"?

NicksFlickPicks said...

Or, MM, Don't forget "Famous Fella Who's Never Won Lead (and Probably Never Will)."

Julie said...

thanks, great i ll use this source.

Marsha Mason said...

Believe it or not, Nick, I was thinking of saying the non-Oscared elder actor, but thought hammy loudmouth was something anybody could shoot for.

UncleVanya said...

I just read that China passed on “City of Life and Death” (it came in 2nd place at TIFF with the most positive reviews by critics out of the festival), and have, instead, submitted “Forever Enthralled” for Foreign Language consideration. In a seemingly endless, exhausting output of uninspired biopics, China has stepped up with it’s own mildly adequate paean to a famous person (in this case, a 1920’s opera singer, played by Zhang Ziyi). Honestly, I was hoping that Todd Haynes brilliant and iconoclastic, “I’m Not There” was going to be the final nail in the coffin of this made-by-rote genre. No such luck! Which leads me to respond to Joe Morgenstern's assertion in The Wallstreet Journal in which he lauds Anne Fontaine’s “restrained” direction in “Coco Avant Chanel”. Restrained, Joe? How about nonexistant. Fontaine has never been a good director, and she doesn’t disappoint here. In regards to biopics, I am not suggesting that they stop being made (because there are some very good ones: “I’m Not There”, “Capote”, “Quills”), but if they are going to be produced I would like them to say/express something other than being a Cole’s Note on someone’s life.

Anyway, here is that critics poll I mentioned above detailing the best reviewed films at the festival:

TIFF 2009 Survey Results

BEST NARRATIVE FILM
1. A Serious Man, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (63 points)
2. City of Life and Death, directed by Chuan Lu (20)
3. Up In The Air, directed by Jason Reitman (18)
3. A Prophet, directed by Jacques Audiard (18)
5. Dogtooth, directed by Giorgos Lanthimos (17)
6. Precious, directed by Lee Daniels (16)
7. I Am Love, directed by Luca Guadagnino (11)
7. Hadewijch, directed by Bruno Dumont (11)
7. A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford (11)
7. Lebanon, directed by Samuel Maoz (11)

It would be nice to see some of these get mentioned a little bit more (they need our help) instead of the usual suspects. I, for one, am holding out hope that “A Prophet” will cross over from the Foreign Language category to Best Picture (from my mouth to God’s, Santa’s, and the Easter Bunny’s ears).

Brian said...

Home is one of the best "new" films I've seen all year. Possibly the best. But I have trouble imagining the Academy voters taking to it for a slew of various reasons, from its extremely dark story arc to its allegorical nature, to its scenes of a family comfortable with being nude together. None of this seems at all Oscar-baity to me, especially in this category. Though I would love to be proven wrong!

Glenn said...

Wow, Nathaniel, you really reckon Dogtooth will get nominated? That's... ummm... okay. If you think the branch nominating The Man Without a Past (a very excellent film) was utterly alien then I can't imagine what them nominating Dogtooth would be. Clinically deranged, perhaps (not because I don't like it, but because it's just so... nothing like anything Oscar has embraced ever before).

However, the Slovenian entry sounds like catnip to the Academy and sounds better than, say, The Counterfeiters (a very bad movie, I must say).

I'm obviously pulling for Samson & Delilah and since it deals with young folk dealing with a tough society, it has a better shot than others.

I love that Switzerland submitted Home. I didn't see it, but at the recent Melbourne International Film Festival people were talking about how loopy it was.

Arkaan said...

UncleVanya, my secret hope is that the ten wide best picture slate inspires truly loopy voting from this body. I would love it if A Prophet gets a best picture nomination. However, I'm pretty sure SPC is saving it up for a release NEXT year. Doesn't mean they won't do the one-week qualifier (they do that regularly), though.

NATHANIEL R said...

Glenn... I never predicted DOGTOOTH to get nominated. No, I don't think it will. I was just listing some critical favorites that could theoretically be in play. the actual predictions are on the prediction page (and yes i'm probably leaning too hard on critical favorites)

UncleVanya said...

"UncleVanya, my secret hope is that the ten wide best picture slate inspires truly loopy voting from this body."

Wouldn't that be nice!

Glenn Dunks said...

Oh, good. I thought the green bars on the submissions page meant they were your predictions.

Kristin Regina said...

Gosh, the Philippines made e very wrong choice with Ded na si Lolo. That wasn't even as good as Lola, or Baler.

But I have high hopes for 2010. That Cory Aquino biopic should be really good!

UncleVanya said...

And, Amir, I agree with you about Ursula Meier's "Home". Here is a director with a distinctive new voice.

Spartak said...

NATHANIEL,as I understand om the page of foreign films,it is only prediciton....But what about your opinion?

NATHANIEL R said...

spartak... my opinion? if only the films were available to me. I'm seeing the White Ribbon this week but mostly i'm out of luck each year in this category since the films rarely open in the states. or at least not before the oscar nominations.

Clarence said...

I swear Philippines keep sending so-so movies for Academy recognition >.> the last time I actually saw a submission that I liked was Dekada 70 way back in 2003 was it? and then Anak <.< But other than that shame...

To answer your question on your Foreign Page, Comedy in general is very popular in the Philippines (when was it never popular?) and they love to play on superstitions and traditions there lol. Also,they love Gay movies which is wierd because Philippines is very Catholic lol.

But I think I can understand why they picked this movie. I mean it really has two things that are pretty much embedded in Filipino culture: superstitious beliefs about death and soap opera theatrics. I mean really the basic plotline is a soap-operatic family is grieving the loss of the grandfather (LOLO)by observing the traditions and superstitions during a 6-day wake and funeral

James Hansen said...

Romania! Romania!

Kristin Regina said...

@Clarence also, there's the lack of funding for the campaign. Was Jose Rizal or The Flor Contemplacion Story entered at the Oscars? These two were very very good. *Hails Marilou Diaz-Abaya*