The Foreign Language Committee won’t announce its list of nine short-listed Best Foreign-Language Oscar contenders for another six or seven weeks (i.e., early January). Six films will be chosen by the regular committee, per custom, and three will be chosen by the executive committee.
I’m telling you right now there are going to howls of protest if Asghar Farhadi ‘s A Separation (Iran) and Gerardo Naranjo‘s Miss Bala (Mexico) are not among the nine. And I’m saying this in particular because I know a guy who’s spoken to a couple of Academy members who’ve seen it and they’ve been kind of “meh.” This is how the Academy denies merit and recognition to great films — they “meh” them to death at parties.
The executive committee needs to step in and do the right thing if the regular committee schmucks (who made history four years ago when they ignominiously failed to include Cristian Mungiu‘s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days on the shortlist) fail to include Miss Bala or A Separation on the shortlist.
Sixty-three countries, including first-time entrant New Zealand, have submitted films for consideration. I’ve narrowed the list down to 17 likely contenders, meaning that at least seven of these are going to be left out in the cold, and from the nine, of course, only five final contenders will emerge. In any case here, in alphabetical order, are HE’s most likely 2011 finalists along with sporadic instant comments:
(1) Bullhead, d: Michael R. Roskam (Belgium). Instant verdict: “Popular film festival attraction, many awards, exceptionally well made. Thuggish, castrated, bull-like protagonist makes it a bit of a tough sit.”
(2) Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, d: Jose Padilha (Brazil). Instant verdict: Alleged prejudice against genre films might make it a bit tough for this police thriller. I still haven’t seen it. Thoughts?
(3) Monsieur Lazhar, d: Philippe Falardeau (Canada). Instant verdict: Nothing, zip. Seeing it next week.
(4) The Flowers of War, d: Zhang Yimou (China). A friend recently saw it and says “highly likely, real chance, Christian Bale, excellent, beautifully shot, big mass rape scene,” etc.
(5) Superclassico, d: Ole Christian Madsen (Danish). Instant verdict: “Kinda light, comedic…has played really well with the committee.”
(6) Le Havre, d: Aki Kaurism√§ki (Finland). Instant verdict: Old man, young boy, humanism, compassion, class act. Highly impassioned Cannes reception.
(7) Declaration of War, d: Valerie Donzelli (France). Instant verdict: “Good, not great,” says one involved observer. “Mark Johnson really liked it,” says another.
(8) Pina, d: Wim Wenders (Germany). Instant verdict: excellent 3D ballet film but fighting against foreign-language-committee prejudice regarding docs.
(9) The Turin Horse, d: Bela Tarr (Hungary). Instant verdict: Too slow, too meditative, too Tarr-ish. Observer #1: “I can’t imagine it making the short llst.” Observer #2: “No way.”
(10) A Separation, d: Asghar Farhadi (Iran). Instant verdict: Slam dunk, pre-ordained. “One way or the other it’ll get in,” a non-vested observer declares. Likely top-five nominee.
(11) Footnote, d: Joseph Cedar (Israel). Instant verdict: Highly regarded, stirringly cerebral but more of a performance film than a high achiever in its own right.
(12) Terraferma, d: Emanuele Crialese (Italy). Instant verdict: Generally posaitive response although I myself haven’t seen it.
(13) Miss Bala, d: Gerardo Naranjo (Mexico). Instant verdict: Foreign-language-committee prejudice against action films will not be tolerated because this, in a very real stylistic sense, is an art movie by Michelangelo Antonioni. “Tough film,” says one Oscar consultant. WHAT? He/she means that the not-very-bright types are going to say “meh…action, guns, Mexican mafioso, drugs, killings…not an award-calibre thing.” WRONG…it is that. Will probably need to be “saved’ by the exec committee.
(14) Happy, Happy, d: Anne Sewitsky (Norway). Instant verdict: Light, likable, genuine.
(15) In Darkness, d: Agnieszka Holland. Instant verdict: Holocaust subject gives it the usual advantage. Has played quite well. One Academy guy told a friend he was more impressed by this than by A Separation.
(16) Once upon a Time in Anatolia, d: Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey). Instant verdict: Austere. Tough sit. “No way,” one guy says.
(17) Where Do We Go Now? d: Nadine Lenaki (Lebanon). Instant verdict: Good response, won audience award in Toronto.