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Wednesday
Jan182012

Foreign Film Finalists: "A Separation" Sheds Many of Its Chief Rivals

With just six days until Oscar nominations, the Academy has released the finalist list for Best Foreign Language Film. Iran's wondrous A Separation (see my top ten list) might just go all the way. While it's true that most pundits are already predicting just that, I've been more cautious. Masterpieces are often tripped up in this category by more heartwarming or traditonally baity mass-appeal films in the final heat. The biggest surprise here might be the omission of Lebanon's 'can't we all get along' musical Where Do We Go Now? which some pundits, including myself, had suspected might be a real threat given its populist pull. It won the People's Choice at Toronto which generally bodes well for Oscar traction. Not this time.

Poland's "In Darkness" is "A Separation"'s chief rival now; it's a Holocaust drama.

The Finalist List

  • Belgium (5 noms) "Bullhead" Michael R. Roskam
  • Canada (5 noms | 1 win) "Monsieur Lazhar" Philippe Falardeau
  • Denmark (8 noms | 3 wins) "Superclásico" Ole Christian Madsen (I'm a fan)
  • Germany (16 noms | 3 wins)  "Pina," Wim Wenders
  • Iran (1 nomination)  "A Separation" Asghar Farhadi (#1 of the Year)
  • Israel (9 nominations) "Footnote" Joseph Cedar
  • Morocco (never nominated) "Omar Killed Me" Roschdy Zem
  • Poland (8 nominations) "In Darkness" Agnieszka Holland
  • Taiwan (3 noms | 1 win) "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale" Wei Te-sheng

Omissions
Lebanon's entry is not the only high profile entry to be shown the door. France's amazing Declaration of War -- which obliterates 50/50 on the cancer dramedy battleground -- was probably too contemporary and eccentric for Oscar's foreign volunteer committees. Mexico's lauded Miss Bala about a would be beauty queen struggling to survive a drug war is probably the snub that will prompt the most anger from film buffs. I do wonder if Miss Bala had stuck to its original release plans (it was supposed to open in 2011) if it might have built up enough of a reputation to avoid being set aside here. Finally, there's at least three auteurist cinephile darlings on this cutting room floor: Finland's Le Havre, Turkey's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, and Hungary's The Turin Horse

Records To Be Broken
The dance documentary Pina is still gunning for a fascinating record. It might become the first film to ever be nominated in both the documentary and foreign language film categories... and though I'd have to triple check I believe it would be the first documentary every nominated for Best Foreign Film even if it loses out on the documentary shortlist.

Morocco is the only country that might be looking at a first time nomination.

Our favorite Israeli actor (not that we're that familiar with a plethora of them) Lior Ashkenazi (Late Marriage, Walk on Water) in "Footnote"

Israel has been on a roll with Oscar. If Footnote is nominated it will be the fourth Israeli film in five years to score a nomination. Their previous best run was from 1971 through 1977 when they scored four nominations. Despite frequent nominations they've never won the gold making them the Deborah Kerr or Peter O'Toole of the foreign film Oscars.

If Taiwan is nominated a fourth time this year for their battle epic it will be the first time they've ever been nominated outside of the Ang Lee filmography.

CURRENT PREDICTIONS

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Reader Comments (22)

I wish I'd seen more than three of the nine, but the rotten release schedule in North America doesn't help. "A Separation" is only opening in Montréal on Oscar weekend, and "Footnote" won't be opening until March.

I would like to see "Monsieur Lazhar" make the shortlist. I really don't think it's as outstanding as "Incendies" was last year, but it's still good...and quietly good, which might play better to Oscar voters than the "sturm und drang" of "Incendies."

I'd love to see "Pina" make the shortlist! As for the only other one I've seen, the Moroccan "Omar m'a tuer," I doubt that it will go forward. It's pretty ordinary, which means that I'm surprised that it made it to the longlist...especially over the fantastic "Declaration of War" from France.

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

Your point about Miss Bala's release date is a great one. I'd say "Let that be a lesson to them" but I have a feeling that the distributors of foreign films aren't making a huge profit so they probably don't care that much...

As far as nominations go, I think that Israel and Poland are both tied (with Mexico) for the most nominations without a win. I wouldn't be surprised though if only one of them was nominated this year and broke the tie...

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

With Miss Bala not making the cut, this is the first time that no Spanish-Language film has made the shortlist since 2007. Which is a shame because I love Spanish and Latin American cinema. Maybe if Spain had submitted La Piel Que Habito, they would've stood a better chance....

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

It would also be the first 3D film in those categories as well, correct?

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterA.J

It's always news when France doesn't make the list-in hindsight, they should have gone with something more traditional like My Afternoons with Margueritte or Sarah's Key.

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Wow. I'm surprised Seediq Bale made the shortlist. (I'm glad it made it instead of the GG-nominated Flowers of War.) If it ends up getting nominated I might be obligated to root for it over A Separation (which sadly I still need to see)

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

Evan:

-Israel with 9 nominations
-Poland and Mexico with 8 nominations

My predix:

1. Iran - "A Separation"
2. Canada - "Monsieur Lazhar" - Nath, I think you're understimated this film. Maybe it isn't another "Incendies" but the reviews are good enough for the prestige and it's pitch perfect for the AMPAS (social issues + Emotive story + Comedic moments)
3. Israel - "Footnote" - We'll have a political controversy
4. Morocco - "Omar Killed Me" . "Ordinary film" wasn't an obstacle in this category (Remember Italy's "Don't Tell", Japan's "Departures", Sweden's "Evil" and Algeria's "Outside the Law"). If Morocco is nominated, we have the clear certain than Bouchareb is AMPAS favorite -If he made it with that mess of "Outside the Law", I don't see why this film can't go to the same luck-. Next year- Golshifteh Farahadi and Sienna Mlller ;)
5. Denmark - "Superclasico" - Maybe I'm wrong but I think Holland's film will have the same fate as Almodovar, Troll and Schmidtz. Also, comedies have better luck in this category -Everybody Famous!, Elling, The Man Without a Past, Dogtooth-

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleon

Not having seen Miss Bala, I can't comment on its quality or style. Yet I can't help but be reminded of the fact that City of God was passed over in this category, too—a year before snagging nominations in Directing, Editing, and Cinematography following its American release.

Also, I'm curious as to whether the Academy committee screened the 150-minute cut of Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale or the full 270-minute version. I know I'd prefer the full version get a stateside release.

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

Leon, hm-- my bad. I had checked both the French and Spanish "Best Foreign Language Film" Wikipedia sites (darn SOPA strike) and they said eight each.

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Also, while I expect that A Separation will be nominated in this category, in the times we're living in right now, I doubt very much that Hollywood would ever go so far as to nominate an Iranian film for Best Picture. Too many people would consider that sticking a thumb in America's eye, and Academy members have always been a little self-conscious about appearing too far afield politically. I know, I know, the film is a critique of Iranian society, not a booster for it, but that distinction will be lost on the jingoist crowd who will only intepret it as liberal Hollywood honoring a movie from one of our nation's enemies (if not its primary enemy at the moment) in what's supposed to be "our" awards.

So, I don't think that release-date business has anything to do with A Separation's likely omission from the Best Picture roster.

And if it ends up not even being nominated in this category...well, I think I've just spelled out why.

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

J.P. -- I get what you're getting at, but that would be a great sin against art, never mind our stupid notions about rejecting great things from other societies. America has really got to move away from its binary thinking. It only does us harm.

also i'm more and more troubled by people viewing A Separation only through the prism of what it says about Iran. I think it's so much more universal than that and yet I read this everywhere (a critique of Iran's legal system! a critique of Iran's secular/religious state) and it's so reductive to what the film does. I think it's absolutely applicable to American audiences and I think all of these issues are all over the world and they're definitely right here in this country) Not just where we keep pretending they are (i.e. all the problems are in the middle east)

Oh and I'll try to find out on the Warriors of Seediq running time. good question.

A.J. -- yep another first.

Leon i'm not sure what you mean about hte same fate as Almodovar?

Evan yeah, i have the stats on these pages right here (foreign film submission charts under the Oscar header). Israel is the leader without a win with Poland and Mexico tied for second place. so i guess i should have said that Israel is Peter O'Toole and Poland and Mexico are Richard Burton ;) all these nominations without wins!

January 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh, I didn't mean to suggest that the film can only be seen through that prism. Only that the "critique" comments would be the expected response to those people reflexively hostile to the very idea of an Iranian film nominated for Best Picture.

—"They nominated a film from Iran for Best Picture?? We're practically at war with them!"

—"But it's not a pro-Iran film! It's actually a critique of Iranian society!"

Like that.

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

"In Darkness" was a really pleasant surprise. It's not another Holocaust movie. It's not perfect, but definitely one of the best WWII movies I've ever seen.

I guess top 5 should look like this: Canada, Israel, Poland, Iran and Germany, with "A Separation" and "In Darkness" fighting for the prize. Two absolutely amazing movies. My fingers crosssed for "A Separation"though...

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBlaise

Nathaniel: Maybe I need to be especific in that point. Holland, as Almodovar and Troll, is a recognizable Academy Award nominee and in these years, their films were favorites in this category. The interesting point, since 2007, there's one AMPAS fiendly film which is surprisily snubbed.

2007: Almodovar's Volver was one of the frontrunners that year alongside Mexico's Pan's Labyrinth and Germany's The Lives of Others. Finally, it was rejected in favor of Denmark or Canada (I don't know which one is the fifth place)

2009: Jan Troll's "Everlasting Moments" was also expecting to make the five nominees; especially after the GG nomination. It got good reviews, the film was sweet and compelling for the AMPAS members. The more surprising news, Austria's violent film "Revanche" got it instead Sweden.

2009: Netherlands' "Winter in Wartime" is possible the least acclaimed of this list. But this film was a touching drama around WWII with a child in the lead and a big compellng production.. Finally it was snubbed in favor for the experimental peruvian submission "The Milk of Sorrow"

2010: Another favorite; South Africa's "Life, Above All" received raves in Cannes, An emotive story about AIDS and next it was rejected for Greece's disturbing comedy Dogtooth.

Just a hunch, but I think "In Darkness" could be the next film of the list

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleon

leon -- I still can't believe "Volver" wasn't nominated!

I hate shortlists. They're tacky and useless.

I saw "Monsieur Lazhar" on stage and it was quite moving. I think it might be a good contender.

"Black Bread" is very good, but it was way too dark for this category, which is so difficult to predict. Their taste seems to change every year!

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue -- agreeed on shortlists. It just seems so cruel to the 4 films that won't be nominated. I would be okay with finalists list before the shortlists if they a) happened sooner and b) were always AT LEAST double the size of the final shortlist so it wasn't like "oh almost everyone got in but you, loser!!!!"

January 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Sorry, my bad. The years I said:

2007: Volver (Spain) ignored --- After the Wedding (Denmark) / Water (Canada) incluyed
2008: The Year than my Parents Went on Vacations (Brazil) --- Mongol (Kazakhstan)
2009: Everlasting Moments (Sweden) --- Revanche (Austria)
2010: Winter in Wartime (Netherlands) --- The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)
2011: Life, Above All (south Africa) --- Dogtooth (Greece)

January 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleon

I'm surprised that Canada has been lucky in making the finalist list ever since these shortlists began. They don't seem to make it every year when it comes to the nominations, but they do make the first cut.
I am not sure about Monsieur Lazhar, but it did do well at the Genies this week, so we'll see.

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

Wasn't "Waltz with Bashir" technically a documentary?

Go Pina! I haven't seen any of the others to have a say, unfortunately. All the others that I had seen (Turin, Anatolia, etc) were left off.

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Blaise, your predictions look reasonable based on global acclaim, but we know that Oscar rarely follows that so I'm guessing something surprising gets in-- Belgium maybe or Taiwan.

It probably depends on whether or not it was the Executive Committee that saved A Separation or not. If they had to intervene, I bet this next committee works to get A Separation and one other film (probably Piña?) into the final five. If not, they could save Piña and another, more obscure film, if that makes sense...

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Oh- and the runtime of Warriors is 276 minutes. They didn't use the shortened version. (This info comes from Steve Pond.)

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Thanks, Evan!

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.
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