Robert here, making no claims to predicting this year's Foreign Language Film category, or making any judgments based on quality. In the life of the mid-west movie lover, we're still waiting for all of these films to show up in our area. But I wanted to make on observation on what is supposed to be one of the more solidly predictable categories this year.
Einstein supposedly said "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." So you say you find yourself pretty certain that A Separation has its Oscar locked up based on critical praise and a slew of other awards this season. Tell that logic to The White Ribbon, Waltz With Bashir, Pan's Labyrinth, Paradise Now and Amelie; all foreign language front-runners that had it all come Oscar night, except an Oscar. Whether A Separation meets this same fate is not for me to say.
But consider not what the critics think, nor that Nathaniel is hardly the sole voice to name it the best... in any language. Don't even consider the huge stack of awards its won this season. Instead wonder if it hits the foreign language "sweet spot" that seems to have developed in the past few years. We all know that in the Foreign Language category, voters must watch every entry. This may work against popular films like Amelie and Pan's Labyrinth that are whimsical or fantastical, making them look too slight to voters in the shadow of lesser known but more complex, socially conscious fare. But not too complex, please. The Academy is still The Academy and films with the structural or moral ambiguity of Paradise Now, The White Ribbon and Waltz With Bashir are less commonly embraced than movies with clear messages.
A few frontrunners in the past decade have managed to go the distance, and good as some of them have been, they've all met the requirements of the sweet spot: serious but not ambiguous, complex but not too challenging. Come Sunday we'll know into which crowd A Separation falls. Until then, if I were a betting man, I could think of a dozen other categories I'd rather push my chips into.