Three Reasons Why People Ought to Stop Bitching About the Foreign Film Race and Just Appreciate The Movies
There are now 38 Official Submissions for Oscar's Foreign Language Film race, one of The Film Experience's favorite categories. Which means there are now undoubtedly about 38,000 bitchy articles lodged around the web and print... many of them undoubtedly focused on Blue is the Warmest Color, due to its high profile both from content (lesbian sex!) and prestige (Cannes winner).
I am exhausted by the griping each year about this category. I really am. And often from people who should know better. The grumbling over this oft divisive category reminds me of how Oscar fans like to say...
I would have nominated so and so 12 times with 3 wins!"
...without ever thinking it all the way through and realizing who they'd have to snub to be so crazy generous with one particular pet. People will only be satisfied with the best foreign film race when it... no, no. They won't ever be satisfied.
I should elaborate. Herewith 3 annual complaints that bug the s*** out of me... and I've been giving ample attention to this category long before every other site on the internet deemed it worthy of noting each "official submission!" press release.
1. The Eligibility Rules are "Arbitrary" And Ridiculous
Recently while reading this report at In Contention of Deadline's interview with Wild Bunch co-founder I became quite angry reading this passage:
There was never any question for us to modify in any way our release strategy to legitimize the stupidity of the Oscar rules," he says. "Should we risk our strategy for France for a Foreign Language Film Oscar which doesn’t add anything to a Palme d’Or?" He continues: "[The rules are] unique, specific and make no sense. At the same time, no one cares about this category. We’re aiming for ... all categories, the only ones that count.”
This statement is problematic on any number of levels but it's also blatant self sabotage or, worse, disingenuous stealth campaigning.
Why would someone who works in the distribution of foreign language films CONTRIBUTE to the marginalization of foreign language films by saying that "no one cares". As someone who cares and has cared for a very long time I find this absolutely infuriating. Furthermore how are rules for this category supposed to avoid being "unique and specific". There is no "stupidity" involved in the Academy having rules about release date eligibility. You have to have organizational principles in order to have an annual competition at all. And you have to have them for every category. Specialized categories require even more careful attention to how something should qualify. It's the nature of the beast. To me this is just the powers behind Blue is the Warmest Color feeling entitled to do whatever the hell they want due to their acclaim. Instead of quietly giving the film a one week qualifying run in France (as most countries do for their prize gem film if they plan to release it later) or just releasing it instead of withholding it from the French for 5 months after its Palme D'Or win when the Academy's rules about timing of release are clear. My guess is that this is just disingenuous campaigning since they can milk a perceived but non-existent "snub" (you can't be snubbed if you aren't eligible) for nomination traction in other categories, a way of forcing AMPAS to take notice of a great film. They're probably thinking about the groundswell of support for films like Talk to Her or Three Colors Red, both of which could not compete in the foreign language category but not, and this is the key point, from any fault of their own! That's something that the people behind Blue Is cannot claim.
I'm not trying to diss Blue is the Warmest Color but I'm angry that a distributor would be this dismissive of a category that has, for a very long time, done a lot to boost awareness of international cinema for US audiences, who contantly need that awareness boosted since they can be very tunnel visioned when it comes to movies.
2. It's Stupid That ____ Only Gets To Submit 1 Film!
The suggestion that "hot" countries (i.e. whichever country's cinema the critics are wild about that year/decade) or country's with prolific and/or healthy film industries like India, France or China (to name three from the many) ought to be able to submit more films than countries who only have one movie to submit or are choosing between their only, say, four, is a perennial one. But I've yet to hear a solution to the problem that makes any kind of sense. And if you don't have a solution to the problem, stop bitching about the problem.
If Oscar allowed for unlimited entries from each country, how would the voting even be possible? If they allowed for submissions based on percentage of the countries filmic output who would police the numbers and if they allowed multiple entries from France wouldn't France just own the category every year? And THEN the complaint (from the same people) would be about how other countries don't stand a chance and how can they justify their Francophilia ?!? FREEDOM FRIES. BLARGH.
The only solution I've ever heard to this problem was suggested by me (ahem) and it's this: Let foreign language films which are released in US theaters during the calendar year ALSO compete for this category since they're eligible for all the others due to the US release. Perhaps set up a separate committee in charge of winnowing that pool of films down and then you have your 65 standard submissions as well as the best of the lot that hit theaters... so therefore France and India and other prolific countries would have more than one opportunity.
3. What About Immigrant Stories? It's Awful That A Film Has To Be In the Country's Native Tongue To Qua
Oh wait. They fixed this rule some time ago. Immigrant and multi-national stories are no longer problem areas since 'not-in-English' is enough to qualify now instead of claiming that the language spoken also has to be indigenous to the country its representing. For instance this year we have three films with ties to The Philippines (a country that's never had a nominated film) since The Philippines, the UK, and Singapore have all submitted movies about Filippinos.
See, for as much as we'd like AMPAS to quit tinkering with things that aren't broken (like the Best Picture category or that dumb moment some years back when they split Original Score into two separate categories), they actually do tinker with this category's rules in useful ways, often based on valid criticisms. Things have been much better in terms of wildly acclaimed films getting nominated for Best Foreign Language Film since they introduced the Executive Committee. The Academy's Foreign Film lineups of late and their two most recent winners (Amour, A Separation ... both masterpieces, which is more than the most recent "Best Pictures" can claim) the past few years have been outstanding, so people need to take a deep breath and give credit where it's due for once.
In addition to improvements in the quality of the nominees and winners, far fewer films have been declared ineligible due to not being 'native' enough since they loosened up about what constitutes, say, a Swiss film as opposed to a German one (for example).
So by all means keep bitching, but only if the criticism is constructive.
38 OFFICIAL SUBMISSIONS ON THE OSCAR CHARTS
Click the link for posters, trailers, and info about each film that's competing including recent additions like Saudia Arabia's Wadjda, Mexico's Heli, Latvia's Mother I Love You, Brazil's Neighboring Sounds, and Croatia's Halima's Path. We're over halfway to our complete final competition list which usually ends about 65 films wide. Stay tuned for the rest and click around and share the charts in the meantime.
Which films do you think will rise up from the collective din?