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Oscar History

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Oscar Horrors: Kathy Bates in Misery

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Entries in Middle Eastern Films (37)


Reviews: "Desierto" and "Under the Shadow"

by Nathaniel R

Jeffrey Dean Morgan & Gael García Bernal in "Desierto"

Two more Oscar submissions are now in limited release in the US: Mexico's Desierto and the UK's Tehran set film Under the Shadows. Both are what you might call horror films though one suspects only the latter would accept the label. 

We'll go anywhere with Gael García Bernal, who has blessed us with a number of fine road trip / travel movies in his career like Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Motorcycle Diaries , and The Loneliest Planet. In short, he's the perfect choice as a protagonist if you want us to sign up for a gruelling journey...

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Foreign Film Race Pt 2: All the Trailers (Japan to Vietnam)

Everything You Wanted to Know About the Foreign Language Film Category... *But Were Afraid to Ask

Pt 1 All the Trailers (Albania to Italy)

Pt 2 All the Trailers (Japan through Vietnam)
Here are all the trailers in one place! (Well two places. Part one has the first half. While you watch these we're sprucing up the Official Submission Charts right now to make them cleaner with the full list now that the Academy has made the list official.  Which of the 85 films (a record!) are you eager to see? Which do you think Oscar might also warm to? 

See more trailers than you can watch in one sitting after after the jump!

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Foreign Watch: Two Oscar Favorites Join the Fray

We've been faithfully updating the Oscar charts daily to reflect the submissions in one of our favorite categories. We'd call it our favorite but then how would Cinematography, Production Design, both Actress categories, and Costume Design feel? The deadline for submission is just a few days away so in a week or two the Academy will make the list official. Generally speaking, there are one or two surprises from our charts once they do -- a sudden addition or replacement and maybe a single disqualification. But if this list holds we are just short of the all time record number. The are currently 82 submissions, which is one shy of the record from 2014 (the Ida year).

90 year old legend Andrezj Wajda with his film trophies

Among the newly announced films are After Image, a biopic of an avant garde artist, by Andrzej Wajda for Poland and The Idol, the true story of a man who competed on "Arab Idol," from Hany Abu-Assad of Palestine. Oscar loves these two directors so they're surely threats for the finalist list. Poland has submitted films by Honorary Oscar winner Andrzej Wajda a total of nine times in their history and four of those were nominated: The Promised Land in 1975, The Maids of Wilco in 1979, Man of Iron in 1981, and Katyn in 2007. Meanwhile both of Palestine's nominations in the Best Foreign Language Film category come from Hany Abu-Assad: Paradise Now in 2005 and Omar in 2013.  Can these men work their Oscar-hooking magic again?

Updates to the charts (part 1, part 2, part 3) also include new contenders from Argentina, Bangladesh, Jordan, Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Turkey.


New Actor Obsession: Dominic Rains

Confession: I normally remember actresses names with their faces straightaway even if they've only had a bit role that impressed me. Sometimes actors take a few roles to reel me in as if I'm face blind. And so it was at Tribeca where Dominic Rains took the Best Actor prize for his strong sympathetic work as Osman, an Afghani journalist transplanted to rural California in Ian Old's The Fixer (2016). All throughout the picture I was like "who is this guy?" like I'd never seen him before only to discover thereafter that I'd already seen him AND loved him in two other movies. In my defense the Iranian-American actor, born in Tehran and raised in Texas, looks different in each of his key roles. But still! I'd never let this talent slip by me with an actress no matter what they did with their hair and costumes.

Rains was the mohawked punk rocker in the little-seen but high-energy Taqwacores (2010) and the sleazy drug-addled pimp in the stunning Iranian vampire picture A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014).

More after the jump...

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Short Film Contenders Pt 1. Who Will Win?

Eric Blume reporting for duty. We hadn't yet reviewed the short film Oscar nominees so I binged all 15 of this week. Many minds and bladders wander away from the Oscar telecast during these three categories.  Even those of us who claim we’ve “seen everything” have rarely seen all of the entries in the three shorts fields. But pay attention because these winners can bring some of the best moments of the show:  remember the 1991 show when producer Debra Chasnoff won for Documentary Short Subject for the General Electric expose Deadly Deception?  She got to the podium and said “boycott GE!” with a cut to Barbra Streisand smiling and clapping with Kevin Costner right behind her decidedly smiling and not clapping.  We Oscar lovers live for moments like this.

There’s a lot of quality among the three categories this year.  Here’s a quick overview as well as thoughts on who might prevail and why on two of the categories.

Documentary Short Subject

Body Team 12 follows the only female Liberian Red Cross member of a team which comes to remove dead bodies during the Ebola outbreak.  It’s the shortest of the five nominees at only 13 minutes, and therefore it doesn’t have a strong driving narrative, nor does it culminate in a larger meaning.  It simply follows the team while they gear up and remove the bodies, interspersed with an interview from its main subject.  It’s focused and lovely in its simplicity, but it suffers from its brevity. 

Pro:  Ebola.  Con: Uncomplicated.

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness follows Saba, a Pakastani girl who is shot and left for dead by her father and uncle in an “honor killing” once she marries the young man she loves.  It’d be hard for anyone with a feminist bone or beating heart in them to not get riled up by this story, and it’s told with restraint and intelligence. 

Pro:  Angry.  Con: Angry.

Eight more shorts after the jump

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HBO’s LGBT History: Be Like Others (2008)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at Bernard and Doris, which gave us a chance to wax on about two underrated actors, Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes. This week, we look abroad as we pause to think about Tanaz Eshaghian’s documentary Be Like Others (also known as Transsexual in Iran). More...

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TIFF: Baba Joon, Dégradé, Much Loved

on the set of Baba JoonAmir files our last TIFF report on three films, one of them hoping for Oscar...

Baba Joon (Israel)
Israel’s Oscar submission is quite a unique experience: the lives of Iranian Jews who have left their homeland to live in Israel—and are consequently not allowed to re-enter Iran because of the two countries’ bitter relationship has never been portrayed on screen. In Yuval Delshad’s debut feature, the titular character and his clan—a son, his wife and their son—all live on a small turkey farm in rural Israel and live with very modest means. The tensions between multiple generations of the family, and the melancholia of living at once at home and away from home are the film’s central themes.

Baba Joon’s storytelling and the emotional beats are familiar. There is nothing in the strained father-son dynamics, troubled by decades of repression, that we haven’t previously seen on the big screen. The film’s abrupt but rather predictable ending lends it a saccharine flavour that might sit well with the Academy, but undermines the film. When the story’s resolution is presented so neatly with a gift wrap, very little is left for the audience to ponder. Still, this is a heartfelt film of genuinely well intentions, with a sizable novelty factor, whose fresh look at ethnic minorities in the Middle East is quietly delightful.

Dégradé (Palestine/France/Qatar)
This debut film from eccentrically named brothers Arab and Tarzan Nasser, shows similar irreverence in depicting ethnic tensions with Israel. Part Almodovar-esque comedy of women on the verge of nervous breakdowns, part a thriller revolving a hostage situation, their film, which stars Hiam Abbas and Maisa Abd Elhadi, is based in a hair salon in Gaza, where the clientele hail from different social, religious and political backgrounds. As they wait their turns to be beautified, the salon becomes increasingly like a microcosm of Gaza’s society, and the world beyond the confines of the building is engulfed in violence.

Dégradé is an interesting look at life in the occupied territories because it broadens the conversation beyond the Israel-Palestine binary. In the film’s view, the community is rife with tensions and chasms, all exacerbated by the atrocious limitations of living in occupation. Yet, the image is much richer and layered than normally shown on screen, breaking the monolithic view of Palestinians in favour of a more complex perspective. That the film manages to convey these intricacies while remaining consistently entertaining is a significant accomplishment, and one that promises much more from the filmmaking duo.

Much Loved (Morocco/France)
The most daring film among the bunch comes from the more experienced hands of Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch. Ayouch surveys the night club scene in Marrakech, a world filled with sex, drugs and rampant decadence. Home to tourists from Saudi Arabia and Europe, the city’s nightlife is bustling and its sex industry is ever active, almost completely removed from the crisis-ridden country that surrounds it. Almost.  Following Noha (Loubna Abidar) and her entourage of less experienced escorts, Much Loved is as intimate a film as it is provocative.

Ayouch has had to field a lot of controversy, mostly due to the explicit displays of sex in his film; and while the murky release prospects of the film in the Arab world are understandable, it’s unfortunate if sex becomes the only talking point. This is the rare film that intertwines the lives of sex workers with socio-economic issues without becoming patronizing. Morocco’s complicated relationships with Europe and other Arab countries, and its tenuous political situation are subtly worked into the plot of the film. It’s intimate and superbly acted—mostly by amateur performers— and a film that's heartbreaking, humorous and evocative in equal measure. In a festival that is never short on big films from big directors, Much Loved was a true discovery.