Saturday, December 21, 2013

86th Academy Awards Foreign-Language Film - Shortlist of 9

To my surprise late yesterday the Academy released the names of the nine (9) films that will advance to the next round of voting in the category and to must Oscar season followers the selected films meant surprises and huge snubs. We know that every year this is one of the most controversial Oscar categories and this year is NO exception.

There is an article written by Scott Feinberg that if you wish to read in full go here, that could help us understand more about the selection process. The following is a cut and paste paragraph from the article.

The Academy's best foreign-language film Oscar short-list is determined in two phases. During the first, all of the eligible submissions -- which this year numbered 76 and included three documentaries, two animated films and 16 films directed by women -- are divided into groups, as are the members of a foreign-language committee which consists of several hundred Los Angeles-based Academy members, all volunteers from a wide cross-section of the Academy's branches whose names are never released. Each group of members is then assigned to a different group of films. In order to retain the right to weigh in on the short-list at the end of the process, members must attend screenings of a certain percentage of the films in their assigned group. This year, screenings of all of the submissions took place between mid-Oct. and Dec. 16, and members had to attend no fewer than 17. Those who maintained their eligibility then got to vote, and their six highest-scoring films were passed along to an executive committee.

So we know that watching 76 films is almost humanly impossible in a couple of months (unless you really enjoy films like me) so the shortlist is generated by selecting films from each of the groups with eligible voters. From this exercise six (6) films are selected giving to the executive committee the task to add 3 more films that they considered HAVE to be in the shortlist. If you don't remember this decision came after excellent non-commercial films were left out of the race. Even if the process has improved a lot than in the past, still is not infallible and excellent movies are left out of the race in the first phase.

From the films I have seen major snubs for me come from countries like Argentina, Chile, Iran, Mexico and Romania. These five films are absolutely must be seen and strongly recommend you do not skip them. But then let's be honest, if you enjoy great cinema there are about 50+ movies that were submitted to Oscar that are must be seen for me and most of you that read the blog regularly, so I assume that all the fuzz and buzz about snubbing is that some USA distributors already had commitments with movies that they hoped will made the list of nine at least.

From the list of 9 films, haven't seen more than half BUT can share with you that definitively The Hunt and The Great Beauty HAVE to be nominated plus if one of them wins the Oscar I would not be upset at all. Still my Oscar goes to The Hunt even when Sorrentino's La Grande Bellezza was a true cinephile pleasure like the ones that Fellini used to give us back then.

These are the nine (9) films that advance to the second phase that ends with generating five nominees to be announced on Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 5:30 am PT.

Belgium: The Broken Circle Breakdown, Felix van Groeningen (Berlinale)
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Epizoda u životu berača željeza (An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker), Danisa Tanovića (Berlinale Jury Grand Prix winner)
Cambodia: L'image manquante (The Missing Picture), Rithy Panh (documentary) (Cannes Un Certain Regard winner)
Denmark: Jagten (The Hunt), Thomas Vinterberg (Cannes 2012)
Germany: Zwei Leben (Two Lives), Judith Kaufmann and Georg Maas
Hong Kong: 一代宗师 Yi dai zong shi (The Grandmaster), Kar Wai Wong (Berlinale)
Hungary: A nagy füzet (The Notebook), János Szász, (Crystal Globe for Best Film at 2013 Karlovy Vary)
Italy: La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty), Paolo Sorrentino (Cannes)
Palestine: Omar, Hany Abu-Assad (Cannes Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize winner)

Basically we have 4 Cannes films, 3 Berlinale films, 1 from Karlovy Vary and 1 film from Göteborg (Germany), so ALL are festival films, which only assures an above average film quality. Let's go more in-depth.

Belgium: The Broken Circle Breakdown by Felix van Groeningen
From all the films in shortlist perhaps this is the one that pleased audiences the most as many of the film accolades are Audience Awards in festivals like Berlinale, Karlovy Vary, Tallinn Black Nights, etc.

I believe that film has excellent performances, great screenplay, and good director which makes a very unusual non-commercial crowd pleaser film.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Epizoda u životu berača željeza (An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker), Danisa Tanovića
To be honest I was going to skip this film but now I know will watch it as not only won the Jury Grand Prix at 2013 Berlinale but now is being honored by the Academy.

From trailer and images imagine that will be not easy to watch; still story reminds me of a great Romanian movie about how hard life can be when you deal with state institutions.

Cambodia: L'image manquante (The Missing Picture) by Rithy Panh
The most interesting facts about this film is that is a documentary, is animated plus tells a story that IF told not this way surely could be unwatchable. Film has collected major honors like the Un Certain Regard Award at 2013 Cannes, Best Documentary Award at 2013 European Film Awards and 2013 Jerusalem Film Festival's In Spirit for Freedom Award.

No doubt that 2013 is the year when documentaries told unthinkable stories in the most unthinkable way (bordering beauty) that definitively touches viewers deep. Also think Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing.

Denmark: Jagten (The Hunt), Thomas Vinterberg
Thomas Vinterberg masterful opus won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury in 2012 Cannes as well as Best Actor for the incredible performance by Mads Mikkelsen; also won Best Screenwriter award at 2012 European Film Awards, 2013 Nordic Council's Film Prize Award and was not 2012 Denmark submission to Oscar because was released after the Academy deadline. So one year after was sent and made the shortlist of 9. Not a fan of ranking movies I see BUT this year will be the exception as The Hunt is my number 1 movie of the year, the one that has my Oscar and the one I hope wins.

Strongly suggest you watch movie as film is fantastic but watching Mads is truly, truly an awesome experience I highly recommend to many people that call their profession "actor".

Germany: Zwei Leben (Two Lives) by Judith Kaufmann and Georg Maas
Have not seen movie and yes, I am "dying" to see it especially because lead performances by Liv Ullman and none other than Juliane Köhler that many of you will remember from great Aimée & Jaguar. Film was not screened in major festivals but was a selection in 2013 Göteborg Film Festival running for the International Debut Award.

It is the second film by Maas (documentary filmmaker) and the first by Kaufman (cinematographer) and know their work as have seen Maas Liv Ullmann documentary and many movies were Judith Kaufmann was the cinematographer like 4 minutes, When We Leave, Unveiled and more.

Update: film has extraordinary cinematography, good performances more Scandinavian than German style, an interesting story told in slowish pace but believe is not Oscar worthy material as is entertaining but not much else.

Hong Kong: 一代宗师 Yi dai zong shi (The Grandmaster) by Kar Wai Wong
Some of you know my blind love for Wong Kar Wai and his master filmmaker style so masterful developed in films like In the Mood for Love, 2046, Chungking Express and more; add that I still believe that the greatest actor in the world is Tony Leung (thanks to his extraordinary performances in Wong Kar Wai's films and other directors) and you have an idea of the expectations I had for this film. Perhaps my expectations were too high but film doesn't look/feel much like great Wong Kar Wai (perhaps the close film style is Ashes of Time) so in a way I was disappointed but not much as film is absolutely outstanding when you think cinematography, truly awesome visual pleasure.

Still film has already won 14 awards plus more nominations, including Ziyi Zhang winning Best Performance by an Actress at 2013 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Best Cinematography in 2013 Golden Horse Awards where also won the Audience Award. Worth watching but try to minimize the effect the director may have in your expectations.

Hungary: A nagy füzet (The Notebook) by János Szász
Not really interested in watching as many will remember that do not enjoy war movies and need someone/something to force me to perhaps consider watching.

Still seems that film has impressive cinematography and already collected accolades at 2013 Karlovy Vary where won the Crystal Globe and Label Europa Cinema awards.

Italy: La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty), Paolo Sorrentino
My second favorite actor in the world is Toni Servillo and see everything with him, not really a fan of the director (but loved Il Divo with Servillo) and had no expectations. This film gave me the greatest surprise this year as never, never imagined Sorrentino could make a movie so decadent that gave me the chills as almost felt I was watching early Fellini. One of the best five movies this year and one that already won great accolades from being in competition at 2013 Cannes to win several awards in 2013 European Film Awards including best film and best actor. If you ever loved (and miss) great Italian cinema then this film is must be seen for you.

Palestine: Omar by Hany Abu-Assad
Not in my film watching queue (even when won 2013 Cannes Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize) but called my attention when won Best Film at 2013 Asia Pacific Screen Awards. Surely will not be easy to see but accolades suggest that maybe story has something different, especially when story has been told too many times in many different ways/points-of-view. Will watch.

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