Pete Hammond

NEWS, NOTES AND ANALYSIS FROM AWARDS SEASON:

Today’s narrowing to nine finalists out of 63 entries puts the Academy’s Foreign Language process back inOscars Foreign Film 2012 the spotlight. Although there were surprising omissions — notably Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki’s brilliant and clever Le Havre, one of several Cannes competition entries snubbed by the Acad’s foreign-language committee (perhaps its position as the first of the 63 films shown back in October kept it out of mind in the end) — there likely won’t be any raging controversy over these mostly admirable choices. Controversy was the reason the Academy switched to its new system a few years ago where the larger, mostly older and more mainstream volunteer committee would get their six top vote-getters in and the Acad’s Foreign Language executive committee — headed by Oscar-winning producer Mark Johnson —  would get to choose three more generally edgier movies with strong international reputations whose omissions might have caused an outcry. That was the case in the past when movies like City Of God were bypassed in favor of more conventional fare.

This year’s list generally jibes with what I had heard coming out of the committee over the past three months and in conversations with some exec committee members. The entries from Canada, Denmark, Germany,  Iran, Israel and Poland were all much-buzzed-about contenders. Belgium’s Bullhead, Morocco’s Omar Killed Me and Taiwan’s 4 1/2-hour epic Warriors Of The Rainbow: Seediq Bale all played in the final 10 days of the three-month screening process, likely to much smaller groups of voters who ranked them very high. In fact, I heard Warriors’ Saturday morning screening January 7 was sparsely attended but enthusiastically received. It causes a problem for this weekend’s final nine screenings (to a committee of 20 members in LA and another 10 in New York) who will be blurry-eyed at the end of the process of viewing all these contenders. Poland’s In Darkness is just under 2 1/2 hours itself.

Germany, a frequent foreign-language contender, also has Wim Wenders’ dance doc Pina competing for a Best Documentary Feature slot as it made the shortlist in that category too. A duel nomination would be unprecedented. Countries like Germany that  historically are fixtures in the foreign-language competition but which did NOT make the cut include France, Italy and Spain, which submitted lesser-known films this year over some higher-profile possibilities. It didn’t work out (having second thoughts about not submitting Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, Spain?). And China’s biggest production ever The Flowers Of War – starring Christian Bale and 40% in English — was probably hurt by the fact that it didn’t seem foreign enough.  Reviews weren’t so hot overall either, and that might not have helped.

The list of finalists also wasn’t good news for the Cannes Film Festival, which annually sets the table for the best and most anticipated international films and usually the Oscar race. But only one movie from the the 2011 festival, Israel’s Cannes main competition entry Footnote, made the list in a weak showing for the Grande Dame of all film festivals.

The five actual Foreign Language Film nominees will be announced Tuesday with the rest of the Oscar nominations.

In other awards news today:

It may not have been a red letter day for Le Havre in the Academy’s Foreign Language contest or even in BAFTA’s announcement yesterday, but the film did score a nomination  for it’s canine co-star Laika  as Best Dog in a Foreign Film as part of the first annual Golden Collar Awards, sponsored by the website Dog News Daily. It’s been a very good year for dogs in movies and while everyone else seems to be recognized with awards on an almost daily basis this time of year, why not these four-legged contenders too? Especially in a year when The Artist‘s Uggie managed to steal the show at the Golden Globes. Golden Collar finalists were named in five categories that also included TV and direct-to-DVD entrants. Uggie and Artist co-star Penelope Ann Miller made the announcement in front of lots of press this morning at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. No surprise: Uggie himself was nominated for Best Dog in a Theatrical film twice, the second being for his performance as Queenie in Water For Elephants. He will be competing against Cosmo in Beginners, Denver in 50/50 and Hummer in Young Adult. The latter was discovered on the streets of Minneapolis by director Jason Reitman and given the career-changing shot opposite Charlize Theron, who was also announced as recipient of the first Golden Collar Humanitarian Award. The prizes will be handed out February 13 in a ceremony at the Hotel Palomar in LA, supposedly a “dog friendly” establishment. (I am among a long list of media and critic types who will vote for the winners — please don’t try to lobby me and remember the nomination is the REAL award).

Don’t you just love awards season?

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