The Foreign Language Film race for the 85th Annual Academy Awards kicks into high gear tonight at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre with a double feature. Denmark’s period costume drama, A Royal …
Controversy, Record Entries, French Frontrunners As Oscar’s 2012 Foreign Language Race Kicks Off Tonight
UPDATE, 5:32 PM: Oscar clearly proved lucrative for The Weinstein Company and Sony Pictures Classics. Best Foreign Language winner A Separation added 160 locations in its first post-Oscar weekend outing, grossing over $1 million for the Farsi-language feature, averaging over $4,000 per screen. Best Picture winner The Artist, meanwhile averaged $2,171 from 1,756 theaters, up from the previous week’s 966 locations.
The big box office story of course was Universal’s The Lorax. The studio’s specialty division Focus Features also rolled out a title of its own, Being Flynn, at four theaters with a moderate $11,386 average. Also debuting this weekend were Paladin’s Boy at two location, grossing $45,000 — coming in with the highest per screen average of the titles we’re currently reporting — and Zeitgeist’s The Salt Of The Earth also in two theaters, taking in $21,000. Fox Searchlight’s The Descendants, which won Best Adapted Screenplay at last weekend’s Oscars, dropped 195 theaters from last week, grossing over $1.3 million from 694 theaters. The film directed by Alexander Payne has cumed nearly $80.5 million.
1. Being Flynn (Focus Features) NEW [4 Theaters]
Weekend $45K, Per Screen Average $11,386
2. Boy (Paladin) NEW [2 Theaters]
Weekend $23K, Per Screen Average $11,695
3. Last Days Here (Sundance Selects) NEW [1 Theater]
4. The Salt Of Life (Zeitgeist) NEW [2 Theaters]
Weekend $21K, Per Screen Average $10,500
5. The Forgiveness Of Blood (Sundance Selects) Week 2 [6 Theaters]
Weekend $19,200, Per Screen Average $3,200, Cume $50K
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 in 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.
Iran’s official entry to the Oscars for Foreign-Language Film this week took honors as best foreign independent film at the Moet British Independent Film Awards. Set in contemporary Iran, A Separation deals with the dissolution of a marriage. Simin wants to leave Iran with her husband Nader and daughter …
This season, 63 countries have submitted films for consideration in the Foreign Language Film category for the 84th Academy Awards. The 2011 submissions are vying to be among the 9 long-listed by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences before the 5 finalists are announced with Oscar nominations on January 24. Here are the films that AwardsLine London Contributor Tim Adler believes will make the semifinal round:
Declaration Of War (France)
Sundance Selects, U.S. release date: January 27
Valérie Donzelli’s Declaration Of War has been a huge hit with critics and the public alike. The movie, which opened Cannes Critics’ Week this year, has sold to more than 30 territories and has already generated over 810,000 admissions in France for distributor-sales agent Wild Bunch. Declaration Of War is based on Donzelli’s own life story. She and her former partner Jérémie Elkaïm play themselves in the film, which charts their fight to save the baby they had together after he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. The film’s success with audiences is largely attributed to its happy ending: the baby survives. Donzelli tells me, “The audience is confronted with the worst thing you can imagine, and yet they see people overcoming the situation. It’s not about the anguish of death but passion for life.”
The Flowers Of War (China)
Wrekin Hill, U.S. Release: 2012
Flowers marks a return to high drama for China’s favorite director Zhang Yimou and represents his fourth attempt at an Academy Award,
following defeats for Hero (2003), Raise the Red Lantern (1992) and Ju Dou (1991). With a budget of nearly $100 million, The Flowers of War – starring Christian Bale – is Zhang’s most expensive film ever. Zhang’s problem: Judges of the Best Foreign-Language Film category don’t really go for blockbusters. The film is based on events in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing when the Japanese occupied it during the Second World War. Bale plays a mortician who goes to collect the body of an American priest from Nanjing Cathedral, where he discovers local schoolgirls hiding from the carnage outside. Pledging to protect them, he dresses up as a priest and also shelters a group of prostitutes who have arrived at the cathedral. The Flowers of War ran for seven days in a 22-seat Beijing cinema to meet entry standards for the Oscars, which requires films to be shown in domestic theatres for at least a week. (It’s reportedly 40% English-language and 60% Mandarin, which lets it squeak by one of the Academy’s rules.) Despite little promotion and tickets costing 200 yuan ($30), double the normal price, Zhang’s latest sold out within 40 minutes of its box office opening. Chinese producer New Pictures Films handled U.S. rights with exec producers Chaoying Deng and David Linde and Stephen Saltzman of Loeb & Loeb. Wrekin Hill has acquired for U.S. distribution and releases on December 23.
With the deadline for submitting films in the Foreign Language Oscar race looming, the competition is taking shape. Some 44 films have been entered by Deadline’s count. Last year, 65 films were entered, so expect 20 or so more to be announced. After the October 3rd cutoff, the Academy’s Foreign Language Executive Committee, led by Oscar-winning producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man) will vet the list and approve the final rundown before the 3-month screening process begins to pick 9 finalists and the eventual 5 nominees. Already, Johnson has indicated to me there is controversy. Albania has entered The Forgiveness of Blood, the hit at Telluride and Toronto directed by LA-born and -bred Joshua Marston. Apparently, other Albanian filmmakers are balking at the nationality of the movie’s helmer. It will be up to the committee to determine whether the film has enough Albanian elements to qualify despite being in the unique situation of having an American director (and co-writer). The very internationally inclined Marston had the official 2004 Colombian entry, Maria Full of Grace, before it was disqualified for not being Colombian enough. It did eventually win a Best Actress nod for Catalina Sandino Moreno.
The Russians are also squabbling over their official entry, Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt By the Sun 2: Citadel, the sequel to his 1995 Oscar-winning foreign language film. Even though the full Russian Oscar selection committee voted for it, Mikhalkov has been “burnt” by committee head Vladimir Menshov, who is against putting the critical and box office flop forward to the American Academy. (Despite a $45 million budget, it grossed only $1.5 million). He is awaiting Mikhalkov’s formal response to his request that he pull the film. He has until October 1, according to the Russian rule book.
China’s choice of three-time nominee Zhang Yimou’s (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero) period epic The Flowers of War (formerly known during production as Heroes of Nanking), starring Oscar winner Christian Bale, is China’s most expensive film ever. It’s reportedly 40% English-language and 60% Mandarin, which lets it squeak by under Academy rules. Twenty minutes of footage from the film, which opens its regular run December 16 in China, was shown to buyers and press in Toronto and was well-received. Executive producer and former Universal Pictures honcho David Linde told me in Toronto that if the film gets a domestic distribution deal in time, it is entirely possible to open in the U.S. to qualify for all categories – presumably including a Best Actor bid for Bale. (Linde was non-committal on that, so we will have to wait and see.) If it gets nominated and the film is held from American release until next year, that would make it ineligible for other categories in 2012.
Among the countries still waiting to be heard from are frequent nominees Italy, Spain and Turkey. I fully expect those countries to select films that were all in the official competition in Cannes this year: Italy’s Habemus Papam from Nanni Moretti; Turkey’s Cannes Grand Prize winner Once Upon a Time in Anatolia from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan; and Spain’s The Skin I Live In, the first “horror” effort from two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar. The latter has had a spotty track record with the Spanish Academy that makes the selections, but the rift is said to have eased. If they are in their right mind, they will certainly select Skin, which I think is one of Almodovar’s best and most entertaining films.
I am a bit surprised to see Belgium select Bullhead over Cannes prizewinner The Kid With a Bike from the highly respected Dardenne Brothers and also over Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight grand prize winner, the brilliant coming-of-age story Les Geants.
France usually picks something out of the main competition in Cannes, especially because festival director Thierry Fremaux is also on France’s official Oscar selection committee. But this year the country chose the well-received film that opened the smaller Critics Week competition, Declaration of War, an emotional story of young parents trying to deal with their child’s cancer diagnosis. Perhaps after seeing the Academy ignore last year’s home-grown Cannes Grand Prize winner Of Gods and Men they decided to go in a different direction. They ignored potential candidate Polisse, which won the Jury Prize in this year’s main competition at the fest. They also passed over another French-bred competition entry, the enormously popular The Artist (which added to its laurels by winning the Audience Award today at the San Sebastian Film Festival). The black-and-white silent film set and shot in Hollywood is probably not perceived as French enough, despite the Gallic credentials of director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin (Best Actor in Cannes). A Weinstein Company source told me they aren’t upset as they are aiming for a Best Picture slot and don’t necessarily want the film perceived as a foreign language picture.
Highlights among other official selections so far: