The nominating process to select five foreign-language contenders from the 70-some entries from individual countries remains the same. But in the past, only members who had proven they had seen all five nominees in a theater were able to vote. Now everyone gets to vote without proving they’ve seen the films, just like the rest of the major categories.
But will this change the dynamics of the race, perhaps favoring higher-profile titles? Last year, Austria’s acclaimed Amour won the foreign-language Oscar the old-fashioned way. Had the new rules been in effect, it almost certainly would have won anyway because it was the rare foreign-language entry that also received a best picture nomination. Would lesser-known winners such as Argentina’s The Secret In Their Eyes (2009) or Japan’s Departures (2008) have reigned in an unsupervised Academy-wide vote against better-known nominees? Read More »
The Foreign LanguageOscar category is rarely devoid of controversy – from the moment individual countries start putting forth their films, straight through to the final nominations cut (and sometimes beyond). Australia’s entry this year, The Rocket, has joined the fray, albeit in a particular manner. The Rocket is in the Lao language, the key element that makes it eligible for the category, and is set in Laos. But that country has banned the film. This doesn’t affect its Oscar eligibility, yet it’s another twist in the world of worldwide filmmaking. The Rocket won three prizes in Berlin including Best Debut Feature, and further prizes in Tribeca including Best Narrative Feature, as well as taking the World Cinema Audience Award at AFI Fest this week. And, yet, it won’t be shown in the country it’s about. Director Kim Mordaunt’s film tells the plight of a 10-year-old boy (Tribeca Best Actor Sitthiphon Disamoe) who is blamed for a string of disasters that kill his mother and deeply affect his community. When his family is forced to move, he leads them through war-scarred land to find a new home. Kino Lorber has U.S. distribution. Mordaunt was in Bangkok today for the film’s Thai premiere and told me over the phone that the ban in Laos “doesn’t reflect the broad Lao response to the film… We’ve seen … Read More »
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has just released the list of a record-setting 76 contenders for the 2013 Best Foreign Language Film category and members start viewing them in a two-month process that begins Friday night. But in a year that has produced any number of eye opening choices and omissions, there may be changes in store for next time that could significantly alter the process as it has been played for decades. One change could involve eligibility dates. Rules now state a country can’t enter a film unless it has opened in that country by September 30th of the qualifying year. That rule eliminated the high profile Cannes Festival Palme d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Colorwhich doesn’t open in France until Wednesday, nine days after the cutoff date. It’s a rule that doesn’t really reflect the realities of international distribution these days as some American distributors have recently complained. The Academy has maintained it is necessary just so all the films can be screened in time before nominations have to be announced in January.
Also, continuing controversies due to the increasing politicization of the selection process of Foreign Language film entries in their individual countries could lead to what returning Foreign Language Committee Chairman Mark Johnson termed “radical” changes in the process and rules leading to the choice of the final five nominees.
EXCLUSIVE: When controversial French sensation Blue Is The Warmest Colorwon the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, it was expected to be a major player in the upcoming Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film. Now it’s ineligible to compete and not even impassioned pleas from Sundance Selects, its American distributor, have done the trick. This unexpected development as first reported on Deadline is due to its October 9th French opening. Local distributor Wild Bunch will not change the date in order to comply with an arcane Academy rule that says each film must have opened in the country of origin by the end of September. Now Sundance Selects/IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring who picked up the U.S. rights to Blue in Cannes is very disappointed that this decision appears irreversible. “I talked to them about it and said it was a missed opportunity if you don’t qualify it. So they actually were going to do a qualification run in the town where it was shot in Northern France,” Sehring tells me. “But ultimately the French governing body said no. It had to be a wide release in order for it to qualify and so [Wild Bunch] called and said ‘We don’t want to move off our date. We have a great date.’ It’s unfortunate.”
Although it won’t help Blue this year, Sehring hopes the Academy will deep-six the September 30th eligibility date and change it in the future to be more reflective of the realities of the international film industry. “It’s a global business right now and [it's not good] to hold the Foreign Language titles to a September 30th date. This present Academy administration has been really great about re-visiting things that don’t really make sense and I’m just hoping that will happen.” However as a distributor he does fully understand the Wild Bunch decision and its box office potential in France. “What could be better than that for them? If the French want to choose it as next year’s title I can always hope there, but unfortunately it didn’t work out in terms of qualification,” he said.
EXCLUSIVE: Although Amour, which is also one of the rare Foreign Language nominees also to be simultaneously nominated for Best Picture, is a heavy betting favorite to be named this year’s Best Foreign Language Film, the field is a rich one with the final five coming from a record 71 entries from around the world. Norway’s Kon-Tiki, Chile’s first-ever nominee No, Denmark’s A Royal Affairand Canada’s War Witchalso provide for a varied and exciting blend of some of the best international cinema 2012 had to offer. Standing out as perhaps the most unique entry is War Witch because there is hardly anything on the surface that is obviously Canadian about it. From Quebec-based director Kim Nguyen, it tells the story of a young 12-year-old girl who is kidnapped by African rebels, forced to kill her parents at gunpoint and then fight as a child soldier against the government. With an extraordinary central performance by Rachel Mwanza that won her the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 62nd Berlin Film Festival, the film will open in NY on March 1st through Tribeca Films and expand after that. First, it is going to the Oscars. Here’s an exclusive featurette.
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. Read More »