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OSCAR: Analyzing Foreign Language Race

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.
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EXCLUSIVE: Oscar Foreign Language Race Starts With 65 Films Competing

Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: (Screening schedule below) Although the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has yet to officially announce it, their official Best Foreign Language Film Award screening schedule has begun circulating and I’ve obtained a copy (see below). It contains a total of 65 movies competing, each selected as the sole entry from their home countries per Academy rules. AMPAS breaks the unwieldy process into four different color groups: Red, White, Green, and Blue with each section assigned 16 films (although RED gets an extra one as it is currently laid out). Screenings for the large volunteer committees will begin  Friday at 7:30 PM with the Canadian entry Incendies and end Thursday January 13 with a 9:40 PM screening of Latvia’s Hong Kong Confidential (not to be confused with Hong Kong’s Echoes Of The Rainbow screening November 12). After this 3-month  process is completed, and the top six scoring movies are selected, another uber-Academy committee presided over by Foreign Language committee head Mark Johnson will choose 3 more movies from the initial 65 entries. Then these 9 films will be judged by specially selected  groups in LA and NY who will whittle the list down to the 5 official contenders. After years of controversy over glaring omissions from the big committee like Brazil’s City Of God among others, the Academy reverted to this 3-step nomination process in order to protect some of the more internationally well-regarded, but perhaps edgier, entries from embarrassing slights in the Oscar process.

The opener, Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, is one of the most anticipated this year after highly successful showings in this Fall’s film festival trifecta of Venice, Telluride and Toronto. Perhaps the best known film on the list is Mexico’s entry, Biutiful, from 3-time Oscar-nominee Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu. It was in the official Cannes competition and won Best Actor for star Javier Bardem. After several tense months, it was finally picked up for American distribution by Roadside Attractions and will open on December 29th in time to compete in other categories as well. With a January 11th official screening, it will be one of the last to show for the foreign language committee as well as the only entry not currently scheduled as part of a double feature. At 148 minutes, it sports the longest running time, too. The shortest is Uruguay’s La Vida Util at a breezy 66 minutes.

Other anticipated entries include Thailand’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (screening Nov 15), France’s Cannes Grand Prize winner, Of Gods And Men (Nov 13), the controversial Cannes entry Hors La Loi from Algeria (Dec 4), another Cannes discovery, South Africa’s Life, Above All (Jan 6), Greece’s Dogtooth (Dec 4), Spain’s Tambien La Liuvia (Dec 3), China’s earthquake drama, Aftershock (Oct 25), Romania’s When I Want To Whistle, I Whistle (Jan 6), and Danish director Susanne Bier’s In A Better World (Jan 13). Germany’s When We Leave (Oct 29) just screened at this weekend’s Hamptons Film Festival to acclaim and will be paired with Iraq’s Son Of Babylon (Oct 29). Israel will also have the chance to continue it’s hot streak of 3 nominations in a row (Beaufort, Waltz With Bashir, Ajami) by going for a 4th with  the tragi-comedy, The Human Resources Manager (Oct 18). Kazakhstan’s Strayed (Dec 18) could be one to watch along with India’s Peepli (Oct 16) as both those countries have had recent contenders. But with 65 entries, it’s anybody’s guess where this is going. Discoveries will always be made and American distribution scouts will be checking out those lesser known films that are still up for grabs.

Of course, as I’ve already detailed previously, controversy has reared its head in the selection of some entries, as it always does, including Italy’s well-reviewed The First Beautiful Thing (Dec 6), selected over the international Tilda Swinton hi, I Am Love, sparking outrage from Love’s American distributor Eamonn Bowles of Magnolia and disappointment from the producers of another well-regarded italian possibility, The Man Who Will Come. Some also accused politics in playing a part in Brazil’s selection of the glowing biography of its current popular President, Lula, The Son Of Brazil (Dec 11). Eyebrows have also been raised over South Korea’s snubbing of its highly regarded Cannes competition selection, Poetry which was thought in many quarters to be a sure thing and has received an American distribution deal from Kino. Instead South Korea chose the less  buzzed-about A Barefoot Dream (Oct 22).

Of course the hottest titles going in are not necessarily going to be the big winners in the end. Remember that 2008’s eventual foreign language champ, Japan’s Departures, and even last year’s crowd pleaser from Argentina, The Secret In Their Eyes, ( were big surprises to many when the envelope was finally opened (although I managed to correctly predict both). Members who vote in this competition often tend to shun the heavier stuff and go for the more accessible alternative. Screening schedules follow: Read More »

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OSCAR: Brazil’s Foreign Language Film Entry Causes Election Eve Controversy

Pete Hammond

Is Oscar influencing presidential politics in Brazil? Controversy recently erupted when the movie biography of that country’s enormously popular President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was chosen as Brazil’s official entry for the Academy Award’s Best Foreign Language Film race. Problem is, the selection came just 10 days before this Sunday’s Presidential election. Lula is not running again even though he enjoys a popularity rating of 75%, but his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, is. Some factions are crying foul, saying the film was only chosen to boost Lula’s interests and help his protegé Rousseff’s by association. The argument against anointing the film, Lula, o Filho do Brasil (Lula, The Son Of Brazil) is given further credence because it was widely considered a commercial and critical flop when it opened earlier this year. Yet it beat 22 other candidates — while Rousseff has erased a one-time 10 point deficit in the polls and taken a new commanding 20 point lead heading into Sunday’s vote. Read More »

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