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OSCAR: More On Foreign Language Race

Pete Hammond

The 22nd annual Palm Springs International Film Festival is the reigning festival showcase for top foreign films, a sort of Cannes in the desert that takes pride in presenting as many of the official Academy Award Foreign Language entries as possible. This year, Fest director Darryl MacDonald and programmer Helen du Toit managed to corral 40 of the 65 contenders and lured many of their filmmakers to Palm Springs for  Q&As and lots of hobnobbing. Producer Ron Yerxa (Little Miss Sunshine), who’s on the Executive Committee that selects three of the 9 semi-finalists, told me he came to the desert just to catch up with many of these films. The Fest is like one-stop shopping.

Friday night,  I moderated a packed-to-the-rafters turnaway post screening Q&A at the Art Museum with Javier Bardem, the Spanish star of  Mexico’s entry Biutiful. (He had the audience roaring with his impressions of Woody Allen who directed him in Vicky Cristina Barcelona). At the Riviera hotel, I met up with Feo Aladag, writer/director of Germany’s powerful  Oscar hopeful When We Leave followed by a long chat with the large Italian contingent there who had just screened their entry LaPrima Cosa Bella (aka First Beautiful Thing).

Star Micaela Ramazzotti and director Paola Virzi were excited about the standing ovation their movie  received at the Palm Springs High School auditorium. The engaging film also reportedly played very well for the Academy Foreign Language selection committee on December 6th, according to members who told me it drew one of the biggest crowds of the year at those exclusive screenings. Earlier in the year I reported about controversy over its selection instead of the Tilda Swinton starrer, I Am Love among other candidates. But it looks like this could be Italy’s first pic to make the final five since Roberto Begnini’s Life Is Beautiful 12 years ago. Virzi told me he was sorry there was badmouthing about his film which was a big hit in Italy.

Saturday afternoon I caught the intense Romanian entry, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle and later the Q&A with its director Florin Serban. Before the Saturday night main event, the Gala, I met the Barreto clan supporting their entry, Lula, The Son Of Brazil, another movie that generated controversy earlier this season (as reported here) over its Oscar selection by the Brazilian committee. Producer Paula Baretto says it’s her third time in the running.

At the reception before Saturday night’s Gala, Aaron Eckhart told me he had just  been asked by Mark Johnson, the Academy’s Foreign Language chair, to serve on the 30-person committee that whittles down the 9 semi-finalists to the final 5 nominees. But it’s a three-day commitment during the weekend of January 20th and he couldn’t find the time. Eckhart was able to present the Read More »

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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: First Foreign Language Film Flap

Pete Hammond

Brazil’s Foreign Language Entry Causes Election Controversy

Producer Mark Johnson is head of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Foreign Language committee and tells me his panel will meet next Tuesday to deal with any eligibility problems that may arise from the final list of official submissions of entries due October 1st from individual countries. Then the Academy will begin a two-tiered system of screenings of the contenders in mid-October and won’t finish until shortly before nominations are announced on January 25th. But controversy is already swirling around Italy’s entry, not because of what the country chose but what it didn’t. Snubbed was Magnolia’s Italian melodrama I Am Love starring Oscar winner Tilda Swinton which is one of the year’s higher profile foreign language films grossing nearly $5 million in the U.S. alone. It’s also generating plenty of awards buzz again for Swinton’s work in which the Scottish actress speaks in Italian with a Russian accent –- no mean feat.

Italy instead went with La Prima Cosa Bella (The First Beautiful Thing), a local hit family drama that won good critical notice but doesn’t have nearly the international profile of the Swinton flick. Magnolia’s President Eamonn Bowles, while admitting he hasn’t seen the film that was chosen, says he is outraged by the oversight of his contender. “Every year, there’s something frustrating, but this is a particularly galling one. To be snubbed is … Read More »

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Oscar Deadlines For Foreign Films & Shorts

Mike Fleming

Beverly Hills, CA – Friday, October 1, is the deadline to submit entries in the Live Action Short Film, Animated Short Film and Foreign Language Film categories to be considered for the 83rd Academy Awards®. Complete entries must arrive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 5 p.m. PT that day.

In the short film categories, filmmakers must submit an entry form, one film print or copy in an approved digital format, and all other required materials by the deadline.

In the Foreign Language Film category, filmmakers must submit entry forms, one English-subtitled film print or copy in an approved digital format, and all other required materials by the deadline. Only one motion picture will be accepted from each country.

Complete 83rd Academy Awards rules are available at http://www.oscars.org/rules. Additional information may be obtained by contacting Awards Coordinator Torene Svitil via phone at (310) 247-3000 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (310) 247-3000 end_of_the_skype_highlighting, ext. 116, by fax at (310) 247-2600, or by e-mail at tsvitil@oscars.org.

The 83rd Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Tuesday, January 25, 2011, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2010 will be presented on Sunday, February 27, 2011, at the Kodak Theatre.

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