Tahar Rahim in A Prophet (top); Dev Patel, Freida Pinto in Slumdog Millionaire (middle); The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke (bottom)
Six films are vying for the top prize at the 2009 European Film Awards. They are:
- Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, about a teenager (best actress nominee Katie Jarvis) upset that her mother has found herself a new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender)
- Stephen Daldry's The Reader, a melodrama starring Kate Winslet as a former Nazi guard who believes that being illiterate is worse than being an accomplice to mass murder
- Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, a prison drama about a toughie (best actor nominee Tahar Rahim) fighting his way to the top of the world behind bars
- Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, about a young man (best actor nominee Dev Patel) who mysteriously seems to know all the answers on India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
- Michael Haneke's stark The White Ribbon, about mysterious, violent occurrences in a German village shortly before the outbreak of World War I
- Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In, in which a shy boy (Kåre Hedebrant) gets involved with a girl (Lina Leandersson) who happens to be a vampire
With six nods, A Prophet leads the race, followed by Slumdog Millionaire with five nominations (including one shared with Antichrist) and The White Ribbon with four.
Curiously, every single one of the best European picture nominees has already won awards elsewhere: The White Ribbon won the Palme d'Or, A Prophet the Grand Jury Prize, and Fish Tank tied for the Special Jury Prize at Cannes; Slumdog Millionaire was this year's best picture Academy Award winner, while The Reader earned Kate Winslet a best actress Oscar; and Let the Right One In won best direction and best screenplay (John Ajvide Lindqvist) honors at Sweden's Golden Beetle Awards, in addition to numerous best foreign language film accolades from US critics' groups.
Among the directors of the six best picture nominees only four were shortlisted in their own category: Jacques Audiard, Danny Boyle, Michael Haneke, and Andrea Arnold. Stephen Daldry and Tomas Alfredson were replaced by Pedro Almodóvar for the film-noir homage Broken Embraces and Lars von Trier for the family-hell drama Antichrist (above).
In addition to Kate Winslet and Katie Jarvis, the best actress nominees are: potential 2009 Oscar contender Penélope Cruz for Broken Embraces (above); Cannes winner (and potential Oscar contender) Charlotte Gainsbourg for Antichrist; César winner Yolande Moreau for Martin Provost's Séraphine; and Noomi Rapace, playing a computer hacker in Niels Arden Oplev's thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Joining Tahar Rahim and Dev Patel in the best actor race are Moritz Bleibtreu for his 1970s terrorist in Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex; David Kross, as the teenager who has an affair with sympathetic ex-Nazi Kate Winslet in The Reader; Filippo Timi (above, with Giovanna Mezzogiorno), as both Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his secret son Benito Albinoin Marco Bellocchio's Vincere; and Steve Evets as a postman helped by soccer star-turned-fairy-godfather Eric Cantona in Ken Loach's Looking for Eric.
(It really wouldn't be a bad idea if the European Film Academy instituted best supporting actor/actress categories as well. Performers in non-leading roles would then have a chance of getting their work recognized.)
Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy is up for the best screenplay award for Slumdog Millionaire, and so are Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain for A Prophet, Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon, and actor-filmmaker Gianni di Gregorio for Mid-August Lunch (above).
It should be noted that only A Prophet, The White Ribbon, and Slumdog Millionaire managed to earn nods in the best picture, best director, and best screenplay categories.
Other nominees include Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle for both Slumdog Millionaire and Antichrist; composers Alexandre Desplat and Alberto Iglesias for, respectively, Coco Before Chanel (above, with Alessandro Nivola and Audrey Tautou) and Broken Embraces; and editor Francesca Calvelli (in the general “technical” category Prix d'Excellence) for Vincere.
The nominees in the animation, documentary, and first feature categories were announced in the last several weeks. In fact, the documentary winner has already been named: Peter Liechti's Swiss-made The Sound of Insects: Record of a Mummy.
Maria Heiskanen in Everlasting Moments
Among the eligible films and performers that failed to nab a mention were Giovanna Mezzogiorno for Vincere, Audrey Tautou for Coco Before Chanel, Maren Ade's Everyone Else, Ulrich Tukur for The White Ribbon, Martina Gedeck for The Baader Meinhof Complex, and Michael Fassbender for Fish Tank.
Also, Christian Petzold's Jerichow, Nina Hoss for Jerichow, Jan Troell's Everlasting Moments, Maria Heiskanen for Everlasting Moments, Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective, Andrzej Wajda's Sweet Rush, and Philippe Lioret's Welcome.
Now, the curious thing about the European Film Awards is that the awards' timing and eligibility rules (some of which have varied throughout the years) make many of the nominations seem like old news. Indeed, as per current European Film Academy rules, in order to be eligible for the awards a motion picture must have had “their first official screening” after July 1 of the previous year (the submission deadline in 2009 was June 15) – whereas in Hollywood a movie can be released in Los Angeles on Dec. 31 and be in the running for the Oscars a mere five or six weeks later.
Apart from film festivals, which take place throughout the year, film awards season around the world generally begins in mid-October and continues all the way into mid-April or whereabouts. Although the European Film Awards have been a relatively important part of the awards hoopla for more than two decades, their relevance could be considerably enhanced if they better represented the European film output in each given year.
For instance, three of the best European film nominees – Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, and Let the Right One In – have already had their national and/or international awards season runs, and so have three other nominees in the top categories, Séraphine (above), Mid-August Lunch, and The Baader Meinhof Complex. Having so many “old” films show up in the European Film Awards roster makes the awards themselves look more than a little outdated. Even if, say, a popular hit like Slumdog Millionaire ends up taking home a bevy of trophies, that'll feel anticlimactic as the film's “awards momentum” ended when it won the best picture Oscar about eight months ago.
Like the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, the European Film Awards would undoubtedly increase their clout if the European Academy pushed their awards ceremony into late January or even February so as to include all eligible films released in a calendar year – of course, as long as its winners are announced before the Academy Awards ceremony. That way, many more among the nominated films would gain awards momentum – and all the extra publicity attached to it – especially English-language productions released later in the year so as to boost their Oscar chances.
It also wouldn't hurt if non-European talent working on European productions – in case one must stick to regionally made films – were eligible for the nominations as well. I mean, imagine if the Hollywood Academy had a long-standing rule stipulating that only Americans working on US-made productions could qualify for its awards. Had that been the case, perhaps half (or more) of the nominees and winners of the past 81 years – most among those European-born talent, from Emil Jannings and Greta Garbo to Kate Winslet and Danny Boyle – would have been deemed ineligible.
The winners of the 2009 European Film Awards will be announced in Bochum, Germany, on Dec. 12. German comedy performer Anke Engelke will host the event.