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Abortion Movie Omission Leads to Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Outrage

The Unknown by Giuseppe Tornatore
The Counterfeiters by Stefan Ruzowitzky
The Unknown by Giuseppe Tornatore (top); The Counterfeiters by Stefan Ruzowitzky (bottom)

When I stated in my Oscar 2008 predictions that the Academy's foreign-language film shortlist is the most difficult to predict, I wasn't kidding.

Nowhere to be found in the list of nine foreign-language film semi-finalists are:

Mongol by Sergei Bodrov

Additionally, there was a major surprise among those that did make the cut: Sergei Bodrov's Mongol, a curious Kazakh entry about the early life of Genghis Khan. I say “curious” because, after all, Mongol is a Russian-German-Mongol-Kazakh production mostly shot in China. Director, co-writer, and co-producer Bodrov is Russian, and so are co-producers Sergei Selyanov and Anton Melnik, and co-cinematographer Sergei Trofimov. Co-cinematographer Rogier Stoffers is Dutch; co-editor Valdís Óskarsdóttir is Icelandic; co-editor Zach Staenberg is Hollywoodian (The Matrix); composer Tuomas Kantelinen is Finnish; and so on.

Late last year, the Academy turned down Lust, Caution as a Taiwanese entry because Ang Lee was the only Taiwanese national with a key role in the production. (Admittedly, some of the Mongol cast may hail from Kazakhstan or at least may have spent summers there.)

Katyn by Andrzej Wajda

The other potential nominees were considerably more predictable, what with Nazis (The Counterfeiters, Katyn [above]), little boys (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, The Trap), and Jewish characters (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, Beaufort, The Counterfeiters), plus three-time nominee Denys Arcand (who won for his 2003 drama The Barbarian Invasions), two-time nominee Giuseppe Tornatore (who won for the 1988 drama Cinema Paradiso), three-time nominee Andrzej Wajda (his last nominated film was the 1981 political drama Man of Iron), and two-time nominee Nikita Mikhalkov (who won for his 1994 drama Burnt by the Sun).

As was the case last year, the foreign-language film nominations for 2007 are being determined in two phases.

The Phase I committee, “consisting of several hundred Los Angeles-based members,” as per the Academy's press release, screened 63 eligible >foreign-language films. Their votes narrowed down the field to the nine films above.

Left unsaid in the release is that those “several hundred” members don't have to view all 63 films. They only need to watch a certain percentage of 20 or 30 films assigned to their particular screening group. In previous years, the foreign-language film screenings were divided into two groups of 25 films or so. Recently, as more countries have been submitting entries for Oscar consideration, there have been three groups of about 20 films, with two screenings per evening.

A Phase II committee is made up of ten randomly selected members from the LA-based Phase I group, joined by ten New York and LA-based members invited just for the occasion. Those 30 members will watch the nine shortlisted films and then select the five nominees for the category.

And that's how shoo-in Volver failed to make the cut last year.

Phase II screenings will take place from next Friday, January 18, through Sunday, January 20, in both Hollywood and New York City.

In any case, this is one category whose voting and eligibility rules and regulations should be fully revamped.

Nominations for the 2008 Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 22, 2008, at 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Unless the Writers Guild strike derails things, the Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2008, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center.

Nine Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Semi-Finalists

The semi-finalist films, listed in alphabetical order by country, are:

August Diehl The Counterfeiters

Austria, The Counterfeiters, Stefan Ruzowitzky, director

Nazis have a Jewish prisoner create fake American and British currency in order to weaken their enemies' economies

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation Cao Hamburger

Brazil, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, Cao Hamburger, director

In 1970, during the height of the military dictatorship in Brazil, a boy is left alone in São Paulo's Jewish quarter after his parents “go on vacation"

Marc Labreche Days of Darkness

Canada, Days of Darkness, Denys Arcand, director

A civil servant finds solace from his drab existence by coming up with all types of Walter Mitty-like fantasies

Beaufort Joseph Cedar

Israel, Beaufort, Joseph Cedar, director

Israeli platoon leaves the last Israeli outpost in Lebanon

Kseniya Rappoport in The Unknown, Giuseppe Tornatore

Italy, The Unknown, Giuseppe Tornatore, director

An Ukrainian house servant's violent past comes back to terrorize the wealthy Italian family for whom she works in this David di Donatello winner

Mongol, Sergei Bodrov

Kazakhstan, Mongol, Sergei Bodrov, director

The early life of Genghis Khan

Katyn, Andrzej Wajda

Poland, Katyn, Andrzej Wajda, director

Poles are slaughtered by the Russian Red Army, which then blames the Nazis

12, Nikita Mikhalkov

Russia, 12, Nikita Mikhalkov, director

Twelve Russian jurors decide the fate of a Chechen teenager charged with murdering his stepfather in this remake of Sidney Lumet's Twelve Angry Men

The Trap, Srdan Golubovic
Serbia, The Trap, Srdan Golubovic, director

A father turns to crime in order to save the life of his young son

Anamaria Marinca Laura Vasiliu 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu in 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Best Foreign Language Film Oscar: '4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days' of Outrage

In the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas wonders, “How do you say 'Oscar scandal' in Romanian”?

Oscar scandaliu perhaps?

Cristian Mungiu's widely praised Cannes Film Festival winner 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days has been bypassed by Academy voters who pick the potential nominees for best foreign-language film.

I generally find the Academy's choices pathetic, but that organization's best foreign-language film voters make its best picture voters seem like arbiters of cinematic quality. (Of course, I know that taste is personal, etc., etc., but the loads of money poured into Oscar vote-buying and all the internal politicking that goes on ain't.)

“I thought we had made big strides last year, but apparently not big enough,” Mark Johnson – perhaps ignoring the omission of Pedro Almodóvar's Volver – told Foundas with regard to the two-phase nominating process for best foreign-language film; a process that has actually made things even less representative of the Academy as a whole, since only about 30 of its nearly 6,000 members end up choosing the five nominees in the foreign-language film category.

“Asked if further retooling (including the possible involvement of more active Academy members earlier in the nominating process) may lie in the future, Johnson was unambiguous,” Foundas writes. “'That's what has to be done, because in my mind it can't continue like this,' he said. 'I don't believe these choices reflect the Academy at large.'"

Francisco Rabal in Nazarin by Luis Bunuel Among the foreign-language films that failed to make the cut in years past – whether due to inane Academy rules or voter apathy – are: The Seventh Seal, Nazarin (right), La Notte, Last Year in Marienbad, The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, Bye Bye Brasil, Pixote, Fitzcarraldo, The Sacrifice, Law of Desire, Wings of Desire, Jean de Florette, The Double Life of Veronique, Toto le héros, Three Colors: Blue, Three Colors: White, Three Colors: Red, To Live, The Story of Qiu Ju, Talk to Her, City of God, Hidden, Volver, Black Book, and this year's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

How about getting rid of the current “special category” status and one-film-per-country regulation? (The latter an idiotic rule akin to having a one-film-per-studio limit for the best film category.) Countries could still submit their films, special screenings for those films could still be held in Los Angeles and New York, but screeners would be allowed into the proceeding, and voters would also be able to choose any non-English-language film or foreign film with a significant percentage of non-English dialogue (à la The Band's Visit) that opens in Los Angeles and New York City (Manhattan, if you wish) during the calendar year.

For no matter how much revamping is done, as long as the “special” label remains attached to the foreign-language film category its nomination process will go on being both myopic and dishonest.

Oh, by the way, the word for “scandal” in Romanian – as per an online dictionary I found – is bârfa. Then perhaps Foundas' phrase would be bârfa d'Oscar or some such. (Note: It should not. See comments section below.) As for the Academy's omission of 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, it was nothing short of scandalos.

“A date that shall live in Academy Awards infamy,” Foundas writes. “One more date …” would have been a more apt sentence. In fact, a couple of years ago Cristi Puiu's much admired The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Romania's submission for the Oscars, also failed to get a nomination. So, there…

Addendum: Actually, this may be a more accurate way of saying Oscar scandal' in Romanian: Scandalul Oscarurilor.

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5 Comments to Abortion Movie Omission Leads to Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Outrage

  1. Cristina-Alexandra Nita

    It is not fair what is happening. We should boycott The OSCARS. It didn't happen only this year, but in previous years aswell. In this case i wonder exactly how reliable the winnings are.

  2. jincheng

    What bunch of crap that Secret Sunshine didn't make the list…The Hollywood oscars will never give asia cinema the respect they deserve

  3. Andre

    Those untrustworthy online dictionaries!

  4. relu

    actually barfa means gossip

  5. Iulia

    One correction - in Romanian the word “bârfa” means “gossip”. “Scandal” would be simply “scandal”, just like in English.