Best Foreign Language Films: Biggest Oscar Snubs #4a
I've always had a personal grudge against the Academy's rules & regulations for the Best Foreign Language Film category. I know I'm not the only one.
Time and again, deserving films aren't nominated not because Academy voters have different tastes than yours truly, but because they don't even have the chance to watch the potential contenders. Voters in this special category, for instance, are not allowed to watch movies on DVD or video; they actually have to go to official Academy screenings, where their presence is duly tabulated.
Compounding matters, films fall by the wayside because they don't meet some arcane criterion or other. In December 1994, Richard Corliss wrote in Time, “[Krzysztof Kieslowski's] Red was shot in Geneva, with a mostly Swiss cast, yet when the Swiss submitted the film for a foreign-language Oscar, the word came down that Red was ineligible – guilty, apparently, of insufficient Swissness. The decision was stupid. Someone should tell the Motion Picture Academy that films are made by individuals, not by nations.”
Admittedly, there have been several rule changes in recent years that have made the process fairer (see 2008/2009 rules here), e.g., Canada was allowed to submit Canadian-based filmmaker Deepa Mehta's 2006 drama Water despite the fact that the film is set in India and its dialogue is mostly in Hindi. [Note: In late 2005, Saverio Costanzo's Private had been rejected by the Academy as an Italian entry because the film's dialogue wasn't in Italian. Set in the Middle East, Private's character spoke Arabic, Hebrew, and English. The previous year, Michael Haneke's Hidden had been disqualified as well because it was an Austrian entry with French dialogue.]
Even so, the system intrinsically remains both unfair and unworkable – in addition to being unrepresentative of the Academy's multicultural and multinational membership. After all, the preliminary voting is all done in Los Angeles (or Beverly Hills, to be exact). Obviously, only those with plenty of free time in their hands – usually retired motion picture personnel – have the chance to watch a couple of dozen movies (out of about 60 or so yearly submissions) during a period of a few weeks. Worse yet, the submitted entries themselves don't necessarily reflect what's best in international cinema as each country can submit only a single film.
Needless to say, the list of “snubs” in the Best Foreign Language Film category is enormous. Here are a few examples: Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Luis Buñuel's Nazarin, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Gertrud, Werner Herzog's The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, Carlos Diegues' Bye Bye Brazil, Emir Kusturica's Time of the Gypsies, Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique, Akira Kurosawa's Rhapsody in August.
For this “Biggest Oscar Snubs” series, I've decided to stick to a handful of glaring recent omissions chiefly because the outcry that followed was so vociferous that a couple of them led to direct changes in the Academy rules for that category.
Note: The “Biggest Oscar Snubs” series isn't a reflection of my personal tastes. Instead, the “snubs” are listed according to the furor they generated at the time. Sometimes I agree with those who called the Academy nuts; other times I'm in full agreement with those Academy members who cast their vote for somebody else.
Photo: Volver (Emilio Pereda & Paola Ardizzoni / El Deseo / Sony Pictures Classics)
Fernando Meirelles' CITY OF GOD: Biggest Oscar Snubs #4b
“City of God is a potent and unexpected mixture of authenticity and flash. It's both the slickly made first feature [sic]* from Brazil's most successful director of commercials and a vigorous piece of social realism that's unmistakably trading on something actual,” wrote Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.
Roger Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times review praised City for God for churning “with furious energy as it plunges into the story of the slum gangs of Rio de Janeiro. Breathtaking and terrifying, urgently involved with its characters, it announces a new director of great gifts and passions: Fernando Meirelles. Remember the name. The film has been compared with Scorsese's GoodFellas, and it deserves the comparison.”
Despite mostly enthusiastic reviews, City of God failed to be nominated for the 2002 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Ironically, pushed by Harvey Weinstein's Oscar-obsessed Miramax, the violent drama resurfaced in 2003 to nab no less than four nods in regular categories, including Best Direction. So much for the foreign language film voters representing the Academy's likes and dislikes.
As an aside: In previous years even nominated films in the Best Foreign Language Film category could resurface in the regular categories in subsequent years, as long as they had their Los Angeles release in the year in question. For instance, Federico Fellini's Amarcord won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1974, but it was nominated for Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay in 1975, the year of its LA release.
That rules has – unfortunately and unfairly – been changed. Currently, only non-nominated entries submitted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar may be eligible for the Academy Awards' other slots as long as they're released in the Los Angeles area the following year.
From the Academy's website [text in bold in the original]:
“Motion pictures that are nominated for the Foreign Language Film award shall not be eligible for Academy Awards consideration in any category in any subsequent Awards year. Submitted pictures that are not nominated for the Foreign Language Film award are eligible for Awards consideration in other categories in the subsequent year, provided the pictures begin their seven-day qualifying run in Los Angeles County during that calendar year.”
* Fernando Meirelles' had previously co-directed with Nando Olival the social comedy-drama Domésticas / Maids, released in 2001; and he'd previously co-directed with Fabrizia Pinto Menino Maluquinho 2: A Aventura in 1998.
Pedro Almodóvar's VOLVER: Biggest Oscar Snubs #4c
“A touching, beautifully plotted film, full of memorable images and jokes, it zips along without a wasted second in its 121 minutes,” wrote Philip French in The Guardian.
“Peopled with superbly drawn, attractive characters smoothly integrated into a well-turned, low-tricks plotline, Volver may rep Almodóvar's most conventional piece to date, but it is also his most reflective, a subdued, sometimes intense and often comic homecoming that celebrates the pueblo and people that shaped his imagination,” rhapsodized Jonathan Holland in Variety.
“Like most homecomings (or at least most good ones),” remarked Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times, “Pedro Almodóvar's Volver is warm, emotional and forever on the brink of tears – peppered with bouts of pique, old resentments that flare up and moments of intense and lyrical longing. But what matters most are the kisses – madcap machine-gun smacks that the characters plant on each others' cheeks as though underlining their affection in triplicate. The title means 'coming back,' and it marks a return, as the Spanish director has said, to the La Mancha of his youth, to his comedic roots, to the world of women, to mothers and to the actress Carmen Maura, one of the original 'Chicas Almodóvar' with whom he had a painful falling out 16 years ago.”
The 20 or so Academy members who selected the top five foreign-language films of 2006 (out of a pool of nine semi-finalists, among them Volver) clearly didn't feel the same way.
Now, even though Volver failed to be recognized by the US-based Academy – apart from a best actress nod for star Penélope Cruz – the family comedy-drama did go on to win five Goya Awards from the Spanish Academy, including Best Film and Best Director.
Photo: Volver (Emilio Pereda & Paola Ardizzoni / El Deseo / Sony Pictures Classics)
Cristian Mungiu's 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS: Biggest Oscar Snubs #4d
A harrowing drama about a young woman (Laura Vasiliu) trying to get an abortion with the help of her friend (Anamaria Marinca) in Nicolae Ceausescu's Communist Romania, Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d'Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. It was as much a shoo-in for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar as any non-English-language production has the right to be.
“First, this movie should be enjoyed. Later, marveled at,” wrote Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. “And then, once the excitement has faded, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days really should be studied, because director Cristian Mungiu creates scenes unlike any ever filmed.”
“The fascination of the film comes not so much from the experiences the friends have, however unspeakable, but in who they are, and how they behave and relate,” Roger Ebert explained in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Anamaria Marinca gives a masterful performance as Otilia, but don't let my description of [the character] Gabita blind you to the brilliance of Laura Vasiliu's acting. These are two of the more plausible characters I've seen in a while.”
“It's face-down-in-the-muck filmmaking at its most immediate and unapologetic, stripped of all artistic affectation and metaphor,” wrote Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle. “It's also not a little bit difficult to watch. Mungiu never flinches from the cold realities that attend back-alley abortions … nor is he interested in easy definitions of heroism or morality. All of which makes 4 Months a curious filmgoing experience: Virtuosic, assured, and possessed of undeniable aesthetic force, it's also hard not to turn away from.”
The Academy's Foreign Language Film Committee members apparently found it was indeed hard not to turn away from the film. Its “undeniable aesthetic force” notwithstanding, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days didn't even make it to the second-round ballot (an Academy development from the year before), which led Scott Foundas to raise hell in the LA Weekly:
“Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008 – a date that shall live in Academy Awards infamy. Earlier today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled the nine films that have been shortlisted for this year's Foreign Language Oscar, of which five will comprise the final list of nominees to be announced (along with all Oscar nominations in all categories) one week from today. And here's the rub: The year's most acclaimed foreign-language film, Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days isn't among them. This isn't, mind you, one of those periodic cases of a film being disqualified on the basis of the Academy's notoriously serpentine rules and regulations, as happened earlier this year with the Israeli film The Band's Visit [too much English dialogue] and two years ago with Michael Haneke's Caché [Austria's submission, but set in Paris and spoken in French]. No, 4 Months has been in this race from the beginning as Romania's official entry, competing against submissions from some 62 other countries, and its failure to advance to this penultimate round of the nominating process is as embarrassing a blunder as any in the Academy's history: You can put it right up there with the Best Picture win by Crash (2004) [sic].”
Following the 2007 foreign language film debacle – in addition to 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the Academy also left out Carlos Reygadas' Silent Night, Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven, and Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine – foreign language film voting members got spanked with a new rule: they can now pick only six of the nine semi-finalists in that category.
According to the Academy's press release at the time, “the other three titles will be determined by those members of the 20-member Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee who have qualified to vote in the category. The executive committee's selections will be made after the Phase I voting has been tallied.”
For the record, the five nominated foreign language films of 2007 were Nikita Mikhalkov's 12, Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, Andrzej Wajda's Katyn, Sergei Bodrov's Mongol, and the winner, Stefan Ruzowitzky's The Counterfeiters.
Photos: (IFC First Take)
'Gomorrah': Mob Drama - Biggest Oscar Snubs #4e
Matteo Garrone's mafia drama Gomorrah was the most internationally acclaimed Italian production of 2008. Among its award nominations were those from the British Academy, the Danish Film Critics, the French Academy's Cesar, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and the Spirit Awards. Additionally, Gomorrah won the Grand Prix at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and took Best Film honors at both the European Film Awards and the Italian Academy's David di Donatello Awards.
Regarding the early 2009 snub of Gomorrah, which was nowhere to be found among the Hollywood Academy's nine Best Foreign Language Film semi-finalists, I'm once again quoting Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly:
“One year ago this week, I wrote with astonishment and anger about the omission of Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's Cannes-winning abortion drama 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' nine-film 'shortlist' for the 2007 Foreign Language Film Oscar. That article, entitled 'How Do You Say “Oscar Scandal” in Romanian?', went on to become one of the most viewed and commented-upon entries ever posted on this blog. …”
“[Committee Chair Mark Johnson has effected a number of changes] And yet, and yet, and yet … here we are on the day of the announcement of the Academy's 2008 Foreign Language Film shortlist, and the news is far from joyous. While one can take consolation in the fact that French director Laurent Cantet's widely admired, Palme d'Or-winning The Class and Israeil [sic] director Ari Folman's extraordinary animated documentary Waltz with Bashir are safe for now (along with Austrian director Gotz Spielman's superb revenge drama Revanche), nowhere to be found is Italian director Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah, a blisteringly intense, multi-faceted portrait of the Neapolitan mafia that is not only one of the year's most widely acclaimed films from any country, but has been credited with single-handedly returning Italian cinema to the world cinema spotlight.”
This year, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes Film Festival winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives, Xavier Beauvois' multiple Cesar nominee Of Gods and Men, Florin Serbin's Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear winner If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, and Semih Kaplanoglu's Golden Bear winner Bal / Honey were also missing from the Oscar's list of nine semi-finalists. But Andreas Öhman's “family friendly” dramatic comedy Simple Simon, Rachid Bouchareb's unenthusiastically received Hors la Loi / Outside the Law (a mostly French-made “Algerian” entry), and Oliver Schmitz's sentimental mother-daughter drama Life, Above All were all in.
And thus the Academy's Best Foreign Language Film farce continues…
Best Foreign Language Film Oscar: Half a century of quality & mediocrity
It was at the 1948 Oscar ceremony that the Academy first handed out an Oscar statuette to and “outstanding” non-English-language film released in the United States the previous winner. The winner was Vittorio De Sica's moving neorealist drama Shoeshine / Sciuscià.
The Best Foreign Language Film category was created nine years later. The first winner, announced at the 1957 ceremony, was another Italian effort, Federico Fellini's traveling circus drama La Strada.
In the ensuing five decades, some excellent/good – and many more merely watchable, or worse – titles would be shortlisted in the category.
For every Mon Oncle, The Four Days of Naples, 8½, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Battle of Algiers, Z, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, The Emigrants, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Dersu Uzala, That Obscure Object of Desire, Fanny and Alexander, Entre Nous, The Official Story, Babette's Feast, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Journey of Hope, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon…
…there would be three or four The Captain of Köpenick, The Bridge, Raven's End, The Red Lanterns, Cat's Play, Black and White in Color, Jacob the Liar, Operation Thunderbolt, The Assault, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, The Boat Is Full, Three Men and a Cradle, Jesus of Montreal, Strawberry and Chocolate, Beyond Silence, Kolya, The Thief, Nowhere in Africa, Evil, The Chorus, Days of Glory, and (admittedly, the widely acclaimed) The Lives of Others.
Best Foreign Language Film Oscar: Bypassed world cinema classics
Whether due to voter indifference or arcane Academy rules – e.g., only one film per country; arbitrary dates of release in the submitting country – among the non-English-language films that failed to make the Best Foreign Language Film cut in years past are the following.
Note: Some of the titles listed below (*) were shortlisted for – and sometimes won – Academy Awards in other categories, including Best Picture (Cries & Whispers, Il Postino), at times a year or two after their original release:
- Juan Antonio Bardem's Main Street (1956) & La venganza (1958).
- Yasujiro Ozu's Early Spring (1956), Floating Weeds (1959) & Late Autumn (1960).
- Satyajit Ray's Aparajito (1956).
- Julien Duvivier's Deadlier Than the Male (1956), Lovers of Paris (1957) & Marie-Octobre (1959).
- Mikhail Kalatozov's The Cranes Are Flying (1957).
- Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (*1957), The Magician (1958), Persona (1966), The Passion of Anna (1969), Cries & Whispers (*1972), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), Face to Face (*1976) & Autumn Sonata (*1978).
- Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (1957), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Sanjuro (1962) & Ran (*1985).
- Andrzej Wajda's Kanal (1957), Ashes and Diamonds (1958), Man of Marble (1977).
- Jacques Becker's Montparnasse 19 (1958).
- Youssef Chahine's Cairo Station (1958).
- Louis Malle's The Lovers (1958) & Murmur of the Heart (*1971).
- Grigoriy Chukhray's Ballad of a Soldier (*1959).
- Luis Buñuel's Nazarin (1959), Viridiana (1961), The Exterminating Angel (1962), Belle de Jour (1967) & The Milky Way (1969).
- Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (*1959), Last Year in Marienbad (1961), The War Is Over (*1967), Stavisky… (1974), Mélo (1986) & Private Fears in Public Places (2006).
- François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (*1959), Jules and Jim (1962), The Bride Wore Black (1968), Mississippi Mermaid (1969) & The Story of Adele H (*1975).
- Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (*1960).
- Mauro Monicelli's The Passionate Thief (1960) & The Organizer (*1963).
- Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961) & L'Eclisse (1962).
- Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Leopard (*1963) & Sandra (1967).
- Vittorio De Sica's Two Women (*1960).
- Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1960).
- Jacques Demy's Lola (1961).
- Henri Colpi's The Long Absence (1961).
- Ermanno Olmi's Il Posto (1961) & The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978).
- Pier Paolo Pasolini's Mamma Roma (1962), The Gospel According to St. Matthew (*1964) & The Decameron (1971).
- Andrei Tarkovsky's My Name Is Ivan (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1971), Stalker (1979) & The Sacrifice (1986).
- Dino Risi's Il Sorpasso (1962) & Scent of a Woman (1974).
- Agnès Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962).
- Nelson Pereira dos Santos' Barren Lives (1963).
- Philippe de Broca's That Man from Rio (*1964).
- Pietro Germi's Seduced and Abandoned (1964) & The Birds the Bees and the Italians (1966).
- Wojciech Has' The Saragossa Manuscript (1965).
- Volker Schlöndorff's Young Törless (1966).
- Ousmane Sembene's Black Girl (1966) & Moolaadé (2004).
- Claude Berri's The Two of Us (1967), Jean de Florette (1986) & Manon of the Spring (1986).
- Éric Rohmer's La Collectionneuse (1967), Claire's Knee (1970), Chloe in the Afternoon (1972) & Pauline at the Beach (1983).
- Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's Memories of Underdevelopment (1968).
- Claude Chabrol's Les Biches (1968), Le Boucher (1970), Violette (1978) & Story of Women (1988).
- Elio Petri's Lulu the Tool / The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971).
- Francesco Rosi's The Mattei Affair (1972) & Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979).
- Lina Wertmüller's The Seduction of Mimi (1972).
- Ettore Scola's We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974).
- Werner Herzog's The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser (1974) & Fitzcarraldo (1982).
- Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Padre Padrone (1977).
- Édouard Molinaro's La Cage aux Folles (*1978).
- Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) & Lili Marleen (1981).
- Carlos Diegues' Bye Bye Brasil (1980).
- Dusan Kovacevic's Who's Singin' Over There? (1980).
- Tizuka Yamasaki's Gaijin a Brazilian Odyssey (1980).
- Hector Babenco's Pixote (1981).
- Mario Camus' La Colmena (1982).
- Serif Gören & Yilmaz Güney's Yol (1982).
- Paul Verhoeven's The 4th Man (1983) & Black Book (2006).
- Shohei Imamura's The Ballad of Narayama (1983) & The Eel (1997).
- Eliseo Subiela's Man Facing Southeast (1986).
- Margarethe von Trotta's Rosa Luxemburg (1986) & The Long Silence (1993).
- Souleymane Cissé's Brightness / Yeelen (1987).
- Pedro Almodóvar's Law of Desire (1987), Talk to Her (*2002), Bad Education (2004) & Volver (*2006).
- Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (1987).
- Emir Kusturica's Time of the Gypsies (1988).
- Claire Denis' Chocolat (1988).
- Agnieszka Holland's Europa Europa (*1990).
- Yves Robert's My Father's Glory (1990) & My Mother's Castle (1990).
- Jaco van Dormael's Toto the Hero (1991).
- Ricardo Larraín's La Frontera (1991).
- Rachid Bouchareb's Cheb (1991).
- Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique (1991), Three Colors: Blue (1993) & Three Colors: Red (*1994).
- Bille August's The Best Intentions (1992) & Jerusalem (1996).
- Gianni Amelio's The Stolen Children (1992), Lamerica (1994) & The Keys to the House (2004).
- Michael Radford's Il Postino (*1994).
- Zhang Yimou's To Live (1994), Shanghai Triad (*1995), House of Flying Daggers (*2004) & Curse of the Golden Flower (*2006).
- Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry (1997).
- Alain Berliner's Ma Vie en Rose (1997).
- Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También (*2001).
- Nanni Moretti's The Son's Room (2001).
- Fernando Meirelles' City of God (*2002).
- Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries (*2004).
- Theo Angelopoulos' Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (2004).
- Michael Haneke's Hidden / Caché (2005).
- Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's The Child / L'Enfant (2005).
- Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005).
- Naomi Kawase's The Mourning Forest (2007).
- Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit (2007).
- Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (*2007).