Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oscar's Foreign Language Shortlist (Oh, and Batman)

I suppose I'll get the fanboy news out of the way first, since the Internet will make a much bigger deal out of this than the Foreign Language shortlist. Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy have been cast in The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's third (and probably last) Batman film. And now their roles have been revealed: Hathaway will be Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, and Hardy will play the steroidal Bane, the villain of this film.
I have my reservations about these decisions. I'm glad that Nolan is going with a lesser-known villain this time around, and Hardy ought to be great in the role. However, the decision to include Catwoman bothers me. As Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry can attest, this is not a role that's been kind to the Batman films or the actresses who portray her. Nolan hasn't really faltered yet when it comes to his treatment of the material, but his female characters haven't necessarily been the strengths of those films. And (presumably) Catwoman would heavily factor into this film. I'm not saying that Hathaway will be terrible - she definitely has a chance - but she's got a monumental task ahead of her in it. Here's hoping Nolan finds a way to make it all work.
So that's that. On to the shortlist!
I've been waiting for this for a long time; usually this goes up with more than a week to go before the nominations announcement (you can check out last year's shortlist here). AMPAS has whittled down 60+ submissions to nine lucky films that will vie for the five nominations that will be announced next Tuesday. And those nine films are:
Biutiful, Mexico
In a Better World, Denmark
Outside the Law, Algeria
Incendies, Canada
Dogtooth, Greece
Confessions, Japan
Life, Above All, South Africa
Even the Rain, Spain
Simple Simon, Sweden
There's some interesting things going on here. First of all, the snubs are very, very noticeable. Perennial nominees France (Of Gods and Men), Germany (When We Leave), and Israel (The Human Resources Manager) are nowhere to be seen. This is especially surprising for France, since that film has received plenty of acclaim around the world, and Oscar loves French films (the nation has been nominated 36 times). Then, acclaimed efforts from Iraq (Sons of Babylon) and Turkey (Bal) were also ignored. Thailand's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is also absent; though it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year, it wasn't as well-received by American critics, so I'm not all that surprised at its exclusion here. Romania is always absent, so that's not really a surprise this year, but Peru (nominated last year) had a lot of buzz for its submission, Contracurriente, so its a surprise to not see it here. In fact, after Latin America had a banner year here last year, only Mexico is representing this year (also, defending champ Argentina won't be getting two in a row).
But enough about what didn't make the list. Let's take a look at what did.
  • Biutiful: This one was pretty much expected, and has been the presumed front-runner for the win. If it is nominated, it will be Mexico's eighth nomination. The nation has never won; a nomination would tie it with Poland for the second-most nominations without a win (the leader there is Israel, with nine).
  • In a Better World: You know this one because it just won this category at the Golden Globes. Director Susanne Bier has a respectable global following, so I'd say this is probably safe for a nomination. If it is, this will be Denmark's eighth nomination as well; the nation has two wins (1987 & 1988).
  • Outside the Law: AMPAS has a soft spot for Algerian cinema, and this one comes from a director who's directed another one of Algeria's Oscar nominees (2006's Indigenes). This could be Algeria's fifth nomination (the most for any African nation); its won once (1969).
  • Incendies: This one has picked up a lot of international attention, and its Middle East-set story could provide the kind of political fodder that Oscar likes so much. If nominated, it would be Canada's fifth nomination (Canada's only win came in 2003).
  • Dogtooth: The very nature of this film is why I'm surprised this made the shortlist. The film's gained international acclaim, but the plot - parents lock their children in their estate and try to control their entire lives, to violent results - is one that tends to repel Oscar voters. I'm not sure if it will be nominated, but if it is, it would be Greece's sixth nomination (no wins).
  • Confessions: Japan's submission is kind of surprising to see here too. Its a very-stylized tale of a school teacher who believes that her students murdered her son, and so she decides to (violently) force them to confess and pay for their crime. But AMPAS likes Japan, so maybe that factors into it (Japan currently has 12 nominations and one win, plus three honorary awards).
  • Life, Above All: South Africa's been flourishing this past decade, and Life, Above All, a mother-daughter drama, seems to be proving it. If this film is nominated (and I suspect it will), it will be the nation's third nomination; South Africa's only win came in 2005 with Tsotsi, which was directed by X-Men Origins: Wolverine's Gavin Hood.
  • Even the Rain: Oscar loves Spain. The nation has 19 nominations and four wins to date, placing it in third all-time in both respects behind only France and Italy. And this film stars international sensation Gael Garcia Bernal, one of my personal favorites, so that works in its favor as well.
  • Simple Simon: A Swedish comedy starring Bill Skarsgard, brother of True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard, as a man with Asperger's trying to find his brother a new girlfriend. I have a feeling that this was carried into here by the love for Dragon Tattoo (also from Sweden, and not submitted) and therefore a love of Sweden, since I haven't heard kind words about the film itself. Sweden has 14 nominations to date and three wins (all three were for Ingmar Bergman films).
As for my predictions for the five films that will be nominated, I'm going to pick Biutiful, In a Better World, Incendies, Dogtooth, and Life, Above All. Even the Rain probably has a better shot than Dogtooth, but I'm doing a little wishful thinking.
Which reminds me: the last Oscar predictions before the actual nominations are going to be going up tomorrow, so be on the lookout for those!
I hate to end on a sad note, but most of these shortlisted films probably won't be seen my Americans for a long time, if ever. To my knowledge, only Biutiful has received a US release so far (so that Javier Bardem is eligible for Best Actor), and the nominees will probably find their way here eventually. But the four films on that list that aren't nominated will most likely, unfortunately, never make it here. I really hate the way distributors are afraid to release foreign films unless they're remade with American casts, but that's the way of the world, I suppose. Boo on them, I want my foreign films!
[ADDENDUM] I also want to point out that only four of the nine films this year are European, which is a noticeable point. Europe tends to dominate these things, so its kind of a welcoming change to see more films from other continents. That being said, South America didn't land a single film on the shortlist this year, and Asia only has one. But the possibility of two African Oscar nominees is exciting.


Simon said...

Curse you, demonic forces that keep me away from Dogtooth. Curse you to the blood-drenched swamps from winst you came!

Jose said...

I wish I could see all of these on time. Last year somehow I managed to do it...weird.

Jason H. said...

Simon- Agreed! Dogtooth and Confessions strike me as the most interesting on the list. I wonder what that says about me?

Jose - Jealous that you did it last year! I still haven't even seen last year's nominees, though they're all in my Netflix queue.