Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscar Nominations - Focus on the Foreigners

Today the Oscar nominees were unveiled in Hollywood. My initial reaction was similar to most esteemed pundits: The Blindside?!?!? WTF?

Expanding the Best Picture nominees to 10 could potentially have profound consequences on which film is the eventual the winner. Films that otherwise would have no chance are now in the running. The final vote will be more "Heisman Trophy" style in which people rank their top favorites, giving the most points to their #1. This makes an already wide-open field more unpredictable. Then again, Oscar doesn't exactly have a great track record for identifying the best film - it's not like we have a clear idea on who's doing the voting anyway. So I am left intrigued about how that trophy winds up.

I of course can't help but focus my attention on the Best Foreign Language Film category. Argentina has achieved a nomination for the first time since 2002 when the same director, Juan José Campanella, saw El Hijo De La Novia lose out to No Man's Land. El Secreto De Sus Ojos has already become the most successful Argentine movie in the country's history. Mati named it the top movie of 2009, and I must say I agree with him. For all the fawning Brad and I did over Avatar during the last two days, Ojos has stayed with me in a way few films do. The only ones that come to mind over recent years are There Will be Blood and The Wrestler. It's a remarkable film, that I called "Layered." In relief these four months later, I am still finding deeper meaning. To sum up, I really hope it wins.

All that said, I have not seen any of the other nominees. Hell, I've hardly seen any of the movies nominated in any categories. We'll probably get a rush of the nominees and I will have to spend the coming weeks at the theater.

Today in reviewing the newly unveiled nominees, Roger Ebert rather flippantly predicted that "The White Ribbon" will be the winner. But Ebert states that he hasn't seen the other films (or at the very least hasn't reviewed them). I'm not trying to pick on Roger - he is correct that The White Ribbon is the assumptive favorite. It has garnered a ton of attention and won the Palme D'Or at Cannes. But in this category, assumptions can easily be faulty (nowadays). Best Foreign Language film is one of the few that requires voters to see all five nominees. This gives every film a fighting chance.

Let's start by reviewing some recent history:
2007 - Everyone assumes Pan's Labyrinth is going to walk away with the prize. Indeed, it did three times, but not in this category. Wins in Makeup, Cinematography, and Art Direction were supportive victories, but not enough to beat out The Lives of Others for the Foreign Language prize. Ebert gave no such predictions three years ago, but nobody would have blamed him for assuming Pan's Labyrinth would win. At this time, the IMDb rating reflects the hierarchy as well, with Lives of Others getting an 8.5, and Pan's Labyrinth just behind at 8.4.

2008 - The category is more wide open with no clear lead contender, and two critical favorites missing the cut. Mongol is receiving the most attention, but loses to The Counterfeiters. IMDb says Mongol 7.4 < The Counterfeiters 7.7

2009 - Waltz with Bashir, an innovative film blending live action with animation that looks back at an invasion of Lebannon is the odds-on favorite. A relatively unknown film from Japan, Okuribito ends up winning. Once again, IMDb agrees, 8.2 over 8.0.

So that brings us to this year. Recent history shows us that all eligible films truly have a shot. The IMDb ratings show three top contenders: A Prophet 8.0, The White Ribbon 8.2, El Secreto de Sus Ojos 8.6. Now, it's very early and these ratings will likely all go down over time. But in this category, por suerte, hype means nothing, and we must say there is no favorite. Let the countdown begin!

Trailer for A Prophet

Trailer for The White Ribbon

Trailer for El Secreto de Sus Ojos (sorry, no subtitled version yet!)

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