Wednesday, February 26, 2014

One Category at a Time: Foreign Language Film

Last year was the first year that this category was open to all voting members of the Academy, courtesy of screener DVDs sent to all of AMPAS. Of course, with Amour also nominated for Best Picture that year, predicting this category was a no-brainer. Unfortunately for us this year, we have no clear frontrunner to point to a predictable result. Last year's obvious outcome made it impossible for us to truly gauge what sort of film will appeal to the entire Academy as opposed to the tiny older contingent that used to vote on this category. Let's take a look at the nominees:
In terms of critics awards and nominations from other groups, Denmark's The Hunt has the most recognition of the five nominees. Nods for the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and (2012) BAFTA Awards have kept its profile high, aided by the international star power of Mads Mikkelsen. It's the sort of accessible, expertly dramatized story with an emotional pull that would have easily won under the old system, but one wonders if the inclusion of a younger demographic to the voting pool could give a "hipper" film a chance.

The film that is (at least perceived to be) "hipper" and could pull out a win is Italy's The Great Beauty. Its victories at the Globes and the BAFTAs could be enough to convince those lazy voters who aren't bothering to watch their screeners that it deserves their blind vote anyway. It's also playing in theatres currently, increasing its media exposure. But if most Academy members actually give it a look, I daresay it could hurt its chances. This is not the sort of film that traditionally wins this category; an audacious, empty exercise in provocation with little for viewers to attach to emotionally. Of course, you can tell that I'm clearly biased (I hated this movie), but the fact remains that it simply doesn't fit the bill of a Best Foreign Language Film winner. Within a week, we'll know if our idea of what type of film does fit the bill needs some revision under the newer voting system.
Another unconventional nominee who would make an unlikely victor is Cambodia's The Missing Picture. Using clay figurines and intricate dioramas, it details Rithy Panh's childhood memories in the labour camps of the Khmer Rouge. It's a fascinating hybrid documentary, and right up there with The Hunt as the best this slate of nominees has to offer. But I fear it'll have to settle for its nomination as the reward. Its form and style is just a bit too atypical, and its profile too small, to appeal to 6000 Academy members.

A more likely challenger for the win is Belgium's The Broken Circle Breakdown. This is a conventional melodrama in the same vein as many films which have won this category before. Its bathetic elements and intense emotion are so omnipresent they're practically stifling, although that may not win the favour of younger voters as much as it will older ones. But what may truly give it an advantage is that, ironically, it's arguably the least foreign of these foreign films! It features many musical sequences of American bluegrass performed in English, making it highly accessible and entertaining amid the story's tear-jerkiness.
Finally, Palestine's Omar is a taught thriller about a young revolutionary turned tattle-tale that could appeal to AMPAS' "steak-eaters" contingent. However, its extremely limited release is only just beginning this week in the U.S., far too late to attract the number of eyeballs it needs to be a threat here.

Will win: The Hunt
Runner-up: The Broken Circle Breakdown

Should win: The Hunt
Should've been nominated: Wadjda

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