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The American Dream?

The American Dream?

This extremely annoying Variety article popped into my inbox yesterday.. via “Variety Headlines”. Entitled “Foreign Stars Cash In On Oscar Noms,” writer David Mermelstein’s thesis is simple: If a “foreigner” gets an Oscar nom, they are likely to get a shot at American roles and American money. The article is framed around Marion Cotillard, as if to say: “Hey Marion, a group of American film people have nominated you to be a member of their exclusive and shiny superclub! Abandon your language, country and past! You’ve won the film world lottery!”

For the most part, Mermelstein is probably right about “the Oscars boost a career” part.. examples like Javier Bardemprove that (though he does fail to mention Bardem does not exclusively make American or English language films). But some of his other examples are forced and lame. Par example:

Bardem clearly benefited from Oscar’s attention, as have others: Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo followed a supporting actress nom for “House of Sand and Fog” in 2004 with appearances in as “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “The Lake House.”

Woo! The Lake House! Do your research and at least mention 24, where her part far out-reached the two examples you used.

The article offers some counter examples and thinly does the thesis well. But either way, whether Oscar does give an actor more American roles is besides my point. But this article and a great portion of American media are missing it… This is exemplified when Mermelstein discusses Juliette Binoche:

And then there’s Juliette Binoche. Winning an Oscar for supporting actress in “The English Patient” (1996) while in her early 30s barely affected her career: She mostly made arty European films before the win and continued to do so afterward. Even following her second nom, as best actress in Lasse Hallstrom’s “Chocolat” (2000), no real shift occurred. Her role in this past year’s American comedy “Dan in Real Life” represents an exception, not the rule.

No real shift occurred because Binoche didn’t want it to. Is that so hard to understand? Acting in a second language is not always complimentary to the acting craft, for one thing. See Penelope Cruz and how Volver, her return to her Spanish language acting, shot her to an Oscar nomination and critical success. And I’m sorry, but I’d rather be getting my paychecks in Euros these days anyway.

All of this just irks me mainly because it suggests that the ultimate dream of anybody working in the film industry is American fame, American money and American glamour. It seems to me Europeans are better at all three of those attributes. Being a Canadian, I’ve probably witnessed the Americanization of world popular culture in most very direct way. Canadian youths are essentially forced into thinking the American celebrity dream is the end all be all of fame and fortune. We watched as an endless supply of our countrywomen and men (just for examples sake, a short list: Mike Myers, Ivan Reitman, Jim Carrey, James Cameron, Norman Jewison, Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams…) headed south. And in our case, it makes sense: If you believe your craft deserves projects with bigger budgets, more opportunity and more variety, you kinda have to (the very small list of people who felt they didn’t need these things almost exclusively belongs to Sarah Polley, Atom Egoyan and in a weird way David Cronenberg). We have the unlucky geographical position of blending popular cultures with a country that has hundreds of millions more people and hundreds of billions more budgets. But if youre European or Asian or etc and belong to a culture that doesn’t speak the same language as America and therefore at least has some openings to maintain their own film industry with actual box office revenues as opposed to government grant upon government grant (and I’m not knocking Canada for that, it just creates a very different environment), then I just don’t see how going from All About My Mother to Sahara seems all that appealing.

Juliette Binoche is a lovely example of someone who occasionally dips her acting pen in American ink – when the parts right, and when (I’d guess) she feels like taking advantage of what the American film industry has to offer (and, despite all my ranting, I’ll be the first to admit its industry is incomparable in certain ways).. but as a whole, Binoche has generally stuck to French films (or films from a variety of countries, as her unique filmography shows). This has enabled her to probably get more out of her career than Penelope Cruz ever did when she devoted a near-decade to the U.S. of A, and also allowed her to avoid something that – if recent times has shown anything – is not really that appealing of a position: being an American celebrity. So maybe a more suitable article framed around Marion Cotillard‘s Oscar nomination would be a cautionary tale of two women who were once in Marion’s shoes.. one is on her way to becoming a world cinema legend, the other had to return to her native country’s roots to keep her career from falling…

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