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Foreign Oscar List Offers Surprises, But “Bashir” Still Stands to Win

Foreign Oscar List Offers Surprises, But "Bashir" Still Stands to Win

Well, three out of five ain’t great. Back in October, I predicted in this indieWIRE article, “Foreign Language Oscar Race May Offer Fewer Surprises” — with unremarkable insight — that “The Class” (France), “Everlasting Moments” (Sweden), “Waltz with Bashir” (Israel), “Gomorrah” (Italy) and “O’Horten” (Norway) would all make the Academy’s 9-film shortlist. I was wrong on “Gomorrah” and “O’Horten,” the former of which many are calling a major snub, the latter of which nobody seems to care about (except, of course, distributor Sony Pictures Classics). Based on conversations with industry insiders, I was also correct about less obvious contenders (“The Necessities of Life,” “The Baader Meinhof Complex” and “Tear This Heart Out”).

As for surprises, one of the most significant is that Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s uber-arty, misanthropic “Three Monkeys” made the cut. I can’t imagine the septuagenarian Academy members at the L.A. screenings of the foreign branch picked Ceylan’s dire thriller out from the pack (from Cannes, I noted it wasn’t as satisfying as his previous films), so I suspect this one was plucked by the 20-member executive committee. I haven’t seen Austria’s “Revanche,” which was acquired for U.S. release by Janus/Criterion, but based on reports, the film’s racey subject matter–a prostitute love story–would have seemed too outre for the selection committee. Apparently, not so. I doubt if either makes the final five.

And sure, I’m a little surprised about “Gomorrah’s” absence, too. IFC did their dardenest to turn the film into a major player. Even the U.S. distrib, together with the film’s Italian producer, launched a campaign to get the film considered in categories outside of best foreign-language. But the film’s violence was probably enough to turn off most Oscar voters, though I guess you have to wonder where the executive committe came down on the critically heralded Italian mafia film. After seeing “Gomorrah” in Cannes, I, for one, was impressed with the film’s sense of place and non-professional actors, but wrote in this indieWIRE notebook, “‘Gomorra’ doesn’t have an emotional center. There’s a feeling of distance to the proceedings, almost as if you were examining this strange otherworld like ants through a magnifying class.” Perhaps this distant approach alienated Academy voters more than images of Italian hunks being splattered with gunfire in tanning booths.

As for the ultimate winner, the only film that makes sense is Ari Folman’s arresting, now politically prescient “Waltz with Bashir.” In fact, when compared to the other films–though admittedly I haven’t seen everything off the list–it blows them all out of the water. But then again, when it comes to the Academy, I’ve been wrong before.

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