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How Has Spike Jonze's 'Her' Changed the Oscar Race? Peter Knegt and Eric Kohn Revisit Awards Season Buzz

By Peter Knegt and Eric Kohn | Indiewire October 16, 2013 at 10:48AM

With Oscar season in full swing, Indiewire chief film critic Eric Kohn and senior writer Peter Knegt revisit the buzz after tipping their toes in the water last month.
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"A Touch of Sin."
"A Touch of Sin."

EK: I'm always more excited about the outcome of the Gothams and the Spirits than the Oscars because they cast such wider nets and at least allow for the possibility of providing more complicated representations of the year in cinema. But Oscar season presents other problems now. This year, I'm more worried about the foreign language films not getting the traction they deserve. It was a small miracle -- or maybe just the shrewd distribution veterans at Sony Pictures Classics -- that helped "Amour" find its way into the Best Picture category last year. But it's starting to look unlikely that such a trick could work this time around. "Blue is the Warmest Color," like "Amour" a Palme d'Or-winning film, opens next week and certainly deserves singling out. But the movie was disqualified for foreign language consideration due to its release date in France. I know you're fan of Abdellatif Kechiche's lesbian coming of age drama and we share enthusiasm for the movie's lead performances from Adele Exarchoupolos and Lea Seydoux, but it seems unlikely that this one could actually find its way into major categories at the big event next year. Not only that, but Jia Zhangke's remarkable anthology narrative "A Touch of Sin" -- which Kino Lorber released earlier this month -- wasn't selected as China's submission due to the darker aspects of the country depicted in the film. I haven't seen "The Lunchbox" but hear that it's another drama worthy of this discussion and not up for consideration. Meanwhile, Iran has selected "The Past," a wonderful drama from last year's winner for "A Separation" that actually takes place...in Paris.

What can be done to improve one of the few areas of this commercial industry that actually manages to bring non-American cinema to wider attention? It's hard enough with just five slots, which makes it especially frustrating when they're not filled properly. Blue is going to be my color if this situation isn't sorted out soon. Should Academy members revolt?

PK: The foreign language film category situation has been a decades-long issue that I can't see becoming the ideal situation any time soon (or ever). And say the Academy did change the system so countries not longer had the power of submission. What then? I highly doubt the Academy membership -- who have been the culprit in this category's injustice perhaps more than the countries themselves -- would really take that situation and make it a particularly more ideal batch of nominees.  If "A Touch of Sin" had been submitted,it probably wouldn't have been nominated anyway. I realize that's a very pessimistic and defeatist way of looking at it, but like most Academy categories, I've basically accepted it as being greatly flawed. And look forward to the increasingly frequent times they get it right anyway -- like "Amour" last year, or "A Separation" the year before. And while it's true this year it's a shame films like "Sin" or "Blue Is The Warmest Color" and another Cannes favorite -- Japan's "Like Father, Like Son" (which was bizarrely snubbed by the country in favor of "The Great Passage") -- haven't made the cut, I have high hopes some deserving films will make it in there anyway. These include "Gloria," "The Hunt," "The Great Beauty" and, despite the oddness of it being a film being set in Paris and representing Iran, "The Past."

Abdellatif Kechiche's 'Blue is the Warmest Color', Lea Seydoux

But who knows, maybe "Blue is the Warmest Color" can make it into actress category or at least the best adapted screenplay one. It's extremely unlikely, I'll admit, perhaps especially given what happened with "Amour" last year feeling like something of an anomaly that happens once a decade or so. Or maybe it was a sign that the Academy membership is more willing to embrace a more complicated representation of cinema. We still don't know how this year will shape up in the end, but I actually felt like last year was a pretty impressive achievement in just that -- at least for the Academy, especially coming off of a year when "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" and "War Horse" made the best picture lineup.  So maybe we're not giving them enough credit: I for one thought it was the Spirit Awards that messed things up more significantly than the Oscars did back in February.

EK: You'll get no qualms from me about that. I confronted the issue with the Spirits head-on last year when "Silver Linings Playbook" beat out contenders made for a fraction of its budget. I imagine -- or maybe I just hope -- that the top Spirits' prize won't go to a quirky, indie-like movie made on a big budget like "Her" -- because that's just not where it belongs -- but I have a feeling something along those lines may indeed sneak in there. In the meantime, I'd rather focus on the flip side of the equation: the legitimately small scale productions that manage to get smuggled into the big ceremony. Setting aside the odds of an "Amour"-like invasion of European arthouse cinema, I'd love to see a screenplay nomination for "Short Term 12" or an acknowledgement of Brie Larson's tremendous performance in that movie, though I realize these might be pipe dreams at this point. But I imagine they're a touch more realistic than, say, hoping for Amy Seimetz to nab a best actress nod for "Upstream Color" or "Leviathan" finding its way to the documentary category. The only truly subversive possibility is James Franco's Alien battling into the best supporting actor turf. Forgetting for a moment about our most outlandish hopes, what's the outsider you'd most like to see invade Oscar season?

PK: The Spirits need be to be very careful going forward. After back to back years of Harvey-machine b.s. ("The Artist" and then "Silver Linings" sweeping when they really shouldn't have even qualified), it better not be the "August: Osage County" awards this year. Or the "Her" awards. Though with the latter's studio distributor and budget I can't imagine it sneaking past the rules. However, stranger things have happened at the Spirits.

As for indie spirit at the Oscars, there's definitely a few long shots to hope for, like the "Short Term 12" screenplay. Or the Franco spot: A24 sure is pulling for it. I'd certainly be happy with either, but my dream is that "Before Midnight" ends up making a wave or two. I think Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke's screenplay is actually a pretty safe bet for a nomination, but I'd love to see Delpy get a best actress nomination. And Hawke and Linklater in their solo categories, for that matter. I was just so blown away by that film and the series it culminated. I hope the Academy can recognize what an achievement it was.

This article is related to: Awards, Oscar, Spike Jonze, Her, Scarlett Johansson, Joaquin Phoenix, Blue is the Warmest Color, Amour, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, A Touch of Sin, Short Term 12, Brie Larson, James Franco, Before Midnight, Gotham Awards, Spirit Awards







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