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Oscars: What's Age Got to Do With It? Possibly Everything for Michael Haneke's 'Amour'

Photo of Jay A. Fernandez By Jay A. Fernandez | Indiewire November 23, 2012 at 12:32PM

Given the nature of Haneke's film (the slow, agonizing approach of death); the urge to reward Haneke, himself 70 years old, for finally making a film that doesn't brutalize its audience (or, at least, brutalizes it in a humane way); and the historical context of its casting (two of the few legendary actors left that provide a connection to cinema's glory days), "Amour's" elderly leads could be the best thing going for it.
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"Amour"
Sony Pictures Classics "Amour"

Every year, the Hollywood Reporter does a great series throughout awards season called "Anatomy of a Contender." These are basically detailed production stories that get into why a particular film is likely to end up a best picture nominee. (Full disclosure: I did a few when I worked there, on "Up in the Air," "The Descendants" and others.)

In its most recent issue, the magazine focused on Michael Haneke's "Amour," which many peg as the rare foreign film that may potentially capture a best picture slot. The director of "The White Ribbon," "Funny Games" and more, Haneke of course is much more a darling of the Cannes set. While his most recent film, "Amour," is a warmer (though no less depressing, ultimately) film than he usually makes, it also features two elderly actors as its protagonists -- a choice that nearly doomed the project before it could get made.

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From the THR piece, written by Alexandra Marshall:

In assembling Amour, Haneke faced two big hurdles: the film's subject matter and its casting demands. Haneke's story centered entirely on two people in their 80s, "and in our society, that is a total taboo," says Margaret Menegoz, head of Les Films du Losange and Amour's lead producer. "He may be the most important director working today, but we had one potential TV partner tell us, 'Forget it, you shouldn't show old people.'"

No one in Hollywood would argue that having older protagonists is a good strategy for strong box office returns, no matter how many times a film like "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" or "RED" does unexpectedly well. But in terms of awards, could it be that having octogenarians Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva -- two cinema legends, no less -- carry the film is a huge boon to "Amour?"

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We know the average age of a voting member of AMPAS is higher than most movie stars', and the Academy has often lunged to hand nominations and awards to elder statesmen and women. A brief list would include 82-year-old Christopher Plummer (best supporting actor, "Beginners," 2011); 62-year-old Meryl Streep (best actress, "The Iron Lady," 2011); 76-year-old Woody Allen (best original screenplay, "Midnight in Paris," 2011); 72-year-old David Seidler (best original screenplay, "The King's Speech," 2010); 60-year-old Helen Mirren (best actress, "The Queen," 2006); 71-year-old Alan Arkin (best supporting actor, "Little Miss Sunshine," 2006); and 64-year-old Martin Scorsese (best director, "The Departed," 2006).

Given the nature of Haneke's film (the slow, agonizing approach of death); the urge to reward Haneke, himself 70 years old, for finally making a film that doesn't brutalize its audience (or, at least, brutalizes it in a humane way); and the historical context of its casting (two of the few legendary actors left that provide a connection to cinema's glory days), "Amour's" elderly leads could be the best thing going for it. It may even be enough to convince the Academy to give "Amour" the Big Prize.

What do you think? Is this a possibility? Why or why not?

This article is related to: Awards, Academy Awards, Amour, Michael Haneke