By Indiewire | Indiewire December 31, 2002 at 2:0AM
"Time Out" Tops indieWIRE's First Foreign Film Survey
by Anthony Kaufman
While the film industry is flooded with awards from critics' groups and film
organizations from around the nation, there is little attention specifically
given to foreign-language films. Every year, some of the most stunning
achievements in cinema come from overseas and speak in a foreign tongue, yet
they are crushed by the mega-million-dollar hype of American studios, big
and small. Even the Hollywood "Foreign" Press Association devotes
only one Golden Globe category to foreign talents, instead lavishing
kudos on "About a Boy" and "Chicago," as if such studio fare
needs any more attention. Should it come as a surprise that the year's most
profound technical achievement in cinema -- Alexander Sokurov's
90-minute single-take "Russian Ark" -- will receive nary a whisper
come Golden Globe or Oscar nights? With that in mind, indieWIRE decided to
inaugurate a foreign film survey by polling dozens of critics, programmers,
and film journalists.
Before announcing indieWIRE's first (hopefully annual) foreign film
"awards," it is worth addressing, in today's post-"Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon" times, whether it is fair to single out foreign films, as
if in a precious bubble all by themselves? After all, the Chinese-language
martial arts epic supposedly broke open the floodgates for subtitled films
in the English-speaking market. And as the perfect example of an industry
that is increasingly globalized (the film was written and produced by
Americans and Chinese, financed through partners in Hong Kong, China, a bank
in Paris, and insured by a bond company in Los Angeles), "Crouching Tiger"
begs the question: what exactly defines a "foreign film"?
Also consider the number of foreign-born auteurs creating films made in the
English language. Whether for aesthetic or financial reasons (or both),
directors like Arnaud Desplechin, Olivier Assayas,
Alejandro Amenabar, Lars von Trier, and Thomas
Vinterberg have all made films in English. "I understand why the
distinction between foreign and foreign-language is a necessary one for the
purposes of surveys like this," noted Village Voice editor and critic Dennis
Lim, one of the participants in this year's poll. "But unfortunately this
disqualifies my pick for film of the year: Arnaud Desplechin's 'Esther
Kahn,' a British-French co-production in English by a French director
with an American actress in the lead."
Despite the increased globalization of film, foreign-lingo movies are still
getting made and are still facing prejudice in the United States. While the
box office successes of some of the best foreign films of the year, such as
"Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "The Fast Runner" show the possibility
for breakthrough, there are dozens of deserved others ("Warm Water Under a
Red Bridge," "What Time is it There?" "Songs from the Second Floor") that
can't compete with the prohibitively pricey, glutted arena of domestic
So consider this poll as a corrective -- a sort of affirmative action for
the under-represented and comparatively under-funded film industries abroad.
As Denver Post film critic Steven Rosen writes, "If [these awards] gain
publicity and credibility, it will help develop a wider theatrical market
for such films, and wider recognition for their directors and actors."
For our "academy," a total of 21 critics, programmers, and journalists from
around the U.S. participated. It's a small list, but a diverse one: John
Anderson (Newsday), Peter Brunette (critic), Mike D'Angelo
(Time Out New York), Howard Feinstein (critic), Scott Foundas
(Variety), Graham Fuller (New York Daily News), J. Hoberman
(Village Voice), Stephen Garrett (former film editor, Time Out New
York), Larry Kardish (Museum of Modern Art), Dennis Lim
(Village Voice), Gerald Peary (Boston Phoenix), Ray Pride
(Chicago New City), Rachel Rosen (Los Angeles Film Festival),
Steven Rosen (Denver Post), Matthew Ross (indieWIRE), Carl
Spence (San Francisco International Film Festival), David Sterritt (Christian Science
Monitor) and Mikita Brottman (author), Amy Taubin (critic),
Scott Tobias (The Onion), and myself. While we can't presume a
comprehensive list of contributors (no one at the Los Angeles Times or New
York Times got back to us), we can use this base as a
Of the roughly 84 foreign-language films released in the U.S. this year,
Laurent Cantet's "Time Out" ("L'emploi du temps") just edged
out the competition as the best foreign film of 2002, according to our poll,
followed by " The Fast Runner," and a tie for third place between
"Talk to Her" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien." Single-vote getters in
the Best Film category included "In Praise of Love," "The Piano
Teacher," "Russian Ark," "Songs from the Second Floor,"
and "The Son's Room."
It's an exceptional victory for "Time Out," considering that it drew the
least number of viewers at the box office among the top four picks (about
$450,000), and most Americans have not even heard of Cantet's second film
(following his class-conscious family melodrama "Human Resources").
Universally praised at film festivals and upon its release by ThinkFilm,
"Time Out" follows Vincent (Aurelian Recoing), a white-collar family man
whose life spirals into deeper lies and denial after he loses his job.
Instead of fessing up to failure, Vincent buys an S.U.V, pretends he's got a
cushy new job at the U.N., and scams his friends and works with an old-time
black marketer (Serge Livrozet) to sustain his livelihood.
In his first leading film role, Recoing, a veteran stage thespian,
overwhelmingly won the award for best actor. As Ray Pride wrote for the New
City, "Recoing has a hangdog face animated by inappropriate smiles. You
can't read him. Has he cracked? Is he a superb con man? Is he merely
crazed?" Serge Livrozet, a non-professional actor with a shady real-life
past, also won our best supporting actor award.
Michel Piccoli was the runner-up for best actor for his devastating
portrayal of an actor who discovers his entire family dies in a car crash in
Manoel de Oliveira's "I'm Going Home." In the best supporting actor
category, Javier Camera received votes for his overly devoted nurse in "Talk
to Her" and Olivier Gourmet won attention for his gangster in Jacques
Audiard's "Read My Lips."
In the best director category, Alfonso Cuaron's wry, intellectual
work on "Y Tu Mama Tambien" beat out Laurent Cantet (for "Time Out") and
Pedro Almodovar (for "Talk to Her") for the top spot. Third place contenders
included Alexander Sokurov (for "Russian Ark"), Hayao Miyazaki
(for the anime "Spirited Away") and Tsai Ming-Liang (for "What Time is it
There?"). Also mentioned were Roy Andersson ("Songs from the Second
Floor"), Jean-Luc Godard ("In Praise of Love"), Zacharias
Kunuk ("The Fast Runner"), and Tom Tykwer ("Heaven").
No other talent received as much unanimous support as Isabelle
Huppert's performance as the sadomasochistic music instructor in
Michael Haneke's "The Piano Teacher." The best actress winner
also received accolades for her performances in "Merci Pour Le
Chocolate," "8 Women," and "Les Destinees." Emanuelle
Devos was also singled out for her portrayal of the near-deaf secretary
who comes out of her shell in "Read My Lips."
In the best supporting actress category, Israeli actress Ronit
Elkabetz received the most votes for her angst-ridden turn in Dover
Kosashvili's debut "Late Marriage" (she also received attention
in the best actress category). Annie Girardot, who plays the mother
from hell in "The Piano Teacher," also received high marks, as did
Ludivine Sagnier, one of Ozon's "8 Women," who will star in the
French director's upcoming project "Swimming Pool."
"Late Marriage," called "superbly brash, raunchy, and confrontational," by
J. Hoberman, tied with the Inuit epic " The Fast Runner" as the choice for
the best first foreign-language film of the year. (However, Larry Kardish of
MoMA rightly points out that "Fast Runner" director Zacharias Kunuk has made
several nonfiction works.) Argentine director Fabian Belinsky's
political con-men caper "Nine Queens" was next in line for best debut
film, among those polled.
In indieWIRE's catchall category for best technical achievement in a foreign
film, the no-contest winner was "Russian Ark," Alexander Sokurov's
aforementioned single-take tour through Russian history and St. Petersburg's
Hermitage Museum. ("Duh," writes Mike D'Angelo). Many respondents noted that
it was not just cinematographer "Tilman Buttner's biceps" that should be
applauded, but Sokurov's "brilliant choreography."
Below are comments from a few of our participants and a complete list of
votes broken down by category.
David Sterritt and Mikita Brottman
"Any year in which Jean-Luc Godard and 'Eloge de l'amour' are not the best
director and film -- edged out by Alexander Sokurov and 'Russian Ark,' a
truly unique achievement -- is a vintage year indeed."
"Every year, when it's time to compile the list of the year's best films, I
look over my reviews and see that I gave some of my strongest, most
enthusiastic recommendations to foreign-language films. This year is no
exception. And once again, like past years, at best one or two will creep
on. That's because I feel a duty to address the flood of quality
English-language films that wait for end-of-year release. High-profile films
featuring the biggest directors and stars, these tend to crowd out the
foreign-language releases. They have adrenaline and star power on their
side. This poll helps correct that problem. Also, if it gains publicity and
credibility, it will help develop a wider theatrical market for such films,
and wider recognition for their directors and actors."
"With a handful of foreign-language movies like 'Y Tu Mama Tambien' grossing
as well as they have, and 'El Crimen del Padre Amaro' ready to pass $4
million; a half million for 'Merci pour le chocolat,' even Strand's
$100,000+ for 'Lan Yu'; with Magnolia Pictures successfully getting 'Late
Marriage' and 'Read My Lips' into circulation; and the continued inspired
work of small distributors like Cowboy Pictures ('Promises,' 'Morvern
Callar'), there's still a little bit of a hint of a whisper of hope for the
future of theatrical exhibition of 'specialized' pictures."
1. "Time Out"
2. "The Fast Runner"
3. "Talk To Her" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien"
4. "The Piano Teacher," "Russian Ark," "Songs from the Second Floor" and
"The Son's Room"
1. Alfonso Cuaron
2. Pedro Almodovar and Laurent Cantet
3., Hayao Miyazaki, Tsai Ming-Liang, and Alexander Sokurov
4. Roy Andersson, Jean-Luc Godard, Zacharias Kunuk, and Tom Tykwer
1. Aurelian Recoing ("Time Out")
2. Michel Piccoli ("I'm Going Home")
3. Lior Ashkenazi ("Late Marriage"), Javier Camera ("Talk to Her"), Vincent
Cassel ("Read My Lips"), Ricardo Darin ("Son of the Bride" and "Nine
Queens"), Sergei Dreiden ("Russian Ark"), and Gael Garcia Bernal ("Y Tu Mama
4. Koji Yakusho ("Warm Water Under A Red Bridge")
1. Isabelle Huppert ("The Piano Teacher")
2. Emanuelle Devos ("Read My Lips")
3. Ronit Elkabetz ("Late Marriage")
4. Maribel Verdu ("Y Tu Mama Tambien")
5. Sylvie Testud ("Murderous Maids")
Best Supporting Actor
1. Serge Livrozet ("Time Out")
2. Javier Camara ("Talk to Her")
3. Olivier Gourmet ("Read My Lips")
4. Dario Grandinetti ("Talk to Her"), Li Huatong ("Lan Yu"), Moni Moshonov
("Late Marriage"), Vijay Raaz ("Monsoon Wedding"), and Kagawa Teruyuki
("Devils on the Doorstep")
Best Supporting Actress
1. Ronit Elkabetz ("Late Marriage")
2. Annie Girardot ("The Piano Teacher")
3. Ludivine Sagnier ("8 Women")
4. Cecile Camp ("In Praise of Love"), Catherine Deneuve ("8 Women"), Ann
Eleonora Jorgensen ("Italian for Beginners"), Stefanie Sandrelli ("The Last
Kiss"), Karen Viard ("Time Out"), Lu Yi-Ching ("What Time is It There?")
Best First Film
1. "Late Marriage" and "The Fast Runner"
2. "Nine Queens"
3. "Intacto" and "O Fantasma"
1. "Russian Ark"
2. "The Lady and the Duke" and "Songs From The Second Floor"
3. "Metropolis" (restoration) and "The Fast Runner"
4. "Heaven," "Read My Lips," and "Trouble Every Day"