Nine Films Compete for Foreign Film Oscars – Amour, War Witch, The Intouchables & More

The Intouchables

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has just announced the nine films that will advance to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category for the 85th Academy Awards. (These were chosen from the list of 71 films originally submitted.)

The films, listed in alphabetical order by country:

  • Austria, Amour, Michael Haneke, director
  • Canada, War Witch, Kim Nguyen, director
  • Chile, No, Pablo Larraín, director
  • Denmark, A Royal Affair, Nikolaj Arcel, director
  • France, The Intouchables, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, directors
  • Iceland, The Deep, Baltasar Kormákur, director
  • Norway, Kon-Tiki, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, directors
  • Romania, Beyond the Hills, Cristian Mungiu, director
  • Switzerland, Sister, Ursula Meier, director

Amour, directed by Michael Haneke, is the clear frontrunner. Just some of its trophies so far include best foreign language film by the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle picked it as best film.

Earlier in the year, it won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes. The brilliant stars, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, have already picked up best actor awards from numerous groups including European Film Awards and at Cannes. We do believe there will be rioting if this film doesn’t win the Academy Award.

I interviewed Fred Willard, who was a judge on the Academy’s foreign language awards committee a few years back, and he knows something about judging tough races – you may recall he was the color commentator in Best in Show.  He told me how depressing most of the foreign films were. “Most of them I’ve found are obscure and so depressing, you want to commit suicide,” he told me.

There’s no way he could say that about The Intouchables, directed by Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano. This feel-good film has also been hugely profitable, grossing $410.6 million in Europe and $10.09 million domestically for The Weinstein Company. Those kinds of figures are not ignored by the Academy.

Chile’s No, directed by Pablo Larraín, is a fact-based documentary-style film about the advertising executive who dreamed up the somewhat comical campaign to defeat Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum. It was critically acclaimed when it screened at the New York Film Festival in September and was named best film at the London Film Festival.

Denmark’s A Royal Affair, directed by Nikolaj Arcel, is simply a beautiful costume drama and a bit of a bodice ripper – and we don’t mean that in a disparaging way – about Johann Friedrich Strunsee (a sexy Mads Mikkelsen). He was a German-born 18th-century physician and man of the Enlightenment (also well-known to Danish schoolchildren who are up on their history). Strunsee had an affair with the lovely, lonely Queen Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander), who was married to the loony, Majesty Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard). As you can probably imagine, things didn’t end well. But there’s some real heat between Vikander and Arcel, and this is a fascinating and beautiful film.

Norway’s Kon-Tiki, directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, has been nominated for a Golden Globe and was the audience favorite at the Norwegian  International Film Festival. The film, which is about explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 voyage across the Pacific on a wooden raft, received accolades at the Toronto Film Festival.

I have not seen the films from Iceland, Switzerland or Canada, but they seem to be the underdogs.

Romania’s Beyond the Hills, by brilliant director Cristian Mungiu, is a drama set in a convent about the obsessive relationship between two orphaned women. It is claustrophobic and dark, and I thought it was a disappointing follow-up to 2007’s 4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days, the critically acclaimed movie that was ignored by the Academy.

When members of the Academy neglected to nominate the Romanian film in 2007 – its subject matter, abortion, was deemed possibly too dark for the Academy – it created such an uproar that a new system for nominating foreign films was put in place.

The foreign language category has always been a controversial one. The voting rules have been changed to help prevent the kind of bickering that has gone on in the past, especially when 4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days was snubbed by the Academy.

According to the Academy’s press release, the nominations take place in two phases:

“The Phase I committee, consisting of several hundred Los Angeles-based members, screened the 71 eligible films between mid-October and December 17. The group’s top six choices were augmented by three additional selections voted by the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee, which constitute the shortlist.

The shortlist of these six nominees will be winnowed down to the five nominated films by specially invited committees in New York and Los Angeles. They will spend Friday, January 4, through Sunday, January 6, viewing three films each day and then casting their ballots.”

The five final nominated films will be announced live, along with all the other nominations, Thurs., Jan. 10, 2013 at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The Academy Awards will take place Sun., Feb. 24, 2013, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised on ABC.


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