Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

For the films of 2014
mlrg
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

Postby mlrg » Fri Feb 20, 2015 6:35 pm

My "no guts no glory" prediction this year is that Wild Tales will win here.

Okri
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

Postby Okri » Fri Feb 20, 2015 7:53 am

Hmmm... would the situation in the Ukraine favour Leviathan?

Anyway, that's my prediction - the Russian film by a hair.

nightwingnova
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Re: Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

Postby nightwingnova » Fri Feb 20, 2015 1:19 am

Especially after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, sentiment will favor Ida.

The Original BJ
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Categories One-by-One: Foreign Language Film

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Feb 19, 2015 11:24 pm

I've seen four of the nominees here, which is as close to completion as I'll get before Sunday, so I figured it would be time to tackle this one.

This is a fairly good field, though truly there were so many good submitted options, a respectable slate could have been compiled from plenty of also-rans. Force Majeure, Mommy, Two Days, One Night, and Norte, The End of History would have been as worthy as many of the actual nominees, better than some.

Tangerines is the one nominee I haven't seen. On paper, it seems like the kind of subject matter (people from different countries have to get along with each other) that tends to do well here, but it's always hard to evaluate a movie's chances sight unseen, so can’t say I have any great words of wisdom on this one's odds.

I see a lot of people online are pulling for Timbuktu as their favorite, and though I think the movie is worthy, I can’t say I rise to that level of praise. Its subject matter -- militant Islamic jihadists take over a North African village -- is obviously powerful, and several of the film’s shots are strikingly memorable for the horrors they illuminate. But I left the movie wishing the filmmakers had organized the movie’s various subplots into a more cohesive narrative, particularly one with a little more plot surprise. The remaining three nominees all had at least one big “whoa, I didn’t think the story would go in THAT direction” moment for me, and though I don’t think filmmaking always needs to be reduced to narrative, I always tend to be more excited about movies that provide me a bit more than what I expected to see going in. As for its win chances, I think the contemporary relevance certainly helps, but I also have a tough time seeing the most brutal nominee prevailing here, which this definitely is.

The Globe win for Leviathan caught me by surprise, and I'm more surprised it managed that win after seeing it. This isn't a knock on the movie, which I think is a deeply bitter and sad story about how essentially a snafu in a zoning law leads to a series of events that barrel out of control into tragedy for many. It's also directed with great precision, with a foreboding atmosphere throughout that's not dissimilar to that of Andrei Zvyagintsev's earlier film The Return. But this is an almost unrelentingly bleak movie -- I don't know if there's a laugh in it -- and I imagine Oscar voters will go for something a bit less chilly. (I also felt the script was a bit overstuffed -- it seemed to me that the cumulative impact of the story might have been stronger if every plot element had cohered in a way that inevitably led to its conclusion, as MOST of the story points do. But I still felt there were some hanging threads that felt extraneous.)

Someone over on The Film Experience's podcast posed the question: If Wild Tales had been in English, would it be an Oscar movie? I imagine the answer to that is pretty clear: No. The more interesting question: Is that a hindrance in this category, or a benefit? Will voters find it too much fun, and not serious enough, to prevail as the year's best foreign effort? Or will all of those laughs really stand out when placed alongside a bunch of films that are otherwise pretty gloomy? What I do think Wild Tales has going for it is an accessibility factor -- I could easily imagine recommending it to friends who aren't exactly foreign film connoisseurs, so long as they've got the right sense of humor, because the movie is such wickedly funny entertainment. (The audience I saw it with howled with squeamish laughter throughout the whole running time). But at the same time, voters haven't really shown an eagerness to reward black comedy in this category; the last winner with that kind of humor was All About My Mother, and that had a ton of emotional melodrama in it as well. (From the opening sequence of Wild Tales, I thought, this feels like an Almodóvar film, so it of course made perfect sense to me when his name showed up in the credits as a producer.) And the anthology nature of the film -- it's basically a collection of shorts -- makes you feel like you've basically sat through a good film festival program rather than a full-length feature. I rate it an upset possibility, but it's not where I'll place my money. I do recommend it to everyone, though -- I found all of the segments almost devilishly entertaining, and there is one in particular (the road rage chapter) which I think is a sublime short film.

I'm going to stick with predicting the movie that's felt like the frontrunner for most of the year: Ida. It, too, is a bit colder than what has often won this category. But it has so many other pluses -- it was a sizable box office success for a black-and-white foreign film with no stars, it's beautifully photographed and immaculately cut in a way that really stands out as an impressive feat of film craft, the performances are strong (and Agata Kulesza's is quite a bit more than that), it's about the Holocaust (the official favorite subject of foreign film voters), and despite its austerity, there are moments of heart in the film that I imagine will really move voters. I happen to think Ida is the clear best of the four nominees I've seen -- one of the better movies of the year, in fact -- and though I don't think it's quite as splendid as the last trio of winners in this category, it's certainly a worthy enough candidate to stand beside them. If there's one limitation the movie has, it's that for a story about an investigative journey, it doesn't feel like it amasses all that much ground -- I could have used an extra plot complication or two to get Ida toward the discovery of what happened to her family. But ultimately, there's a lot that I think is greatly impressive here, and though this category is often prone to upset, Ida feels like it's closest to the wheelhouse of what usually wins, so I'm going to go with the frontrunner in my predictions.


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