Nikita Mikhalkov? Denys Arcand? Giuseppe Tornatore??! Excuse us for thinking we just woke up on the eve of the presidency of that other Clinton, but we're feeling, uh, nostalgic, upon today's announced narrowing of the eligible films for Oscar's Best Foreign-Language Film -- or, as it's more commonly known, Best Movie Picked From a Random Group of Movies from Some Countries Seen By a Handful of People in a Room Somewhere. The wonderfully alarmist Scott Foundas has certainly said it better than we ever could, but we will say that though the preference evidenced today by that mysteriously appointed foreign film committee for the palatable middlebrow wasn't surprising, it was as disheartening as ever.
As usual, the film has to be appointed by its country to be eligible (one imagines Kim Jong-Il sitting down with his cabinet, stroking his chin to decide whether to sumbit A Schoolgirl's Diary or Lazy Cat Dinga for nomination), and among the arbitrary rules, only one film per country, and it can't be an international coproduction (tsk tsk, Kieslowski!). It continued today, when the Academy announced the final nine, which did admittedly contain a couple films of interest, including the widely unseen latest from Andrzej Wajda and the Israeli film Beaufort (strong filmmaking there, but piffle compared to some of the great artistry on display elsewhere), but mostly was a stirring reminder of the ridiculous votes made in the past decade, in favor of Holocaust inspirationals, Italian twee, and coming-of-age pablum. We shouldn't have hoped for much more, but complete slaps in the face to 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Persepolis, Silent Light, Secret Sunshine, all of them extraordinary in one way or another, amounts to a full-scale idiocy. And it must be reiterated, these films didn't even make it to the final round, while self-parodic titles such as The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (not to be confused with When Father Was Away on Business, Kusturica's nominee from 1988) squeaked in for another level of what I'm sure will be distinguished discernment.
I mean, seriously, listen to this from the official press release:
The Phase I committee, consisting of several hundred Los Angeles-based members, screened the 63 eligible films and their ballots determined the above shortlist.
A Phase II committee, made up of ten randomly selected members from the Phase I group, joined by specially invited ten-member contingents in New York and Los Angeles, will view the shortlisted films and select the five nominees for the category.
Phase II screenings will take place from Friday, January 18, through Sunday,January 20, in both Hollywood and New York City.
Have your eyes crossed yet? What does it matter? Nothing really, they're Oscars, right? Well, for little-seen foreign films, it means a hell of a lot of recognition that most subtitled movies don't get outside of cinephile circles, and more of a chance at an audience. And a film like Cristian Mungiu's masterwork needs that recognition, especially in a marketplace flooded with so many films that success borders on the miraculous.