Oscars Lowdown 2014: Best Foreign Language Film - Cannes hits face a 'Breakdown'
In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!
The eternally problematic Best Foreign Language Film category is one that's well known for springing surprises (usually not very pleasant or popular ones) on Oscar night. For the last couple of years, however, it has followed the script, with universally expected and approved wins for "A Separation" and "Amour." Were they simply too good to lose, or are we seeing the effects of the new voting system, which no longer requires members to see all the nominees before voting? With this year's contest far more competitive -- pitting four acclaimed Cannes premieres against a lower-profile tearjerker -- we may or may not be able to tell.
The nominees are...
"The Broken Circle Breakdown" (Belgium)
If voting in this category still required members to attend screenings of all the nominees, I'd be inclined to put my money on this finely crafted, expertly acted melodrama about two bluegrass musicians facing the death of their terminally ill young daughter. It sounds like sappy disease-of-the-week fare, but Felix van Groeningen's film is a surprising, sonically rich affair that lands the biggest emotional gut-punch of the nominees. Time and again, the Academy has voted with its collective heart in this category, often at the expense of higher-profile contenders, and if fusty voters aren't too put off by the inked-up hipster protagonists, this is arguably the nominee that's otherwise most up their alley. But the film doesn't have a large campaign engine behind it, and sounds like an obvious downer -- will voters have picked up their screeners and watched it? I fear it's apathy that'll keep seven-time nominee Belgium from its first win in this category.
"The Missing Picture" (Cambodia)
In many respects, this was the most unexpected nominee in the lineup: critics have been enthusiastic, but Rithy Panh's highly personal first-hand reflection on the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge otherwise didn't have a lot of buzz behind it, and only one documentary has previously been nominated in this race. That, of course, was "Waltz With Bashir," with which "The Missing Picture" shares a first-person perspective and a creative formal conceit, with clay puppetry used to re-enact Panh's horrific childhood experiences. (It makes a neat companion piece to Documentary Feature nominee "The Act of Killing.") It seems obvious to me that this made the nine-film shortlist with some assistance from the branch's executive committee; I'm not as besotted with it as some of my colleagues, but it brings welcome cultural and stylistic breadth to the category. Interestingly enough, it won the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes, for which the jury was headed by Thomas Vinterberg, director of...