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I'm writing this from my hotel suite in Valletta, Malta, where the view from my balcony is foregrounded by scattered yachts sleeping on a still sea as the sleepy Maltese capital -- all hybrid Euro grandeur in honey-colored stone -- turns silently in for the night. Earlier, I spotted Michael Haneke and Mads Mikkelsen, among others, enjoying a gentle nightcap in a neighboring hotel bar, unbothered by press or publicists.
All told, it's hardly the circus you'd encounter the night before a major awards ceremony across the pond, but the European Film Awards have a very, well, continental way of doing things. Voted for by the European Film Academy, they may commonly be described as the transatlantic equivalent of the Oscars, but the EFAs have far less of an industry built around them. For one thing, they're something of a travelling celebration, the venue alternating every other year from their Berlin base camp to a range of more far-flung locales: it's a nifty way of honoring the continent's cultural diversity even when the nominees themselves center mostly on major European nations.
Anyway, Malta's doing the honors this year, and the modest, pretty Mediterranean island -- one of the world's smallest states -- feels like suitably neutral territory for a competition dominated by France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Denmark and, by rewinding a bit to 2011, the UK. And I'm predicting a good night for the first three of those, largely because they're allied on a formidable frontrunner. The EFAs rarely spring major surprises, tending to laurel revered auteurs and substantially acclaimed festival successes: in recent years, winners of their top prize have included "Melancholia," "The Ghost Writer," "The White Ribbon," "Gomorrah" and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."
Michael Haneke's "Amour" fits that winners' template perfectly, and would be a deserving victor -- it already leads the field with six nominations. But let's break it down on a category-by-category basis. (Here's the full list of nominees.)
BEST EUROPEAN FILM
Four of the six nominees here are also in the foreign-language Oscar race: Italy's "Caesar Must Die" and Germany's "Barbara," which respectively won the Golden Bear and Best Director awards at Berlin; France's global smash "The Intouchables" and, of course, "Amour." Though "Intouchables" would be the clear populist choice, Thomas Vinterberg's "The Hunt" -- which could well compete for Denmark at next year's Oscars -- feels like the strongest potential spoiler here: I'm personally unmoved by the film, but its moral allegory hits many viewers squarely in the gut. Still, it's hard to see "Amour" losing: it's both the least divisive and most accomplished film here. Haneke has won this prize twice before, for "Hidden" in 2005 and "The White Ribbon" in 2009, but the EFA voters have never been overly concerned with spreading the wealth. (The sixth nominee, "Shame," may be terrific, but feels a little like yesterday's news in this lineup.)
Will and should win: "Amour"
BEST EUROPEAN DIRECTOR
Four of the Best Film nominees -- Haneke, Vinterberg, Steve McQueen and Italy's venerable Taviani brothers -- show up here again, with Nuri Bilge Ceylan ("Once Upon a Time in Anatolia") taking the lone-director position. The EFAs haven't split the awards often recently: last year marked the first such instance in five years, when Susanne Bier beat her compatriot Lars von Trier, much to his consternation. Meanwhile, both times Haneke won the top prize, he took this award too: he's arguably ascended to the status of Europe's leading auteur, so there's little reason to bet against him this time.
Will and should win: Michael Haneke, "Amour"
BEST EUROPEAN ACTRESS
Kate Winslet's an odd filler nominee for her so-so work in "Carnage," especially considering the nominating committee passed over Marion Cotillard for "Rust and Bone," but that aside, this is a pretty remarkable category. Nina Hoss in "Barbara," Margarethe Tiesel in "Paradise: Love" and Emilie Dequenne in "Our Children" anchor tough-minded, female-centered projects with unflinching fortitude; Dequenne, in particular, could be a frontrunner in another year for her crushing turn as a mother driven by post-partum depression to the unthinkable. All three, however, are unlucky to come up against 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva's career-crowning performance as a stroke victim maintaining an inner fight against her own body: look for her to take her first individual award for "Amour" here.
Will win: Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"
Should win (by a hair): Emilie Dequenne, "Our Children"
BEST EUROPEAN ACTOR
Another sterling lineup. His performance may be a less showy display of technique, but it's entirely likely that Riva's invaluable duet partner Jean-Louis Trintignant could continue an "Amour" sweep here. Still, the EFA voters are clearly fond of other films in the race, and this is where I expect them to show that -- though the likely beneficiary is less clear-cut. Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet have been nominated in tandem for "The Intouchables," and while the performances are hardly inseparable (and Sy's is appreciably better), the tidiness of awarding both players from the much-beloved buddy movie could prove tempting for voters. But then, so could voting for Cannes winner Mikkelsen, especially with the invisible factor of an equally fine 2012 performance in "A Royal Affair" boosting his chances. A pair of nominees from 2011 Britpics, Michael Fassbender in "Shame" and Oscar nominee Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," are equally worthy of consideration, but may, I suspect, cut into each other's vote.
Will win: Mads Mikkelsen, "The Hunt"
Should win: Jean-Louis Trintignant, "Amour"
BEST EUROPEAN SCREENWRITER
Best Film nominees "Amour," "The Hunt" and "The Intouchables" all repeat here, and it seems likely the race will be between them: "The White Ribbon" took this award in 2009 as part of its sweep, so I'll go with "Amour," though I can see voters responding to the rigid narrative architecture of "The Hunt" in this category. Of the other nominees, Cristian Mungiu may have taken the screenplay prize at Cannes for "Beyond the Hills," but the EFA voters haven't mentioned his film, widely agreed to be a lesser work than 2007 champ "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," in any other categories. Meanwhile, I'm not convinced "Carnage," adapted fairly slavishly by Roman Polanski and Yasmina Reza from the latter's play, is a major feat of screenwriting, but it's here anyway.
Will and should win: Michael Haneke, "Amour"
And to run more briefly through the other categories:
BEST EUROPEAN CINEMATOGRAPHER
Will and should win: Gokhan Tiryaki, "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia"
BEST EUROPEAN EDITOR
Will win: Anne Østerud and Janus Billeskov Janse, "The Hunt"
Should win: Joe Walker, "Shame"
BEST EUROPEAN PRODUCTION DESIGNER
Will and should win: Maria Djurkovic, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
BEST EUROPEAN COMPOSER
Will and should win: Alberto Iglesias, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
BEST EUROPEAN DOCUMENTARY
Will win: Julien Temple, "London: The Modern Babylon"
BEST EUROPEAN ANIMATED FILM
Will and should win: Ignacio Ferreras, "Wrinkles"
BEST EUROPEAN DISCOVERY
Will win: "Twilight Portrait"
PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARD
Will win: "The Intouchables"
The ceremony, which will also include honorary award presentations to Helen Mirren and Bernardo Bertolucci, takes place tomorrow evening: keep an eye out for my updates here and on Twitter.
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