With 'Blue is the Warmest Color' out of the running, a look ahead to the foreign Oscar race
Fairly soon, the first formal contenders will start trickling into the race for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, as individual national committees make their official selections and submit them to the Academy for consideration. It's a trickle that will swiftly turn into a flood as the submission deadline of October 1 nears. Last year, 71 countries entered the race -- an all-time record that could well be beaten this year. But in a race that's all but impossible to handicap at this stage -- dependent as it is on the whims and politics of different countries, rather than the Academy itself -- what are the films we're expecting to see in the mix?
One high-profile title we know won't be in the running this year is France's "Blue is the Warmest Color," which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes back in May. With French distributors Wild Bunch having confirmed a local release date of October 9, that narrowly takes Abdellatif Kechiche's vastly acclaimed romantic drama out of the eligibility timeframe: Academy rules stipulate that entries for this year's award must be released in their home countries between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013. So "Blue" could feasibly be entered next year -- rather like "The Intouchables," which was entered into last year's race over a year after its San Sebastian festival debut -- but the French will have to consider other options this year.
That may prove to be a blessing in disguise for the French -- who are never short of candidates for entry, after all. A Palme d'Or winner tends to be a practically mandatory entry in the race: you have to go back to 1997 to find a foreign-language winner of Cannes' top prize that failed to be entered by its country for Oscar consideration. (The films were joint winners "A Taste of Cherry," from Iran, and "The Eel," from Japan.) So while "Blue" might well have been the French committee's first choice this year, it might not have been the most tactical submission. The Academy's been getting more adventurous in this category in recent years (the nomination of "Dogtooth" three years ago being a crowning never-say-never moment), but a sexually explicit, three-hour study of young lesbian love would certainly have been an extreme test of this older-skewing branch's limits.
What safer options might the French consider this year, then? The other French-language critical hit of this year's Cannes fest, Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi's "The Past," will strike many as the obvious alternative -- and certainly, this powerful domestic melodrama could find many fans in the branch, particularly among those who would Farhadi in high regard from his "A Separation" triumph. But the French are not in the habit of submitting films by non-French directors. (The last one was Israel's Moshe Mizrahi, whose "Madame Rosa" won the Oscar in 1977.) Meanwhile, the film will probably be deemed insufficiently Iranian to be submitted by Farhadi's home country -- not that the political odds favor them submitting an emigrant production anyway.
If the French are feeling parochial, Francois Ozon's acclaimed literary comedy of manners "In the House," released late last year and rewarded with multiple Cesar nods, is a viable alternative. They could also consider Ozon's follow-up, teenage prostitute study "Young and Beautiful" -- though that'd be a less wise choice. They could submit Michel Gondry's "Mood Indigo," a high-whimsy adaptation of a local cult novel starring Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris -- but for all the name-recognition factor, it's an eccentric vision that many in the Academy simply wouldn't jive to.
Speaking of Duris, it's quite possible the French could submit fluffy retro-romcom "Populaire," about a winsomely amorous typist in the 1950s. This attractive, somewhat over-cute film -- pitched optimistically on the UK posters as "'Mad Men' meets 'The Artist!'" -- hasn't gathered the buzz The Weinstein Company was presumably hoping for when they acquired it last year, but they'd certainly hawk the hell out of it if it's submitted. In a considerably less sweet vein, it's hard to gauge how the Academy might respond to Bruno Dumont's austere historical biopic "Camille Claudel 1915." They like Juliette Binoche, who's on fierce form in the Berlinale entry, and they nominated a previous, more melodramatic telling of Claudel's story back in 1989, but Dumont's rigid formalism would be a turn-off to many.
Kiddie charmer "Ernest and Celestine," already a likely contender in the Best Animated Feature race, would be a real wild-card choice. While animated films have been entered before (and "Waltz With Bashir" broke the barrier by landing a nomination in 2008), they've been in a more adult vein than this adorable bear-and-mouse friendship tale -- the film's all but impossible to dislike, and its gentleness and novelty factor could work in its favor.
1994 | Documentary | PG-13Summary: One of the best sports films ever made, and maybe one of the best, period, this documentary follows two top high school basketball prospects in Chicago as they face the moment where their dreams give way to reality.Director: Steve James
Cast: William Gates, Arthur Agee, Emma Gates
1948 | Western | NRSummary: All the ingredients of a great John Ford western are here: John Wayne, Hendry Fonda, a Monument Valley setting, and these of honor, duty, and justice.Director: John Ford
Cast: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple
1969 | Action | RSummary: Easy Rider is the classic cult film from the 1960s. A road movie that embodies the feeling of being a hippie as two friends head cross-country to Mardi Gras. A controversial period film by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda with some classic music from a generation of wanderers.Director: Dennis Hopper
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Antonio Mendoza, Phil Spector
1983 | Comedy | RSummary: A snobbish investor and a wily street con-artist find their positions reversed as part of a bet by two callous millionaires.Director: John Landis
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliott
1956 | Adventure | GSummary: The incomprable David Niven is Phileas Fogg, an Englishman who believes gusto and scheduling is all he needs to traverse the globe in a cameo-laden film that co-stars Shirley Maclaine.Director: Michael Anderson
Cast: David Niven, Cantinflas, Finlay Currie
1941 | Family | GSummary: The giant-eared baby elephant Dumbo finds his confidence thanks in part to his friendship with Timothy the Mouse in this Disney animated classic.Director: Samuel Armstrong
Cast: Sterling Holloway, Edward Brophy, James Baskett
1995 | Adventure | PGSummary: When siblings Judy and Peter discover an enchanted board game that opens the door to a magical world, they unwittingly invite Alan -- an adult who's been trapped inside the game for 26 years -- into their living room. Alan's only hope for freedom is to finish the game, which proves risky as all t...Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Jonathan Hyde, Bonnie Hunt
2002 | Animation | PGSummary: A lonely Hawaiian girl named Lilo is being raised by her older sister, Nani, after their parents die -- under the watch of social worker Cobra Bubbles. When Lilo adopts a funny-looking dog and names him "Stitch," she doesn't realize her new best friend is a wacky alien created by mad scientist Dr...Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Cast: Daveigh Chase, Chris Sanders, Tia Carrere, David Ogden Stiers
2002 | Adventure | PGSummary: When space galleon cabin boy Jim Hawkins discovers a map to an intergalactic "loot of a thousand worlds," a cyborg cook named John Silver teaches him to battle supernovas and space storms. But, soon, Jim realizes Silver is a pirate intent on mutiny!Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, Roscoe Lee Browne
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