Foreign film Oscar remains lightning rod

By Robert Marich
   Jan. 15, 2009 – L.A. Weekly film critic Scott Foundas takes the motion picture academy to task in an essay asserting that the nine semi-finalists for Best Foreign Film contains at least one glaring omission and one glaring inclusion.
   Foundas rates Italian mafia drama Gomorrah as perhaps the most important international film of the year because it is credited with reviving interest in home-grown films within Italy. Further, it debunks the romantic image that The Godfather gave the mafia. Gomorrah is not on the Oscar short list of nine (see list at bottom of this file), which will be whittled down to five nominees.
   The Oscar short list does include German entry The Baader Meinhof Complex that Foundas dismisses as a mindless action film, citing a review of another L.A. Weekly critic. But Foundas does have praise for other short-list films, indicating that he feels the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) got it mostly right.
   A year ago, AMPAS was roundly criticized by not having widely-acclaimed Romanian abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days as a Best Foreign Film nominee. In the aftermath, AMPAS revised its rules for this category, though Foundas asserts the result this year shows that the process needs further reform.
   “Because the Foreign Language Oscar is one of the few Academy Awards that can actually have a tangible impact in terms of distribution and box-office (even a Foreign Language nomination is usually enough to guarantee a film’s U.S. release), it deserves particularly close scrutiny, and, when necessary, to be called out as a sham,” writes Foundas.
   4 Months was certainly a glaring omission last year, though Gomorrah isn’t quite such an elevated film. In defense of AMPAS, Marketing to Moviegoers points out there is a constant tension between using "art" as the main criteria – which Foundas champions – and "commerce" – underground terrorist drama Baader Meinhof seems to fits into that category.
   Marketing to Moviegoers points out the Best Foreign Film category is particularly susceptible to controversy because the countries of origin nominate their national entries. Sometimes there are intrigues in these selections processes, for which AMPAS is not responsible. In general, AMPAS simply checks that whatever selection process exists was followed and sensibly chooses not intervene in foreign artistic selection choices.
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9 Foreign Language Films Advance in 2008 Oscar® Race

  Jan. 13, 2009 -- Beverly Hills, CA — Nine films will advance to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category for the 81st Academy Awards®. Sixty-five films had originally qualified in the category.
The films, listed in alphabetical order by country, are:
+ Austria, “Revanche,” Gotz Spielmann, director;
+ Canada, “The Necessities of Life,” Benoit Pilon, director;
+ France, “The Class,” Laurent Cantet, director;
+ Germany, “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” Uli Edel, director;
+ Israel, “Waltz with Bashir,” Ari Folman, director;
+ Japan, “Departures,” Yojiro Takita, director;
+ Mexico, “Tear This Heart Out,” Roberto Sneider, director;
+ Sweden, “Everlasting Moments,” Jan Troell, director;
+ Turkey, “3 Monkeys,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan, director.
   Foreign Language Film nominations for 2008 are being determined in two phases.
   The Phase I committee, consisting of several hundred Los Angeles-based members, screened the 65 eligible films between mid-October and January 10. That group’s top six choices, augmented by three additional selections voted by the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee, constitute the shortlist.
  The shortlist will be winnowed down to the five 2008 nominees by specially selected committees in New York and Los Angeles. The committee members will spend this Friday, Saturday and Sunday viewing three of the films each day.
   The 81st Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 22, 2009, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
  Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2008 will be presented on Sunday, February 22, 2009, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network.  The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.