Now that the awards season is over, it’s time to get back to judging films on their own merits, rather than creating artificial battles.
You have got to hand it to Mark Johnson who runs the foreign language committee of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. In the last few years, he has reconfigured the structure and voting systems of the foreign language Oscar category in an attempt to avoid further embarrassing omissions like Four Months, Three Weeks And Two Daysand Gomorrah.
This year, the five nominees were a respectable bunch. The process appeared to work and the two films which had emerged in Cannes last year as the films to beat – Michael Haneke’s masterpiece The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard’s instant classic A Prophet – both made the cut.
But once the films are nominated, it’s up to the Academy voters or at least the voters who have seen all five nominated films. And they can never be relied on to go with the flow.
So to this year’s surprise winner which was neither The White Ribbon or A Prophet. The trophy went to Juan Jose Campanella’s Argentinian drama The Secret in Their Eyes, a sort of police procedural-meets-unrequited love story starring the marvelous Ricardo Darin. It’s an elegant film which glides along at a leisurely pace and has a certain old-fashioned style, but will it be remembered in five, ten or 20 years’ time?
Will it go down as one of the great world cinema films of our day? Will it spawn imitators and inspire young film-makers to take risks and create grand, ambitious, socially relevant cinema? I suspect not.
The White Ribbon and A Prophet both will.
Venerable UK critic Derek Malcolm this week berated the Academy voters for “their capacity to get this particular award badly wrong.”
But if the increasing eccentricity of the foreign language Oscar category only serves to alienate it from the very world it purports to represent, there are weirdnesses on the European side as well.
The spectacular Oscar wins of The Hurt Locker spawned a bizarrely apologetic statement this week from Paolo Baratta, president of the Venice Biennale where Kathryn Bigelow’s film had its world premiere in September 2008.
Signore Baratta expressed delight with the film’s Oscar success and went on to rue the fact it left Venice empty-handed . “Naturally, we are sorry that The Hurt Locker did not win an award in Venice, but we must abide by the principle of the independence of international juries which is a fundamental tenet for all great film festivals.”
How curious that the head of one of the world’s great film festivals would express regrets 18 months after the fact that The Hurt Locker didn’t win any awards, as if to suggest that the Oscars got it right and his jury, headed that year by Wim Wenders and including Johnnie To, Lucrecia Martel and John Landis, somehow got it wrong. Wenders and company gave the Golden Lion to Darren Aronofksy’s The Wrestler and didn’t deem The Hurt Locker strong enough to win any of the other awards either.
The conclusion, if any, of these musings, is: Thank God awards season is over. It’s that peculiar three months when artificial battles are created between films which shouldn’t be compared in the first place.
The Secret In Their Eyes is as different from The White Ribbon and A Prophet, as those films are different from each other.
Similarly it’s pointless to compare The Hurt Locker with The Wrestler or its Oscar sparring partner Avatar.The Hurt Locker sold $14m worth of tickets in North America, Avatar has so far sold over $720m. Does that make Avatar a better film? Or does the best picture Oscar mean The Hurt Locker is better? But does the Golden Lion (The Wrestler) gazump the best picture Oscar?
There are, of course, no answers to these questions. Film is the ultimate subjective medium and one person’s masterpiece is another’s dog.
It’s a competitive business and everyone loves a contest, but the contest is over and we can now get back to judging films on their own merits and not how they stack up next to other films. At least until Cannes…