Screen has kicked off our awards season coverage, with a focus on the foreign-language race.
There are a lot of great films in the mix this year, and a record 83 submissions.
It’s worth arguing for the umpteenth time that some of these films are among the best of the year, not just the best of the year not in the English language. It would be great to see the Academy take more risks by nominating international films across categories, not just ringfencing them.
Pawel Pawlikowski would be a worthy nominee for Best Director, for instance, and it really doesn’t matter that his outstanding film, Ida, is in the Polish language, or indeed Ruben Ostlund for his standout Force Majeure from Sweden. Anne Dorval from Xavier Dolan’s Mommy would be a fine addition to the Best Actress nominees. Or Argentina’s Wild Tales for script, Russia’s Leviathan for cinematography… you get the point.
Sure the crossover happens sometimes, like Marion Cotillard’s win for La Vie En Rose in 2008 - and she might be in this year’s race with Two Days, One Night.
The other ringfenced category that could use some open-minded voting is Best Documentary Feature. Laura Poitras would be another strong candidate for Best Director and Citizenfour for Best Film, and I hope there are some voters in the Academy that would think about films without categorising them.
The same goes for the animated category: surely one or more of the animated features deserves a Best Picture nomination. No matter their mother tongue or cinematic language, the best work of the year should be recognised as such. Diversity of form and content should be celebrated, especially given the possibility of 10 Best Picture nominees.
Of course, the wonderful thing about most of those 83 foreign language films is that they aren’t trying to emulate US indies or studio blockbusters (America is doing just fine making those itself, thanks very much).
They are introducing audiences to new approaches, new voices, or people and places they wouldn’t otherwise see on screen (even if universal themes emerge).
It’s the foreign films that don’t have a strong sense of place or identity that feel more pointless. To make a generic cop drama is no way to make a mark on the global scene.
I especially applaud these ‘local heroes’ who stay true to their roots. In our interview with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the brothers talk about continuing to make films in or around the Belgian town of Seraing, where they were born and raised.
“We’ve been in the same area since The Promise,” says Jean-Pierre about the brothers’ feel for Seraing and its inhabitants. “We see that as a microcosm of how Europe is changing.”
That’s just what audiences respond to: a one-of-a-kind, personal, local story that tells us about the wider world.
On the beat
I’ve had several films this year that have moved me to tears (The Theory Of Everything leads that pack) but only one has given me goose bumps. That was Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. The final scene will stay with me for years.
Of course it has been noted how terrifyingly good JK Simmons is as the sadistic conductor, and I was struck watching Miles Teller that this is an actor who we’re going to watch doing amazing work for decades; he could be the Clooney of 2030.
It’s an amazing showcase for both actors and an intriguing mix. Simmons has done side bits in good films such as Juno and Spider-Man, but to me he is best known for less showy work in TV procedurals like The Closer and Law & Order. How thrilling to see him take top billing and kudos to Chazelle for knowing Simmons could handle such a role.
Teller is very much a star on the rise, but shows a new intensity as the obsessive music student.
Whiplash is one of those films to me that doesn’t really hit any false notes (pun intended); Chazelle - in only his second feature - seems so assured with every decision he makes. Don’t miss this one, it’s a genuine thrill.
Wendy Mitchell is Editor of Screen International