Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

18 February 2016

Oscar Nominees 2016: Part 9 of 11 (Best Foreign Language Film)


Saul Fia (Son of Saul)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Hungary (Hanussen, Colonel Redl, Revolt of Job, Mephisto, Confidence, Hungarians, Catsplay, The Boys of Paul Street)
Director: László Nemes
Cast: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Jerzy Walczak, Sándor Zsótér, Marcin Czarnik, Levente Orbán, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting, Mihály Kormos

This was my favorite movie of the year, and for me it is basically perfect. I realize that this isn't in wide release, and that not a lot of people have seen it (I saw it in West Los Angeles when it was playing in only one theatre in the U.S.). The movie is hard to watch – it's about the lives of those imprisoned at Auschwitz and so it is a film about genocide – but it is a powerful, exciting movie from start to finish with not even a little fat in it. And Géza Röhrig gives one of the best performances of the year by any actor. [Side note, I was voting in a kind of mock-ballot the other day for Best Actor and I looked at these ridiculous names – Damon, DiCaprio, Cranston – and thought, wow the Academy really laid an egg in that category this year. What a silly list.] In any case, I want also to say that Hungary is not often nominated in this category; they don't often choose a film to which Academy members will respond. Last year's selection was the dog-revenge movie White God that is my second favorite movie of 2015. But it is easy to see why Oscar didn't jump for joy. It's basically a horror film. But this year all that is off the table. Son of Saul is going to win this Oscar. It is just so damn good.
Will Win: Foreign Language Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #1 out of 67


Mustang
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: France (A Prophet, The Class, Joyeux Noël, Les Choristes, Amélie, The Taste of Others, East-West, Ridicule, Indochine, Cyrano de Bergerac, Camille Claudel, Au Revoir les Enfants, Betty Blue, Three Men and a Cradle, Entre Nous, Clean Slate, The Last Metro, A Simple Story, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, Madame Rosa, Cousin Cousine, Lacombe Lucien, Day for Night, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Bamboo Incident, My Night at Maud's, Stolen Kisses, Live for Life, A Man and a Woman, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Sundays and Cybele, The Truth, Black Orpheus, Mon Oncle, The Gates of Paris, Gervaise, Forbidden Games, The Walls of Malapaga, Monsieur Vincent)
Cast: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan, Ayberk Pekcan, Nihal G. Koldas, Bahar Kerimoglu, Burak Yigit, Erol Afsin, Enes Sürüm

This is an excellent, gorgeous film, and another of my top ten for this year. In fact, I managed to see Mustang and Son of Saul back to back, catching Mustang after Christmas dinner with my sister and son. We were all emotional wrecks. It's a beautiful, hopeful, but very powerful movie about the strength of women and the ways that women's lives are controlled by religion. Mustang is a film by Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, and it is set in Türkiye, but you might notice that it has been submitted by France. The French committee has been cleverer and cleverer these days about what they submit to the Academy, submitting movies that deal with important contemporary social issues rather than films about the past. I find this laudable. I should also note that their submission last year, Saint Laurent, is another one of my favorite films for 2015. Unlike Son of Saul, which I know is not for everyone, I am happy to recommend Mustang to anyone who will listen to me. You will love it. It's beautifully performed, it's as exciting as any action movie, and it has an excellent score. In another year it would've won the Oscar, but its competition here is too fierce.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Foreign Language Film
My Rating: #4 out of 67


El Abrazo de la Serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Colombia
Director: Ciro Guerra
Cast: Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar, Jan Bijvoet, Brionne Davis, Yauenkü Migue, Nicolas Cancino, Luigi Sciamanna

And now we have reached the first of two films that I haven't been able to see this year. Embrace of the Serpent is in theatres right now; well, some theatres. But the trailer for this is incredible. It looks like another gorgeous Malick-inspired movie, something of which you know I approve. This nomination is a very cool surprise. There were plenty of foreign language films with important distributors that did not get nominated, but the Academy went with Colombia this year, giving that country its first nomination. Colombia often submits Ciro Guerra's movies (La Sombra del Caminante and The Wind Journeys), so this is a very cool moment of validation for a hardworking director. Embrace of the Serpent is obviously his most visually ambitious film, too, so this is a cool nomination. I am very excited to see this movie.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Unranked (2016 Release)


Krigen (A War)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Denmark (The Hunt, A Royal Affair, In a Better World, After the Wedding, Waltzing Regitze, Pelle the Conqueror, Babette's Feast, Harry and the Butler, Paw, Qivitoq)
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Cast: Pilou Asbæk, Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim, Søren Malling, Charlotte Munck, Dufi Al-Jabouri, Alex Høgh Andersen, Phillip Sem Dambæk, Jakob Frølund

I haven't seen A War either, and I hate it. But the Academy loves Denmark; they've basically been nominated every other year in this category. The films are always excellent, and often they end up remade by American directors. Should I pause at this current moment and complain about the fact that each of these films only got nominated for Best Foreign Language Film? Every year this seems to happen. My top ten films of the year always include several films from foreign countries in foreign languages, and I am always surprised that people don't watch more of them. It's just simple logic – only the best films from other countries are going to be imported to the U.S., so the likelihood that you're gonna get an excellent movie goes way way up. Back to Denmark, though: A War is about a soldier in the war in Afghanistan and the story of him attempting to balance his ability to protect his men, care for his family, and protect the civilians he charged with protecting. This is a Danish film, so its perspective on the war in Afghanistan will likely be very interesting.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Unranked (2016 Release)


Theeb (Wolf) (ذيب‎)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Jordan
Director: Naji Abu Nowar
Cast: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh, Jack Fox

I am still so surprised this got nominated. It's a fine movie as far as it goes, but it is no great shakes, in all honesty. Theeb is, perhaps, a strange little movie, in that the film's plot is not always clear, and the director introduces several strands that aren't really tied up by the end. Theeb is maybe about the railroad and the way that World War I and the introduction of weapons technologies and transportation technologies influenced the people who lived in the Jordanian desert during the Great War, but because the story is told through the eyes of a child (the Academy loves a story told through the eyes of a small boy), it didn't really resonate with me. Even the nostalgia in the film seems misplaced. Still, this isn't a bad movie by any means, but its nomination feels strange to me. Germany's Labyrinth of Lies, Ireland's Viva, Finland's The Fencer, and Belgium's The Brand New Testament all made the December shortlist, and I felt sure that one of them would get this slot. In any case, it is Jordan's first nomination, so that is cool, but don't run out and rent Theeb.

Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #38 out of 67