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

20 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 8 of 12 (Foreign Language Films)

The Insult (ضية رقم ٢٣)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Lebanon
Director: Ziad Doueiri
Cast: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Rita Hayek, Julia Kassar, Talal Jurdi, Christine Choueiri

I found this movie very frustrating. It's not bad, per se, and it is totally something the Academy will like, but I had a lot of trouble with it. The movie follows the Asghar Farhadi structure, where something small happens, and then things get more and more complicated from there, spinning out of control. But in The Insult, one party is clearly in the wrong, and so what is obvious from the start is that one person is trying to be reasonable and the other one is being unreasonable, racist, and hateful. But Doueiri's film follows this hateful, unreasonable racist guy! I couldn't understand it. I was never on the protagonist's side throughout the film. The reason I think this is going to win is that The Insult traffics in a sentimentalism that the Academy tends to like; The Insult imagines everyone in Lebanon as traumatized (I don't object to this, per se), but then it imagines that political strife and material and economic problems can be solved through emotional release and psychotherapeutic airings of differences. It's the kind of thing lots of filmmakers like, because they want to believe that emotional release (which is what films have to offer) can create political action. I rather disliked this movie.
Will Win: Foreign Language Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #65 out of 82

The Square
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Sweden (A Man Called Ove, As It Is in Heaven, Evil, Under the Sun, All Things Fair, The Ox, The Flight of the Eagle, Fanny and Alexander, The New Land, The Emigrants, Ådalen '31, Dear John, Raven's End, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring)
Director: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Terry Notary, Dominic West, Christopher Læssø, Elijandro Edouard, Annica Liljeblad

Brilliant. Hilarious. One of the best movies of the year. And maybe it will even win this award. Because The Square is so funny, and because it is so critical of society, though, I think it might be a bit of a tougher sell than it should be. Last year's hilarious comedy, Toni Erdmann, ended up not taking home the trophy it deserved, and actually the Academy has not been super affectionate to Ruben Östlund in the past, failing to nominated his brilliant movie Force Majeure in 2015. I am still going to hold out hope that it will win. It certainly deserves to do so.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Foreign Language Film
My Rating: #3 out of 82

Una Mujer Fantastica (A Fantastic Woman)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Chile (No)
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra, Amparo Noguera, Sergio Hernández

Another selection I only barely liked. I liked this movie even less than The Insult, honestly. It's about a trans woman whose lover dies, but the central performance – which has been praised by every critic out there – is stiff and wooden and downright strange. I have already discussed this movie here, so I won't go into it further, but I think Sebastián Lelio should stick to comedies. The comedic sequences in A Fantastic Woman work really well; it's the serious drama that doesn't. Still, this has the potential to win, I think. Daniela Vega is going to be a presenter at the Oscars, and people are clearly taken by the actress and her film. All of this is a bit of a shame, I feel. There were two African finalists for these nominations – John Trengove's The Wound and Alain Gomis's Félicité – that are both better than A Fantastic Woman. I would have liked to see either of these films here instead of this one. Sigh.

Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Foreign Language Film
My Rating: #69 out of 82

Loveless (Нелюбовь)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Russia (Leviathan, 12, The Thief, Prisoner of the Mountains, Burnt by the Sun, Close to Eden)
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rosin, Matvey Novikov, Aleksey Fateev, Marina Vasileva, Andris Keyshs, Anna Gulyarenko, Natalya Potapova, Maksim Solopov, Artyom Zhigulin

I loved this movie. It is terrifying and cold and very, very sad, so it's not like I'm going to recommend this to everyone, but this is a great movie. In fact, I haven't seen an Andrey Zvyagintsev movie in the last ten years that didn't absolutely blow me away. This is a director at the absolute top of his game. He is a brilliant cultural critic and a keen observer of modern life. I love this man's work. Anything he makes is a must-see, as far as I'm concerned. So I take it back. I said I wasn't going to recommend this, but everyone should see this. Loveless is not just a movie about Russia, either, it's about the U.S. just as much as it is about Russia. It's chilly and hard to handle at times, but it is absolutely right on, it's wickedly smart, and I loved it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #5 out of 82

Testről és Lélekről (On Body and Soul)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Hungary (Son of Saul, Hanussen, Colonel Redl, Revolt of Job, Mephisto, Confidence, Hungarians, Catsplay, The Boys of Paul Street)
Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Cast: Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Borbély, Zoltán Schneider, Ervin Nagy, Tamás Jordán, Zsuzsa Járó

This movie is conveniently available on Netflix now, which is quite nice of everyone involved. This is a quirky love story with a very socially awkward woman and an older man. The Academy loves movies like this, but I don't think I do. Socially awkward people make me feel strange and frustrated. There was plenty I liked in the movie, though. The dream sequences are gorgeous, and we spend time with these two beautiful deer in the middle of some amazing forest. I loved every time we were in a dream sequence (I would have spent more time there, if I had my druthers). And Ervin Nagy gives a good performance as a misunderstood worker. I also loved that the film is set in a slaughterhouse: the film's portrayal of the slaughterhouse and the detail with which it shows us what happens in the slaughterhouse are engaging and beautiful. But thematically, I am not sure how all of those things go together. The film is focused on its quirkiness more than it is on making the connections between the abattoir, the deer in the forest, the two lovers, and the psychology of it all. It just felt a bit confused to me.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Unranked (2018 release)