You know what I love most about Oscar season? The outrage. And you can generally expect that the foreign film and documentary branches will supply plenty of it. We’ve already been through the bitter disappointment of Seth Gordon’s King of Kong missing the Documentary Feature shortlist, but that was kind of a fait accompli; Gordon’s a young turk, and the persnickety doc committee has a history of making the upstarts earn their nominations (e.g. Michael Moore’s Roger & Me went without a nomination in 1990).
But the foreign film branch excluding Cristian Mungiu’s Palm d’Or winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days from its nine picture shortlist? That’s nothing short of stunning. The Romanian abortion drama has been winning awards nonstop since its Cannes debut, and, according to David Poland’s Top Ten Scoreboard, it’s the best-reviewed foreign film of the year by far. Of course, its closest competition, Persepolis, also got left off the shortlist, too! As did The Orphanage!
What did make it? Nine movies I haven’t seen:
Austria, The Counterfeiters, Stefan Ruzowitzky, director
Brazil, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, Cao Hamburger, director
Canada, Days of Darkness, Denys Arcand, director
Israel, Beaufort, Joseph Cedar, director
Italy, The Unknown, Giuseppe Tornatore, director
Kazakhstan, Mongol, Sergei Bodrov, director
Poland, Katyn, Andrzej Wajda, director
Russia, 12, Nikita Mikhalkov, director
Serbia, The Trap, Srdan Golubovic, director
Of those titles, I’ve heard very good things about Mongol (it went over big at Harry Knowles’s Butt-Numb-a-Thon), and not-so-good about Arcand’s Days of Darkness and Tornatore’s The Unknown. While I cannot tell you firsthand if these movies are truly better than 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. I can absolutely guarantee you that if they are superior works, they would’ve all had an excellent shot at making my Top Fifteen List (Mungiu’s film just missed at number seventeen). If that’s the case, then wonderful! I have nine remarkable films to catch up with! But seeing as how I loathe most of Tornatore’s work, I’m highly doubtful.
Jeffrey Wells is already in a tizzy over the snub. That howl of disgust will be a chorus of vehement disapproval before the day is out.
For a little insight into the thoughts of the foreign film committee, here’s a screening journal from one of its members. And he all but predicts 4 Months‘ exclusion:
"Often the Cannes winner is problematic with the Academy crowd; and I fear this is no exception. This film is about a pair of female college roommates in 1987 (two years before the anti-Ceaucescu revolution), one of whom is pregnant and desirous of an illegal abortion. The film is shot from the point of view of the other, stronger roommate. Through the use of long, tension inducing static setups and realistic hand held tracking shots, the director manages to heighten anxiety but restrict the emotional payoff. The film reminded me of another, even more gritty, Romanian film Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu…and much of the reason for this is undoubtedly due to the common cinematographer, Oleg Mutu. *** 1/4"