Watching the lead up to the Academy Awards is like watching a great horse race. There’s always a frontrunner – one or two films that top all the critics’ lists. But then there are the last minute dark horses coming from behind. In this year’s Best Picture race for instance, “Argo” somehow is coming down the backstretch, ready to topple films that were once thought to be locks like “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and even “Silver Linings Playbook.” (Was Ben Affleck not getting nominated as Best Director the best thing to happen to “Argo? Quite possibly.)
Then there’s the Best Foreign Film category. This is an exciting category because American audiences get to view some of the best films a foreign nation has to offer. We get a glimpse into a particular’s country’s culture for that year. Similarly, international audiences see what’s trending in America with our own nominations – our relationship with politics and foreign affairs (even as a musical), as well as mental health are some of this year’s topical trends.
The Foreign Film category echoes these notions, political unrest and social strife are common themes. There’s the compelling and ironic, “No” from Chile directed by Pablo Larrain that focuses on a hot-shot advertising whiz, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who topples Pinochet’s dictatorship through an advertising campaign centered on “happiness.”
Also highlighting a country’s need to break away from oppression is Denmark’s “A Royal Affair” from director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel. This nominee follows the love triangle between Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), Queen Caroline Mathilda of England (Alicia Vikander) and their Royal Physician Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) as they struggle to bring their country to Enlightenment in the late 1700’s.
Canada’s “War Witch,” written and directed by Kim Nguyen, chronicles an African twelve-year-old girl who is abducted from her village and forced to fight as a child soldier in Central Africa. During one fight she is unscathed by bullets as those around her fall, thus achieving the elevated title, “War Witch.” Politics made extremely personal in the eyes of a young girl.
“Kon-Tiki” from Norway, tells of the famous voyage across the ocean from Peru to Polynesia by Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl on his balsawood raft in 1947. Co-directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, “Kon-Tiki” was the highest grossing film in Norway in 2012 and also a film festival favorite.
But of the five acclaimed films competing for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, Austria’s “Amour” galloped out of the racing gate and continues to look strong down the Oscar night home stretch. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Foreign Film, Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress for Emmanuelle Riva, it’s hard to believe “Amour” won’t win the golden statue. The film has already received numerous accolades and picked up the Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards for Best Foreign Film as won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2012. It also scores a whopping 93% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.
What’s interesting about “Amour” is that it’s not about politics or social injustices, but rather the intimate simplicity of life, love, family and death. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play a retired couple in their eighties, whose love is severely tested when one has a health attack. Writer/director Michael Haneke has created a masterwork. It would be a huge upset if “Amour” didn’t walk away with Oscar gold. It would be a little sad too because “Amour” is wonderfully deserving.
The Academy Awards air Sunday, February 24 on ABC.