Oscars: foreign films race


Most Oscars experts are betting that the award for best foreign-language film will go one of two flicks: “Waltz with Bashir” (France), which won best picture from the National Society of Film Critics and best foreign film from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice; or “The Class” (France), winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

But don’t go gambling your ranch on either Oscars outcome. For starters, “Waltz with Bashir” is animated and there’s such a strong bias against such fare among Oscar voters that the academy had to create a separate category for best animated feature seven years ago. Sometimes voters include art-house foreign-language hits in that category — like 2002 champ “Spirited Away” (Japan) — but they didn’t pick “Bashir” among the nominees this year. It got bumped by the superhero doggie, “Bolt.”


The Oscars’ foreign-film race is one of those select categories where only academy members who attend screenings may vote, so merely a few hundred people choose the champ. One of them told Gold Derby that he and some other voters thought “The Class” was rather boring and revealed that he voted for Japan’s “Departures.”

A few days ago Gold Derby reported exclusively that “The Class” got nominated thanks to the new procedure that permits the academy’s internal foreign-film committee to overrule voters and add as many as three titles to the five in the category. The new rule was instituted to dispel the kind of outcry that followed last year’s omission of previous Cannes winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” (Romania).

Now Gold Derby can tattle a bit more. An excellent source tells us that the committee used its prerogative fully, bumping three films nominated by normal procedure in order to add their own choices. What were the other two? We don’t know for sure, but it seems logical to assume that they were other art-house darlings beloved by film critics who’d probably raise a ruckus if they were overlooked. Of the four remaining nominees, two fit that bill: “Waltz with Bashir” (Israel) and “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” (Germany). It’s doubtful that there’d be much fussing and screaming if lesser-known “Revanche” (Austria) or “Departures” got skunked.

Voters who decide the winner are mostly the same ones who shrugged off “Waltz with Bashir,” “The Class” and “The Baader-Meinhoff Complex” initially. So why should Oscar prophets believe that they’ll suddenly vote for one of them as winner now?

I’m betting on “Departures” based upon the reax of two actual voters. Only one told me which film he voted for, but the other praised “Departures” the most among the five nominees when we chitchatted casually.

Kris Tapley of InContention.com has seen all five entries and is betting on “Bashir,” but acknowledges that “Departures” poses a serious threat: “It’s a beautiful film in a lot of ways, certainly not a more artistic achievement than ‘Waltz’ but the kind of soft, safe, solid work that tends to take out the front-runner in this category time and again. It deals with death in a really affecting way, at once eerie, humorous and, ultimately, moving.  When it threatens to pass into trite territory, it finds a way to stay fresh and alive, very human and absolutely satisfying.”

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