After years of controversy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally elects an executive committee to give a second chance to three foreign-language films snubbed during this category’s first round of voting. By most accounts, this decision to police the regular nominating committee, Academy Members for the Perpetual Reward of Holocaust Pictures, has yielded an unusually strong batch of contenders, which include two Cannes prizewinners and the latest from the director of The Last Exit to Brooklyn. Now the question remains if the Academy will enact similar quality-control measures in other categories—so, you know, a travesty like the one that befell Sally Hawkins this year will never happen again. But I digress. This year my blindspots are Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex and Yojiro Takita’s Departures. The former, about the roots of the Red Army Faction terrorist group, sounds like a more youthful and explosive relation of Germany’s last winner in this category, The Lives of Others, but Departures may have a leg up on it if Variety, that bastion of film-biz-y shorthand criticism, is to be believed: “Fascinating glimpses into a unique profession trump the pic’s emotional manipulation and substantial length, suggesting that its top prize in Montreal could lead to fest action and, following judicious postmortem editing, selected arthouse engagements.” Revanche, Janus’s first theatrical release of a new film in decades, will be released on video by the Criterion Collection and may be the strongest contender here. The story of lives intersecting in a rural Austrian town after an unfortunate accident, this ninth feature from Austrian director Gtz Spielmann threatens to go down the low-road of a guttersnipping Ulrich Seidl production until it evolves into a morally disquieting and visually prismatic and resplendent look at grief, boasting the most chilling sound design you’ll hear outside a torture porn. But the last thing academy members probably want to think about is getting sliced to bits by a woodcutter, so the race is probably between The Class and Waltz with Bashir. The latter won the Golden Globe and obviously has its fans, but naysayers have also called out its redundancy and borderline incomprehensibility, though it may ultimately lose because voters might feel it should have been nominated in either the animated or documentary feature categories. Laurent Cantet’s The Class, also being released by Sony Pictures Classics, has received a less thoughtful theatrical run, which is surprising given the film’s buzz following its victory at Cannes, but the temperament of the film, which documents in reality-TV fashion the struggles of a teacher to tame his immigrant-city students, seems very much in sync with that of the academy’s. In short: If Armond White thinks it’s racist, it must be a winner.
Will Win: The Class
Should Win: Revanche
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.