Tanel Toom’s The Confession and Michael Creagh’s The Crush, a kids-with-killer-instincts double bill from the British Isles, were ruled out early by the four of us who watched all the nominees in this category. The former, seemingly made with My First Michael Haneke® tracing paper, features one more odious plot twist than the latter, but if it’s infinitely less reprehensible than The Crush in the end, it’s because it has a fantastic lead performance from Lewis Howlett, a guilt-ridden cherub of a boy worried about making his first confession, to counterbalance the considerably less accomplished turn by the portly, carrot-topped Joe Eales, a wee Phillip Seymour Hoffman who exits the film in a fashion that may gratify more than it shocks. A rather contrived take on how Catholic guilt takes root in young lives, The Confession is handsomely made and, unlike The Crush, more than just a fucked-up stunt, but we’ve made the mistake before of picking the most self-serious nominee in the bunch and calling it a day.
Luke Matheny’s God of Love strikes me as the sort of lark that’s lucky just to be nominated, though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that everyone but myself called it their favorite of the five nominees. (Make of that what you will, but remember: The majority of people who vote here do not wear skinny jeans.) This black-and-white Jarmushian doodle about a guy trying to seduce a girl with love-inducing darts boasts a confident lead performance, a hilarious Witness joke, and a melancholic third-act twist, but to quote Eric, it’s also “very Tisch.” Which is to say, its artistry isn’t as seamless as that of other films—good or bad—that have taken this prize in years where there wasn’t an Israeli-Palestinian or Holocaust-themed production in the running. Those years, the Academy has repeatedly stated its preference for films—from The Shooter to The New Tenants—with the sort of macabre sense of humor that God of Love is too smart to indulge.
Another mistake we’ve often made in more difficult-to-call years is choosing the “ethnic” nominee, and we’re tempted to go there again. Ivan Goldschmidt’s Na Wewe is a chronicle of an attack by rebels on a group of people traveling by bus through Rwanda’s neighboring Burundi region. The film maintains a somewhat shaky, off-putting farcical tone throughout that doesn’t truly make sense until the euphoric last act, when a fascinating link is drawn between the name of Bono’s famous band and the two races pitted against each other during the 1994 Rwanda massacre. This is the most philosophically potent nominee in the bunch, an anecdote that uses language to succinctly reveal the fundamental absurdity of racism. It may scream “winner,” but we know how this category has shaken down before, so we’re putting our chips elsewhere.
We’re going to risk making the “kids with cancer” mistake again by calling this for Wish 143. Ian Barnes and and Samantha Waite’s film, a softie with a very tough exterior, concerns a terminally ill 15-year-old hornball who’s granted a wish by the Dreamscape Foundation, and instead of wanting to go to Disneyland or meet Gary Neville, asks for an audience with a naked chick. Completely sensible if you ask me, and the whole thing is executed with that particular mix of seriousness and humor that goes over well with voters, though in this case it’s an easy-to-stomach balancing act, in part because the epiphany-like twist that heartbreakingly caps the film doesn’t play as a con against audiences. Maybe the film is too good to win, but another thing going for it is the lasting-impression factor: It will be the final film to be seen by voters during screening programs, and that has boded well for over 50% of the winners in this category in the last 10 years.
Will Win: Wish 143
Could Win: Na Wewe
Should Win: Wish 143 or Na Wewe