Last year’s roster of foreign language film submissions was so rich, that you can argue that even if the lineup is one of the greatest the category has seen in years (and no embarrassing mention to The Intouchables!) there were still many movies that could’ve fit among the final nominees. Other than Amour the other nominees could’ve easily been replaced by any of these:
Christian Petzold’s character study might be as impenetrable as it is touching, with Nina Hoss delivering a modulated performance filled with stunning miniature arcs. That nothing in this movie is what we expect (it doesn’t care about letting us in into its secrets) may not be everyone’s cup of tea—and might piss off people devoted to the oh-so-Hollywood necessity of having STORY—but by the end, you realize it’s a brilliant metaphor that encompasses the secrecy with which lives had to be led in 1980’s East Germany.
This Icelandic entry from 101 Reykjavik director Baltasar Kormákur, made the early January shortlist and pretty much seemed like the kind of thing Oscar always goes for. It’s an entertaining movie based on a true life story that really doesn’t contribute anything special to the art of filmmaking. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson plays Gulli, a fisherman who becomes the sole survivor of a catastrophic wreckage, and while a big part of the movie plays out like a live action version of the Scrat misadventures from Ice Age, the actor manages to bring a gravitas to his part that actually forces us to examine him from a different perspective. By the time the film ends we are left wondering whether things like chance or fate are real and with a dry humor the film dares us to look at our lives and ask ourselves if we are doing a good job out of living them.
Pablo Berger’s wondrous work of art is the silent movie The Artist wished it had been. With a knowledge of the silent cinema’s aesthetic that makes Michel Hazanavicus’ Oscar winning film look like a student project, this take on the classic fairy tale features brilliant performances from Maribel Verdú and Daniel Giménez Cacho, as well as a star making performance by the truly lovely Macarena García. Perhaps what remains most brilliant about this movie is how without recurring to any form of dialogue it is an undeniably Spanish movie. The passion of flamenco, the warm spirit of its culture and the fiery passions of its women overflow from the screen in every single scene. Despite its monochromatic palette, few movies in 2012 felt as colorful as this.
Cate Shortland’s sophomore film proved to be an effective follow up to her stunning debut, but more than that, it was the perfect conclusion to an unofficial trilogy of films about Nazism that includes Michael Haneke’s brilliant The White Ribbon and Bob Fosse’s Cabaret. The three movies explore not the historic facts that defined Germany, but try to figure out the collective psychological state that led this country towards this destructive political state. Shortland observes this through the eyes of Lore (played with relentless tenacity by Saskia Rosendahl) a young woman trying to lead her siblings across the Black Forest towards their grandma’s house. Combining fairy tale mysticism with coming of age drama, this film will prove to be a real challenge for those expecting simplicity.
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With that said, why do you think the quality of the foreign submissions was so brilliant this time around? Considering countries like France submitted some of their lesser movies (where was their submission for Jacques Audiard’s magnificent Rust and Bone?) and the fact that not even the Romanian entry made it to the final five, can this mean we’re watching a renaissance for world cinema? Will there ever be a time when we see more than one non-English movie nominated for the Best Picture Oscar?