2013 Foreign Language Oscar Report:
1) “Broken Circle Breakdown” (Belgium): The good parts are how I imagine the lovely Heidi Huber-Kalin and her beau met – super nice guy meets totally enthralling young woman and sweeps her off her feet with his bluegrass charms and band, which she becomes a member of. The rest of it is brutally depressing and over-the-top sad. Not quite sure what the point was, but it does have kick-ass music.
2) “The Great Beauty” (Italy): Pretty to look at. Too long to keep one awake. Too derivative of Fellini to understand. Same director as “Il Divo” – which was also totally overrated. I can see how “Beauty” won the Golden Globe. I cannot see how it will win an Oscar.
3) “The Hunt” (Denmark): Great. Great. and Great. Did I mention great? Answers the age old question, what if you were a kindergarten teacher in a very small town and you were accused of pedophilia? Sounds horrifying, I know, but Mads Mikelson (who’s great in everything he does) makes it not only watchable, but mesmerizing. A well-written, well-directed, and wholly uncomfortable slice-of-life film that could only come from the Danes.
4) “The Missing Picture” (Cambodia): I caught twenty minutes of this documentary at the Chicago Film Fest. Not completely unlike “Act of Killing”, but instead of the lead character literally making a movie, this film tackles the subject of government sanctioned mass murder (the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia) with hand painted figurines. See “Act of Killing” instead.
5) “Omar” (Palestine): Not a clue except what I’ve read. Described in the LA Times as “a gripping thriller in which a young Palestinian man implicated in the murder of an Israeli soldier is drawn into a web of deception and intrigue”. Impossible to find. Supposed to be great.
PICK: I think “The Hunt” should and will win with “Omar” as the dark horse – I just don’t think enough voters will see it.
2013 Oscar Documentary Feature report:
1) “20 Feet From Stardom”: Uplifting, joyful and informative, it has moments where it loses it’s grip on my interest, but overall, a lovely film about a historical underdog – the backup singer.
2) “The Act of Killing”: Holy shit, what a film! The film “examines a country where death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes, challenging them to reenact their real-life mass-killings in the style of the American movies they love”. The most original film of the bunch might also be the most difficult to watch and has haunted me since I watched it. The final scene…wow.
3) “Cutie and the Boxer”: Kinda lightweight, but sweet, which is probably why it was nominated. Not great. About an aging Japanese couple who remain very prevalent as artists in America. Maybe worth a watch. Maybe. Should’ve been “Stories We Tell”.
4) “Dirty Wars”: Interesting setup, no payoff and the world’s most boring narrator. Basic investigative journalism about the heinous acts of the secret arm of the armed forces who became famous after killing Bin Laden. Truly, how this doc beat out “Blackfish” for a nomination is utterly beyond me.
5) “The Square”: Fantastic DIY doc about the Egyptian revolution. This is how this type of doc is supposed to be made. Wonderful.
SO…my pick? I think “20 Feet” has it sewn up already, but the documentary branch of the Academy might reward “Act of Killing” for it’s incredible originality or “The Square” for the connection it makes between the viewer and the subject. If I were voting? “Act of Killing”. But for my Oscar pool ballot? “20 Feet”.
Originally written on 2/12/14