Mini-Review Round-Up: November 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases, regardless of how they are seen whether in an auditorium or on VOD, will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Ghosts of Ole Miss

If it were in anyway possible, it’d be interesting to examine this 30 for 30 entry in a vaccuum. The reason I say that is: as a film about the integration of Ole Miss with a unique subplot about the undefeated football team that played and was overshadowed by sociopolitical unrest on campus during that year, it’s intriguing. However, the film purports to examine the team and be a testament to the team, to memorialize the forgotten squad. While there are plenty of interviews with players about on campus events and quick chronicles of game events and results, the team becomes a subplot in a film supposedly mainly about them. The struggles of integrating the school ought not be overlooked, but when there’s little overlap between the tales aside from time and place structural balance becomes hard to find.

The film does very well to examine the cultural morass that many face, southerners in this case, that exists when you’re trying to balance pride, heritage and also acknowledging past failings and dark moments. Some of the voice over is very well-written and poetic in a way that seems unique to the south, as much as the music is lyrical and local. However, this personal connection also fights for time with the football team’s tale and the exposition of the events surrounding the integration. Ultimately, the film succeeds by giving you barely enough to get by on each angle, but it would’ve been better served by restructuring and/or delving further into each aspect.

6/10

Benji

It’s a method I generally try to avoid, but perhaps the best way to discuss Benji is via comparative analysis. After I had seen Benji what occurred to me is that there was some structural similarity to 9.79*, and that being that it is mainly a chronology of events (this one far more linear) but there is a late-in-the-game monkeywrench thrown into the mix. I will not expose details to preserve surprise, but the late revelation here only has one side telling the story period, not just on camera. Furthermore, the revelation, in my mind didn’t really shift the legal burden of blame.

Regardless, for the most part, this is an effectively rendered tale for the most part that reveals a mostly unknown personage now. The film does well to just present its case and not comment upon it. The only other issue it suffers from is that there is a slight lack of ebb and flow. There is a definitive rise-and-fall, but its crescendo and decrescendo. The rigidly linear nature of this tale hinders its efficacy some.

7/10

Off White Lies

I find myself commenting on a film’s subtlety quite often. Rather than sounding like a broken record I will expound on that. It’s one think to tell an intricate story without spoon-feeding an audience like say Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and another to tell a simple story in a straightforward way. However, to tell a simple story, subtly; jumping in medias res and making revelations indirectly rather than with overt exposition is quite a feat. As is often the case, it’s not necessarily the end destination that matters with a film, it’s the journey. With necessary information being delivered when absolutely necessary and without drawing attention to itself we are allowed instead to focus on the characters and how they interact. This is especially helpful when dealing with a father-daughter dynamic. We see how they interact and the why becomes more and more apparent as we learn more about them.

The story, such as it is, moves rather smoothly ends at an appropriate time and features good performances all around.

8/10

The Dynamiter

As I tweeted immediately after seeing The Dynamiter, it seems to be par for the course that every year there will be a Film Movement selection that will slowly, subtly work on me and leave me bawling nearly uncontrollably, and almost unbeknownst to myself, by the end. Last year’s film was A Screaming Man. What both films share in common is a simple tale of people with simple desires, facing seemingly mammoth obstacles to overcome and struggling mightily against them.

Yet, even that congratulatory paragraph doesn’t really do this film justice. For the magic this film weaves, it creates in a mere 73 minutes. It’s a running time so brisk you’d never imagine it’d have the power in its finale to sneak up on you, but it does.

In writing up any sort of reaction piece to a film, I am somewhat loathe to quote other works, be they literary or musical, to echo my sentiments. However, that’s really more a writer’s pride than anything because sometimes, with the really good films, they are more accurate. One such work is a spoiler so I’ll avoid it, leaving just one: this film does indeed seem to have “The Invisible Touch,” it takes control and slowly tears you apart.

It’s a film that’s deserving of a re-screening and a bigger write-up, but something tells me I’ll be writing about it again at the end of the year.

10/10

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a cautionary tale, in the best way possible, and part of why I love the year-end sprint to catch up on releases of the year. Towards the end of the year, I get a little less finicky about selections and just watch things, not just to be adventurous but admittedly to bolster the BAM qualifiers. This may all sound quite underwhelming but the impetus to see this film was really a personal recommendation.

I knew of the film but frankly the trailer and all other marketing elements didn’t sell the film. What looked at the outset a rather myopically comedic tale turns out to be, in reality, a wide-ranging inclusive, heart-warming, bittersweet, charming and funny film; in short, one of the more well-rounded experiences.

The character’s narrative threads which start out very disparate reminded me in some ways of Love, Actually but with more interweaving and less contrivance to get things linked up. There is a general emotional over-current that makes this true also, not just some similar cast members.

Through the natural functioning of the narrative there is ample room, which is taken full advantage of, for commentary on myriad topics that is never extraneous, which adds to the enjoyment of the film.

One thing I can applaud the marketing of the film for is that it did leave many of the surprises of this tale in tact, and if you take this journey you will definitely be rewarded.

10/10

Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear is a testament, not only to Film Movement’s Film of the Month Club and the bonuses they include on their DVDs but cinematic acclimatizing. What I mean by that is not necessarily that the packaging of a film, or the presentation thereof, can condition a viewer, but when you’re visiting a slightly different avenue of film a bit of an introduction can be beneficial.

My best and favorite professor in film school was Max Simkovitch. Not only was he an uncanny “bill builder” in terms of doubles and triples, but he also put you in the right frame of mind to absorb the film you were about to see. Is that to say I liked everything I screened in his classes? Not at all. However, it kept me in place where I would and continue to fight against making the film what I thought it ought to be, take it for what it was and judge it on its own merits.

How this relates back to Film Movement is that for the DVD of Teddy Bear they include two prior shorts by Mads Matthiesen an up-and-coming Danish filmmaker. In seeing these two shorts, one of which was the basis for the feature Teddy Bear, you definitely get a taste for his style and in the short Kim Kold shows flashes that, yes, he will convey the effective gentle giant needed for the narrative.

The feature is an effective tussle between mother-and-son, portrait of loner trying to break out of his shell and an underdog love story. The pace is imperfect later on, but the tale is always engaging, endearing and watchable, if not completely realized.

7/10

The Pact

This is the kind of movie that will be referred to as a slow burn. The slow burn in the horror genre, the gradual but consistent build-up, has become more popular as of late. However, like any technique or philosophy it is not inherently good or bad. What I believe is that if you’re going to take this approach you have to take the escalating events to a fairly wild and unpredictable place. The stakes and incidents continue to increase and just when you think you have the film pinned down it expands.

The films imperfections, barring a seemingly nonsensical title and a jolt-shock end shot, are mainly that early pace that makes it a tough tale to get into. The performances are inconsistent, but the story does just enough to buoy it. How much each individual enjoys the film will likely vary on his or her patience, and their embracing or rejecting of the twists.

6/10

A Chrismoose Carol

The review of this film can be found here.

ATM

I often discuss the merits of going into a film as a clean slate. I can’t say I went in 100% clean to this film, however, I don’t see that as a detriment here. I found this was streaming, saw it qualified as a 2012 release, and added it to my queue without further thought for a time. One tweet by a fellow Twitter compatriot who disliked it, didn’t give much away, but intrigued me enough to give it a play.

A few things struck me as odd as it pertained to ATM: the first of which is that it does hold interest and a fairly believable premise through a much larger portion of the film than I expected based on what I heard. While I will credit the film for its set-up and a certain degree of cleverness in it maniacal plan, the second oddity is that the most major twist I was way ahead of, and the resolution was one that doesn’t stand up to harsh scrutiny, and the length of the reveal allows you to scrutinize it. It reminds me a bit of Penumbra but with more annoyance and less impact.

This is also a film that inflated its running time to its detriment. It cut out of the closing credits at least three, if not four times, to additional montages hinting at more villainous plots. Such were the cutaways that it bloated the credits crawl (which were slow to begin with) to nine minutes. The film clocks in at exactly 90 minutes with it included. It wouldn’t have saved the film, but it is OK to run less than 90 minutes. It really is. Add to that a very slow reveal, and you have an end that doesn’t end long after the point where the film becomes completely asinine.

4/10

Home Alone: The Holiday Heist

Home Alone: Holiday Heist (2012, 20th Century Fox)

For my review of this film please go here.

I didn’t quite catch up to the backlog of November titles viewed, seeing as how I managed to get into an end of year viewing groove early. The titles that would’ve been here will appear in the December running post. All these lists also qualify films for the BAM Awards, which have many exciting dates in the month to come.

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Adding To Your Classics Library

A while back on Twitter, Bill Milner a great young actor, as well as past nominee and honoree, asked a simple yet important question: it was about bolstering his library of classics.

This is a fascinating question for me, and for any cinephile I feel, because it brings up the elusive question of “What are the essentials?”

My response was, and is, one that I think is not only apropos, but one I think a lot of people can use. Now, a reminder this is not a piece that aims to be a starter kit by cherry-picking milestones in film history, but rather one that will augment your collection when you think to yourself: “Well, what should I be getting now?”

My proposition is simple and personal, we all have our favorite directors throughout the various eras of cinema. I suggest getting the oft-overlooked works of these greats. More often than not these are the films I’ll point out as being a personal favorite.

Anyone, and everyone, can, and has, write, speak or opine on the greatness of Jules and Jim or The 400 Blows, but the film of Truffaut’s that affected me most was The Green Room (aka The Vanishing Fiancee), and its absence from DVD for so long bothered me. Hitchcock would be another good example. Everyone knows the widely recognized masterpieces he made. However, few of his films ever engaged me on first viewing like Rope did, even though he wasn’t too fond of his no-cut experiment, or for that matter Dial M for Murder, though I’ve never seen it in 3D.

Those are just two quick examples with a few films to illustrate my point. Who the directors are that you seek out the oft overlooked works in their ouevre is your choice entirely, but when one has the staples you’re filling in the pages, and, I for one have always been one to seek things out that are a little off the beaten path even amongst the most highly regarded cineastes.

The Problems of Limiting Foreign Film Submissions (Part 2 of 2)

Similar to the first installment of this piece there was one nation where I got a more rounded, abundant reaction. However, I still didn’t have near the sample size as I did with Brazil. Therefore, I wanted to test the waters and get samples from around the world about the foreign film submissions from my Twitter friends’ respective countries. Even with fewer reactions, and fewer characters with which to glean and convey information, I still got some interesting insights that furthers my hypothesis that limiting a nation to one film submission to the Oscars for consideration can cause issues. Some of these reactions point to aforementioned stumbling blocks, some are new. As is the case with Brazil’s selection, I have not had the chance to see the films that have been submitted on behalf of the nations listed below. I will attempt to see as many of them as I can. Also, I realize that some of these opinions may venture into more perception than reality, but that’s kind of the point. There is a threshold where perception becomes reality and behind every cynicism is some truth, so these opinions do highlight flaws in the system.

Sweden

Sweden’s is a case I alluded to in my prior commentary and review about Simon and the Oaks, so I was glad to get the kind of feedback I did there. Sweden’s official selection is The Hypnotist by Lasse Hallström. The general reaction I got from the handful of people who ended up commenting was that it was a weak choice. In fact, the notion I had in mind when formulating the “reputation of the director” question was echoed here. What prompted me to write that question was the conventional wisdom of ‘Oh, well, so-and-so directed it so it has to be selected.” The reactions to the the film itself were mixed to negative, as was the perception of its choice, and chances of making a dent on the nominees list. I also saw in this selection a reflection of a common theme with a award shows in the US, wherein the film was submitted to the Academy but hadn’t premiered, which is not dissimilar from press screenings of late-December releases that are up for awards before a vast majority of moviegoers have gotten a chance to see it. If these comments are any indication, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Brazil or Sweden missing out on the shortlist. More tellingly they seem to play out scenarios and ill-feelings that would be alleviated by additional selections.

Canada

Canada, and the next section, are in this list for a few reasons. So far as Canada goes, I have a lot of Twitter contacts there, and it’s important to note that none I asked had seen War Witch at the time I asked. Quite a few heard of it and wanted to, some went on to learn of its fairly impressive festival run to date. So again you have, at least based on a small sampling, an underseen film, which would benefit from Oscar attention. I don’t necessarily think that it represents a language barrier (That is, however, a selection concern for many nations where multiple languages and/or dialects are spoken), as the film was only playing in Vancouver when I asked.

Chile

The difference between the answers I got from two contacts in Chile and the myriad I have in Canada is that the Chileans were both well aware of No, it has been well-received and they intended on seeing it.

France

When asking a contact in France I got very interesting and honest feedback regarding The Intouchables, which I missed over the summer. He believed it a worthy selection for many reasons, but also added that it was “the most Weinsteinable,” which, of course, refers to the Weinstein Company who are not only Award forces but purveyors of ‘gateway’ foreign film selections.

Conclusion

Lastly, I asked a huge foreign film watcher my question. The answer was qualified by not having seen sufficient titles from any country to make definitive statements, but he did cite both France and Denmark as countries that had stronger films in his estimation that could’ve been submitted. In the end, the point of this exercise is not to definitively approve or condemn a film selection. It has been to gather information from those who have seen said film(s) and are familiar with the machinations of their nation’s film industry. In doing so I hoped and think I have illustrated that there are issues with the system at current that would be alleviated by allowing for additional submissions. If you were to introvert the Oscar screening process, that is to say, were I to only stick to Oscar nominees I never would’ve discovered Le Grand chemin, and if it wasn’t self-evident by now, my personal awards (The BAM Awards) do not have a limiter. However, as I’ve stated with many synonyms this plan is an interesting academic exercise, somewhat impractical, and unlikely to be implemented in any way shape or form. Therefore, what can we take from all this? If nothing else, it’s that whether there’s a cinema that we’re close to personally, either through relations or by aesthetic appreciation, we should try to get to know it more fully. Rather than just debating and griping about the film it submits to the Oscars, have another immediately in mind, or better yet know and appreciate that cinema well enough to not care what the submission is, but just think of that as a bonus. Should the country you call home, home away from home, or whose films you enjoy gets nominated; that’s great. If it does not, you can still watch all its other great films.

Thankful for World Cinema: Black Peter

Facets, for those who don’t know is a great distributor with whom lovers of independent, arthouse and international cinema should become well acquainted.  The selection of their films is only one reason. Another is their scholarly attitude. What is meant by this is the following: first, this DVD is part of the Czech New Wave line. Yes, it is true that the New Wave started in France with a very specific group of filmmakers, but its reverberations were felt worldwide and spawned similar movements elsewhere like the Czech New Wave and Cinema Novo in Brazil. Second, is that this DVD actually includes a booklet, with an essay in it no less. Remember when DVD first started and you’d get at least a fly leaf with chapter list? Now, no more. At least here there is not only a booklet, but actual information.

Also, another benefit if you join Facets site is the occasional discount and sale only available through them. There was a code sent out via email to subscribers so this DVD only cost me $0.01 plus shipping.

The booklet is interesting because it tells of Forman growing up with family acquaintances in their grocery store. A location not dissimilar to where our protagonist finds himself apprenticing at the beginning of this tale, he is employed to watch for people shoplifting and report or confront any who are. This film has a rather humorous beginning but other than the occasional interaction between Peter and his parents has little to offer later on.

It is the kind of film that you know has something going on but may not be absolutely certain what immediately. What is clear is that there is a generational and philosophical gap being exposed. They are represented both by Peter’s father and his boss who represent the older generation and a more repressed, rationalistic, communist frame of mind. There are also, however, liberating agents at play mainly being romance in the person of Peter’s girlfriend and Rock N’ Roll music. Both of which converge at a local dance floor for an extended sequence.

What is also likely to throw an audience off with a lack of context is that, to quote Mark Twain, “those looking for a plot will be shot.” Milos Forman, acclaimed director of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, said of this film that he wanted to “collect the ‘most real,’ that is, the flattest snippets of life to make a deadly satire of it.” Keeping that and the fact that Forman wanted to take a documentarian style mixing neorealistic elements with the New Wave in mind, it is a success in that regard. It’s just not a resounding one.

The bully characters while they are very annoying at the start slowly, wordlessly become Peter’s allies. Moving from older more backward sentiments to younger more modern ideas but their involvement is cumbersome in what plot there is and is at times too much.

Inasmuch as the director seems to achieve what he wanted it was successful. All New Wave films were in effect experiments and this one didn’t fail miserably and is entertaining enough but certainly not earth shattering.

6/10

Thanksgiving Review: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is kind of like the middle child of the specials: it is often overlooked but it should not be. There is a lot that is good about the special which makes it deserving of more positive pub.

There is, as per usual, a good little bit of pedagogy in this short, however, there is so much more than that. In this special you get Snoopy’s funny, side-tracking antics playing very closely into the story as he not only sets the table but helps cook.

As Snoopy is making popcorn, there’s a New Wave like cut away from frozen popcorn exploding in mid-air but beyond film nerd things there is a charm to this one that is its own.

It’s due to two factors: first, these kids are having two Thanksgiving dinners. What’s not to like there? Second, I remember as a kid seeing Charlie’s plate and for the first time I saw a Thanksgiving meal where I could eat everything (I have a metabolic condition). However, even if your connection to his plate isn’t that close Patty is way harsh especially considering she invited herself and everyone else. Why does she expect Charlie to know how to cook, anyway?

Regardless, her coming down that hard makes the payoff even sweeter and makes this special at least as good as they other two.

The Problems of Limiting Foreign Film Submissions (Part 1 of 2)

In my previous post, I wrote about how I would propose to alter the Foreign Language Film submission process. I am working backwards as now, in this post, I will address, with a little more support to back up my own hypotheses the issues that would be addressed if you were to allow select countries multiple submissions.

Essentially, the goal is as follows:

If you are a nation like France or Italy with a long and rich cinematic tradition, the selection process can prove volatile and complex. France, for example, submitted Of Gods and Men a few years ago. Its being snubbed, while an Algerian film with a similar subject, Outside the Law, making the shortlist caused quite a furor. Now, this is not to say that France being given more submissions would’ve gotten it to the shortlist, but being limited to one film invariably creates questions and doubts. Both nations made films about the colonial era, one was chosen and one wasn’t. Aside from the complaints about which nation a production really pertains to, it’s messy. Just search debates about selections and you will find trades reporting on them annually.

Now, I will grant that a multiple submission policy is altruism, and being realistic these things would likely still have happened but if France were afforded a handful of submissions, these incidents would likely have been lessened.

Erika Bók in The Turin Horse (Cinema Guild)

Taking any political extremism out of the equation, multiple nominees for some countries would also make some nations more inclined to take a chance. When Hungary submitted The Turin Horse last year, it was speculated in trades to have a slim chance due to the composition of the viewership and the nature of the film, and sure enough it wasn’t shortlisted. Not that Hungary has been especially prolific lately, and their last nomination was in 1988, but it’s a good example of a country that could’ve used an extra spot to pick what it thought was the best artistic choice and then gamble on a popular pick and/or one likely to find favor with American viewers.

Greece’s selection of Dogtooth a few years ago was seen as some as being silly, almost frivolous. Just it being described as gutsy made me want to see it. They were lucky in actually earning a nomination. I enjoyed it, but was equally surprised by its selection once I saw it.

With just one film allotted per country, as fair as that may seem, too many ulterior factors come into play besides is this really the best film, and some of the factors I suspected were echoed by others I asked. Other factors I hadn’t considered, that can be found mirrored in American films jockeying for Oscar nominations, also came to the fore.

The questions I typically asked were as follows:

At times, does the reputation, or lack thereof, of a director influence the selection?

At times, does politics, whether real or film, play a part?

At times, do films more likely to impress Oscar voters get selected over more artistic films?

Did you see (Title of film submitted by your country)?

If you saw it, did you like it?

Why do you think (Name of country) selected (Title of Film) Deserved it? Oscar-Friendliness? Both? Neither?

Here are some of the findings from Brazilians I asked, more nations will follow in the next part.

Brazil

With regards to Brazil, this is the nation where I will have the widest range of opinions. Aside from being a dual citizen, a majority of my family lives in Brazil so I was able to receive the highest number of responses here also.

When The Hollywood Reporter wrote-up the announcement they correctly cited O Palhaço (The Clown) as a domestic box-office success. Over 1.4 million tickets sold. That’s accurate, as ticket sales are the measure (especially for domestic films) and in Brazil that’s a fairly high total. I take no issue at face value with sending the domestic box office champion as your nominee. There are stories like wins for domestic films in Spain and Norway that are most definitely positives. Hollywood proliferates globally and for indigenous cinemas to be successful at home is very important.

The complications of selecting the box-office champion of the year arise when you have mixed reactions to the film in general. First, I will recuse myself from weighing in on the film itself (O Palhaço) as I have yet to see it. However, I admit I was a bit surprised by this choice as I had yet to hear of it. I saw one Brazilian title this year, which I thought was great, and heard of another one. Both made a decent splash either on the festival circuit or in the international market. With regards to the plot when I read of it, it seemed like a less actually political selection, but did entertainment politics factor? What besides the box office could’ve influenced this selection?

So what did my family and friends say in response to my inquiries regarding O Palhaço? They start off about as negative as a film receiving such an honor can get: “My husband saw it and thought it was horrible! According to him the movie must’ve been picked for a lack of options!” The lack of options isn’t something that’s necessarily supportable by empirical evidence. In 2012 two films either solely produced or co-produced by Brazil appeared in Berlin, 5 films either solely produced or co-produced appeared in the Cannes programs and 2 either solely or co-produced appeared at Sundance, so there were other Brazilian films with festival pedigree. Not to mention the fact, that having eligible films doesn’t always lead to a submission, as was evidenced by Luxembourg passing.

As I got more and more comments, the initial reaction that people were “Sharply divided” proved true. However, in Brazil’s case one of my suppositions seems to have played out, and that’s the reputation of the director. With O Palhaço the director is lead actor Selton Melo. It’s a passion project, those with negative views of the film argue it’s a “commercial for him.” So box office appeal and the fact that a respected actor took on a project does buoy the Oscar hopes of this film, and even those who like Melo fell on the side of those less than enthused by the film, and some even underwhelmed by this particular turn. However, Melo’s status only seems to be growing in Brazil, as he is also taking on a Brazilian-produced HBO series.

The clout, or lack thereof, of some distributors within Brazil was also reported to me as a factor that could keep more deserving films from being considered. This seems not too foreign when anyone who pays attention to Oscar races here knows how much money is involved in campaigning, and how certain directors, producers, and studio heads become favorites. It was also indicated to me that candidacy for the Brazilian submission may not be a cheap thing to make yourself eligible for, which wouldn’t surprise me either, but that is an issue that filters down to the national level and is beyond the purview of the Academy or any foreign body. However, the fact remains that many would attribute most submissions as being decisions that disregard aesthetics and if the film also happens to be good it’s a bonus, but it’s a powerplay. One response pronounced all that quite explicitly and even concluded in English stating “It’s all about business!”

Perhaps the most intriguing response I got was the one that indicated it’d be impossible to remove politics entirely since you’re asking countries to submit films, and I will grant that. It’s practically impossible to expunge when other productions and/or world events will cause protests. The nation submitting likely consciously or unconsciously affects voters, even if its just that a certain viewer has more of an affinity with one national cinema or another. What the ultimate goal of this plan, that I admit will likely never, ever occur, is to encourage more risk from national film governing bodies. Perhaps that encouragement would lead to more aesthetically forward choices that will get rewarded by the votership, or better yet bring the film to new audiences.

Now, according to my idealistic designs, Brazil as a prior multiple-nominee would receive three submissions. If that were the case, perhaps they’d be so inspired to take a chance on one of the remaining selections on something a little more free of influence. To paraphrase John Lennon, I may be dreaming but I know I’m not alone in hoping something like that would occur.

Thanksgiving Review: Mayflower Voyagers

This is a Peanuts special that was made several years after the original Thanksgiving tale which sees the characters we have come to know assuming the roles of Pilgrims.

It does a rather admirable job of recounting the tale of both the journey across the Atlantic and also the Pilgrim’s first few years on the new continent, albeit a somewhat sanitized one.

The voice over in this tale is very persistent as it is truly a storybook type tale and save for one or two slips in pacing it’s nearly impeccable and a very admirable feat.

Over the years the voice casting of these specials was tremendous overall as the actors frequently had to be switched to have them sound genuinely like children and not adults imitating kids’ voices. To keep the same quality of voice in each character is quite a feat and it was nearly always seamless. Here though you will notice that there was quite a departure in the casting of Marcy.

It is for all that still a very worthwhile and humorous look at the early origins of the holiday and, in fact, our nation, that is worth seeing and it is usually included as a bonus feature on Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown DVDs.

How The Foreign Language Film Submission Process Could Change

Earlier this year, but before the Academy Award cermonies, I wrote about how the Best Foreign Language Film submission process works and how I think it should change. Now, in proposing changes I was vague but made the point that the system is kind of broke and needs fixing.

To further examine this hypothesis this Oscar year, I will write two pieces. In this one, I’ll propose specifics and examine logistics of the proposed changes. Now, the main tenet of my argument is that some countries should be afforded additional submissions. Those additional submissions I believe should be awarded on a merit-based system. Again, this goes back vaguely to a FIFA-inspired system. The allocation of spots for each continent in the World Cup is partially influenced by size of the continent, but is more influenced by past results.

So with each echelon achieved more submissions will be afforded. The system will explain itself as it goes.

Here is a breakdown of the Oscar histories of the nations who have submitted a film for consideration in this year’s awards:

0 Nominations (32 Nations)

Aghanistan
Albania
Armenia
Azerbaijan
Bangladesh
Bulgaria
Chile
Colombia
Croatia
Dominican Republic
Estonia
Greenland
Iceland
Indonesia
Kenya
Kygyrzstan
Latvia
Lithuania
Malaysia
Morocco
Phillipines
Portugal
Romania
Serbia
Singaporean
Slovak Republic
Slovenia
South Korea
Thailand
Turkey
Ukraine
Uruguay
Venezuela

Nominated (7 Nations)

Finland
Georgia
Kazakhstan
Macedonia
Palestine
Peru
Vietnam

Multiple Nominations (8 Nations)

Israel (10 Nominations)
Poland (9 Nominations)
Mexico (9 Nominations)
Belgium (6 Nominations)
Greece (5 Nominations)
Brazil (4 Nominations)
Norway (4 Nominations)
India (3 Nominations)
China (2 Nominations)
Hong Kong (2 Nominations)

1 Win (9 Nations)

Algeria (Z)
Austria (38 – Vienna Before the Fall; One Additional Nomination)
Bosnia (No Man’s Land)
Canada (The Barbarian Invasions; 5 Additional Nominations)
Czech Republic (Kolya – 2 wins and 3 nominations as Czechoslovakia)
Hungary (Mephisto; 7 Additional Nominations)
Germany (The Tin Drum; 7 Additional Nominations)
Japan (Departures; 11 Additional Nominations; 3 Honorary Awards Prior to Inception of Category)
South Africa (Tsotsi; 1 Additional Nomination)
Taiwan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 2 Additional Nominations)

2 Wins (2 Nations)

Argentina (The Secret in their Eyes, The Official Story; 2 Additional Nominations)
Switzerland (Journey of Hope, First Love; 3 Additional Nominations)

3 Wins (4 Nations)

Denmark (Babette’s Feast, Pelle the Conqueror, In a Better World; 5 Additional Nominations)
Netherlands (Assault, Character, Antonia’s Line; 4 Additional Nominations)
Spain (The Sea Inside, All About My Mother, La Belle Epoque; 15 Additional Nominations)
Sweden (Fanny & Alexander, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring, 10 Additional Nominations)

9 Wins

France (My Uncle, Black Orpheus [Brazilian story/Portuguese dialogue, French production], Sundays at Cybele, A Man and a Woman, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeouisie, Day For Night, Madame Rosa, Get Out Your Handekerchiefs, Indochine, 25 Additional Nominations, Three Honorary Awards Prior to Inception of Category)

10 Wins

Italy

La Stada, Nights of Cabiria, 8 1/2, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow; Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion; The Garden of Finzi Continis; Amarcord; The Legend of the Holy Drinker; Mediterraneo; Life is Beautiful; 19 Additional Nominations; 3 Honorary Awards Before the Inception of the Category)

Russia (Since fall of Communism)

4 Nominations; 1 Win

USSR

6 Nominations; 3 Wins

Totals: 4 wins, 10 Nominations

Quotas

With all that information, here is the breakdown of how I would award submissions.

Nation with No Nominations– 1 Film
Nation with a Nomination– 2 Films
Nation with Multiple Nominations– 3 Films
Nation with a Win– 4 Films
Nation with Multiple Wins– 5 Films

Now, history provides a few quirks, and being fundamentally a progressive, I will choose not to carry over wins and nominations from prior nations to current ones. Therefore, Russia is awarded their quota of films based on Russia’s submission history and is not buoyed by the USSR’s wins. The same goes for The Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The Continental Divide

With those statistics in mind, and keeping in mind my proposal that more viewers be brought into the selection process and be divvied up by region, here is an example of the viewing load that each section would have to take on. Now, I have also sub-divided Europe owing to the fact that there are many nominated and winning countries in the continent. This was also done to try to equalize the viewings among groups.

North America (4 Submitting Nations)

Canada
Greenland
Mexico
Dominican Republic

The screening load based on Canada winning and Mexico having multiple nominations with this group would be 9 films.

South America (7 submitting nations)

Chile
Colombia
Brazil
Argentina
Uruguay
Peru
Venezuela

If Brazil as a multiple nominee was allowed 3 films, Argentina as a multiple-winner was allowed 5, and Peru as a past nominee was allowed 2; the South American viewing group would still only be seeing 12 total films.

Africa

Algeria (4)
South Africa (4)
Kenya

Africa’s viewing group would screen 9 films.

Oceania

Austalia
Indonesia
Philippines
Taiwan
Hong Kong
Malaysia
Singapore

This viewing group would have 7 films.

Asia

Afghanistan
Armenia
Azerbaijan
Bangladesh
India (3)
Cambodia
Japan (3)
Georgia (2)
Israel (3)
Palestine
Kazakstan
Kyrgyzstan
Thailand
Turkey
Vietnam (2)

This group would view 23 films.

Europe

Albania
Austria (4)
Belgium (3)
Bosnia & Herzegovina (4)
Croatia
Czech Republic (4)
Denmark (5)
Estonia
Finland (2)
France (5)
Germany (4)
Greece (4)
Hungary (3)
Iceland
Italy (5)
Latvia
Lithuania
Macedonia (3)
Netherlands (5)
Norway (3)
Poland (3)
Portugal
Romania
Russia (4)
Serbia
Slovak Republic
Slovenia
Spain (5)
Sweden (5)
Switzerland (4)
Ukraine

75 Films maximum from Europe.

To alleviate viewer load geographical subdivisions would be necessary.

Scandanavia & Benelux (Sweden, Norway, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg)- 19 Films

Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Croatia, Romania, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bosnia & Herzogovina, Slovenia)- 21 films

Western Europe (France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Iceland)- 16 Films

Central Europe (Germany, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic)- 19 films

Closing Findings

In spite of giving many nations additional submissions, the increase of films is not quite as drastic as expected. The 2012 submissions, if countries maximized their quotas, would be 125 as opposed 71. I fully expected to double the field.

I’d revamp the initial and final round scoring system. Films scoring above a 7.5 would be eligible for the next phase, and I’d also increase the scoring scale from 7 to 10 to 1 to 10. Only the highest scoring film from each nation with multiple submissions would be eligible for the next phase.

Let’s assume 2/3 of the field beats the score threshold, meaning about 83 films. Then assume that half those films are eliminated as multiples, you’re at 41 or 42 after the first phase.

At this point, I’d carry over the scores and have the remaining films screened for those who had not yet seen them. Scores could then be tabulated for the remaining candidates, and the shortlist would be determined.

Once the shortlist is determined, screeners go out the membership votes, and the nominees are decided based on that.

Conclusion

Is this system perfect? No, and there could be tweaks to the quotas and viewership logistics I’m sure I’m not considering. However, increasing the number for some countries above one can alleviate many issues in the selection process within those individual nations. What problems are those? I’ll get some support for my hypotheses regarding that in tomorrow’s post.

Thankful For World Cinema: Simon and the Oaks

The Foreign Award Struggle

I touched upon this a while back when writing about Spud, and that is the marketing of films from around the world hits a pothole when trying to cite foreign film awards that American viewers as a whole are not familiar with. Invariably a national film award, whether it be from South Africa, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, or almost anywhere else (Those are just the nations I recall seeing with this distinction), will have their award name cited and then in parenthesis it will say “The Swedish Oscar,” or whatever the country it would happen to be.

I’ve been in theaters where this connotation has gotten a chuckle and I find that to be a very narrow-minded thing to do. I will grant that some national cinemas are just more prolific than others so some of these national awards may have more clout than others, but the fact remains that when I see films that have virtual sweeps in terms of nominations, and then you pair that with the fact that it wasn’t even the film submitted to the Oscars from a given country, that will make me take notice.

Which brings me to Simon and the Oaks. When I was last in New York, I was about to see Robot & Frank at the Paris Theater and I saw a synopsis. It seemed quite intriguing. The Paris being an independent theater usually only screens trailers for what they’ll soon be showing, and, sure enough, a trailer for Simon and the Oaks came on. The trailer made the film seem even more interesting than the synopsis did and what really stuck with me was that it was nominated for 13 Guldbagge Awards, the Swedish national film award (let’s avoid the O-word for propriety’s sake).

As I alluded to earlier, that’s nothing to sneeze at especially coming out of Sweden. Now, I won’t completely play the naive neophyte, I’m sure if you were to talk to connoisseurs of specific national cinemas they’d tell you that their awards have their tendencies and trends just like ours, but as I said I had already been sold on the film the awards were an additional curiosity. Then add the fact that it had been passed over as Sweden’s Official selection in favor of Lasse Hallström’s latest and I was further intrigued. Adding to the equation was the fact that it was picked up by the Film Arcade. I always am supportive of new players entering the distribution game, and their other acquisition thus far is The Other Dream Team, a doc about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Basketball Team, which also seems interesting.

Simon and the Oaks

So, external factors aside, how is Simon and the Oaks? It is very good and engaging indeed. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the film is the changes to the expected path it gives you. It sets itself up as an outsider’s, observer’s tale that as its child protagonist grows becomes more the focus and more central to the thematic conflicts than we were led to believe at the beginning of the film.

It further surprises by setting up well-crafted, well-written situations about World War II that while not all that unique are captivating. Then about midway through there’s a crucial revelation that really sends the structure of the film for a loop in a good way and subjugates the external struggles and factors, and makes the tale a far more internal one than was ever expected. The performances are strong through the whole cast.

Not only that but there are very interesting mirrored family dynamics that intertwine. The only real uneasy patch is right after the temporal shift, but things still sort themselves out. The film moves well enough such that it could’ve taken a bit more time to transition, but this is truly a minor quibble.

I’m a big stickler for the moment in which a film decides to end its narrative, and this film selects the perfect moment and does so with perfect symmetry and poetry. It’s a film that does well to underscore the fact that there are many films out in the global market that can find an audience in the states, and I’m glad to have gotten to see this one.