BAM Best Picture Profile: Central Station (1998)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

Central Station (1997)

Central Station would be the first time the BAM Awards ventured to foreign soil to pick a Best Picture winner. However, maybe it’s more apropos to say that it ventured to soil foreign to the US. For I am a dual citizen of the US and Brazil. In fact, I first saw this film while visiting family in Brazil and I believe I later revisited it when I was back home.

It is so great, so big a hit and important enough that I did discuss whether or not it was the emblematic Brazilian film, first with regards to how the film was cast:

If you hire an amateur child from substandard living conditions you should, as Walter Salles did for Vinícius de Oliveira in Central Station, help improve their station in life. At that point you truly are picking a lottery winner rather than just casting a role.

Then about the film in general:

What of Central Station then? Central Station made quite a bit of money in the US. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress. Brazil has more a pedigree on the high-end of world cinema than most would expect. What separates Brazil from most is the consistency of product and, of course, due to the dictatorship there was censorship and artists had to fend for themselves. Now, the government is more active in promoting the arts, the major studios have a presence in the country and so forth. Yet, the fact that Brazil has been up for the Oscar, is the only Latin American nation to win the Palme d’Or (O Pagador de Promessas) and has also scored at Berlin (Elite Squad) is not what is going to dictate the most Brazilian film. Those are just indicators of quality.

Therefore, what’s the quality of Central Station? It has memorable source music, it’s a heart-wrenching drama, it tells a tale of a letter-writer and poor illiterate boy. It crosses that divide and it check off a lot of the qualities I’m looking for in a film representative of Brazil. Not to mention that it’s named after the largest train station in the country, therefore it’s a metaphor for the country and the letter-writer hears many stories from people of all walks of life that are indicative of the country and its people. The blend that exists.

Central Station is one of a long list of, I believe, far more enduring films that didn’t win Best Foreign Language Film. It didn’t win because America had a momentary brain fever and decided to ignore the issues of suspension of disbelief and taste that had Benigni’s film win everything. I can’t say I didn’t fall under it at the time to an extent, but not such that I thought it should win.

However, thanks to that foreign language film nomination it did allow one of Brazil’s great actresses to be nominated for an Oscar and be seen on the world stage. Sure, I’m as cynical about the Oscars as anyone. Had it not been for my own opinion splitting with theirs so violently I wouldn’t have created my own awards, however, I still recognize that it’s a great show and of great significance.

Central Station is a moving an enduring film that has been renowned the world over. Although it may not have won many of the prizes it was up for it surely wasn’t a case of me reaching very far afield for a winner.

Advertisements

Children in Films Blogathon: A Revisionist Look at the Juvenile Award

When I learned of the Child Actor Blogathon at Comet Over Hollywood, I had two ideas for it almost right away: the Jackie Searl spotlight and this one. Not too long ago I argued for why the Juvenile Award should be re-instated. In this post I will follow up on that notion to augment my case. It’s one thing to quickly cite who won while it was around and state it never should have left, it’s quite another to show you who would have had they never gotten rid of it. Now I have decided to illustrate that in three ways, including some omissions found when it was instated (it’ll make more sense when we get there, trust me). First, I will list the young actors who since the end of the award (after 1961) were nominated for an Academy Award.

These actors obviously, had there still been a Juvenile Award, would have won that. While on occasion they were awarded the prize, more often than not they didn’t have a realistic chance. Regardless, their nomination was deemed prize enough it would seem, but I disagree and as you will see there have been plenty of instances where the Juvenile award could have been handed out either in addition to or in place of the nomination.

Based on Academy Award nominations from 1961-Present:

Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Fox Searchlight)

2012 Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
2010 Hailee Steinfeld True Grit
2007 Saoirse Ronan Atonement
2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine
2002 Keisha Castle-Hughes Whale Rider
1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense
1993 Anna Paquin The Piano
1979 Justin Henry Kramer vs. Kramer
1977 Quinn Cummings The Goodbye Girl
1976 Jodie Foster Taxi Driver
1973 Tatum O’ Neal Paper Moon
1968 Jack Wild Oliver!
1962 Patty Duke The Miracle Worker
Mary Badham To Kill a Mockingbird

Personal Selections

Super 8 (2011, Paramount)

In 1996, when I was 15 and the young actors of the day where my contemporaries, I started making my own award lists. Being young myself at the time I wanted to recognize young actors where most awards excluded them more often than not. These selections reflect those that were my among my BAM award selections that were eligible and the Academy bypassed. Prior to 1996, I thought of significant performances that were worthy of noting and would’ve had a strong case for the Juvenile Award had it been around.

2012 Rick Lens Kauwboy

This one is highly unlikely as Kauwboy wasn’t shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film prize. However, the fact that it was the official selection for The Netherlands did make it eligible.

My young actress choice last year, Sophie Nélisse, was a year off from the Oscar calendar but also a strong possibility for Monsieur Lazhar.

2011 Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Riley Giffiths Zach Mills, Gabe Basso Super 8

It figures that both the best young ensemble, and perhaps individual performance, of the past 25 years got overlooked. So they are all honored here.

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Bill Milner and Will Poulter Son of Rambow

A slight wrinkle here from my original selection. Since the Academy set precedent of awarding tandems, why not do so here as well?

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Freddie Highmore Finding Neverland

My 2004 winner was one where I was awarding a film from 2003, due to my stand on release dates, which is different than the Academy’s. Having said that I then had to factor in both my nominees and who the Academy would be more likely to pick and decided if they chose anyone it would have been Highmore.

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay It Forward

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station

1997 Joseph Ashton The Education of Little Tree

Here’s another interesting case: my winner was in a TV film which the Academy would never honor. Then two more nominees were either shifted due to my interpretation of release date rules and one erroneously in my revisionist phase. That leaves two eligible: Dominic Zamprogna in The Boy’s Club and Joseph Ashton in The Education of Little Tree. Some people besides me actually saw the latter so I’d put that one up as a winner.

1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy
Lucas Black Sling Blade

Michelle was my actual winner in 1996. Sling Blade in my awards was shifted to 1997 due to its release date. It being an Oscar nominated film make it a more likely retrospective candidate.

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

This section marks personal selections prior to my picking extemporaneous year-end awards.

1994 Elijah Wood The War

I recall watching E! and hearing there was some buzz being stirred by the cast/studio for Elijah. I knew it would never happen, but it was deserved buzz.

1992 Maxime Collin Leolo

I have since expunged them but for a time I did backtrack BAM Award to back before they started. Some of these picks reflect those findings.

1991 Anna Chlumsky My Girl

1990 Macaulay Culkin Home Alone

Say what you will, but you know if the award was around that this would have happened.

1988 Pelle Hvengaard Pelle the Conqueror

1987 Christian Bale Empire of the Sun

1986 River Phoenix Stand by Me

1983 Bertil Guve Fanny and Alexander

1982 Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

1979 Ricky Schroeder The Champ
David Bennent The Tin Drum

1972 Nell Potts The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

Who Should Have Gotten One But Didn’t

No Greater Glory (1934, Columbia Pictures)

I honestly almost scrapped this section. However, looking back through young nominees I noticed the discrepancy that some young nominees did not get a Juvenile Award while there was one. So I figured while I was at it I’d list a few notable performances that didn’t get recognized. Those that “didn’t need one” since they were nominated as in their respective categories against adult competition have denoted those with an asterisk.

1956 Patty McCormack The Bad Seed*
1953 Brandon deWilde Shane*
1952 Georges Poujouly Forbidden Games
1941 Roddy McDowall How Green Was My Valley
1936 Freddie Bartholomew Little Lord Fauntleroy
1934 George Breakston No Greater Glory
1931 Jackie Cooper Skippy*

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: The International Scene (Part 6 of 17)

One can never really analyze all of international film during a given decade given the enormous scope and the amount of films released worldwide in any 10-year period. Certain decades have cinematic movements within given cultures; the 1960s are perhaps the most notable with the nouvelle vague influencing all of Europe. However, the 1980s is the time when foreign films started to have staying power. The art houses would soon be cropping back up and Americans started to be more willing to watch foreign films than ever before, even in the 60s watching Fellini and Truffaut was a sect of counterculturalism that was not universal.

The Academy Awards have always been a promotional event. The press has added a great deal of importance to them and the public have followed it making it consistently one of the highest viewed television programs every year. Thus, when the Academy, whoever they are, starts nominating foreign films in categories usually reserved for American films one needs to take notice.


In 1983 Fanny and Alexander, what was said at the time to be Ingmar Bergman’s last film, received six Oscar nominations and walked home with four of them. Ironically, the categories in which Bergman should’ve been given the awards (Director and Screenplay) were the ones they didn’t win.

Later on La Historia oficial an Argentine film was nominated for best screenplay in 1985. In 1988 Marcello Mastroianni was nominated for Best Actor in Dark Eyes and the screenplay for Au Revoir les enfants and the director of My Life as a Dog, Lasse Hallström, were nominated while Babette’s Feast won Best Foreign Language Film. Also, amongst the nominees was a great piece of Norwegian folklore that has been handed down over the generations called Ofelas.


Max von Sydow received an academy award nomination for his performance in Pelle the Conqueror which was in 1989, for a 1987 release. This was a film which won the Palm d’Or in Cannes, and it is truly one of the best films to come out of any country during the 1980s. It takes place at the turn of the century when Lasse (Von Sydow) and Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard) arrive in Denmark from Sweden to try and find work for themselves. We follow their trials and tribulations that make us as the audience feel more and more sympathy for the characters as the film progresses. Part tragedy and part triumph, this is a beautiful film that rightly put Bille August on the map.


Of course, we also get Giuseppe Tornatore who’s one of the most talented directors in the world right now coming out with his first hit Cinema Paradiso. In France there was the cinema du look but the emerging nation of the 1980s was Brazil. 


Pixote, A Lei dos Mais Fraco (1982, HB Films)

While the film industry was beleaguered when the government cut off all funding for the arts during an economic crisis there were two big films that set the stage for the international success Brazil would enjoy in the 90s and 00s with films like O Quatrilho, Central Station and O Que e Isso Companheiro? (English title: Four Days in September), A Partilha and Bicho de Sete Cabeças. First, there was Pixote a powerful film about juvenile delinquents from the favelas of São Paulo, of which none were professional actors. It’s a gut-wrenching dramatic experience and an amazing piece of simulacrum; in a sense the Brazilian neo-realist film. The film is told in two parts: first, we see the minors and their struggles in the juvenile camp. Second, there’s a break and they escape and we see their life on the street. Hector Babenco, a naturalized Brazilian, struck home by portraying poverty and crime as well as bureaucratic corruption as it was never seen before in Brazil. It ever landed on many American top 10 lists.


Meanwhile, Arnaldo Jabor’s Eu Sei Que Eu Vou te Amar is a direct victim of the government’s cutting artistic funding and they had to work on practically no budget. This film demonstrates not only the power of editing but also of fine acting. There are only two actors in this film and they are great so much so that Fernanda Torres won Best Actress at Cannes in 1986. We meet the two main characters and they have a discussion and an argument about their relationship why they got divorced. There are flashbacks and a video monitor with the actors on them represents their inner-monologue. The dialogue in this film is fantastical. There’s a stream of poetry that come out through these inner-monologues that is just perfect and the arguments are intelligent and not just bickering. The film is absolutely riveting and is as the blurb describes “a psychological playground” that only suffers from the hallucinogenic end.


International cinema finally made its presence felt for good in the nation that influences the world. Whether negatively or positively most cinematic movements around the world are reactions to Hollywood, and the constant presence and acceptance of international cinema is a necessity to the vitality of American cinema.

A Nation’s Emblematic Film: Brazil

Now, I cannot for a second claim that my viewing of all of Brazil’s significant films in the history of the nation’s cinema is complete. However, making a watch list for myself is just one motivation for writing this piece. The others are: one, there are likely many coming across this piece who couldn’t name a handful of Brazilian films. Second, it’s really about thinking of films and culture in a different way. This really isn’t about naming what is the greatest Brazilian film of all-time, or any other nation that this series might focus on, but rather to open the discussion on a nation-by-nation basis about indigenous cinemas and cultural portraiture. If I had one film, and one film only, to show someone to say “This is Brazil and what you need to understand about it” what film would open that dialogue best, if not address all those points?

This idea came to me after a recent viewing of Vidas Secas (Barren Lives). I’m not sure that film is the representative choice but it gave me the idea, and made me think “At least I’ve seen this film now and my citizenship won’t be revoked.” What struck me as particularly Brazilian in the film was not only its locale (Brazil, like all large nations, can be quite regional but there’s seemingly something universally Brazilian about the northeast) but also the theme of persevering through hardships in that film.

Universal themes such as the ones mentioned above are just one of the watermarks of these films that can be discussed, aside from more specific traits like the migrant population and the era in the nation’s history. While the themes touched upon in the film are very Brazilian, it is a tale of being humbled, a thoughtful drama, which doesn’t have the joie de vivre that is so common in Brazil, and many other Latin nations, in spite of circumstances. Does that mean Vidas Secas can’t be the emblematic film? No, but others are worth considering, this one is still alive.

Films like Kiss of the Spider Woman, or any other foreign production, are not in the running. That specific example was clearly shot in Brazil by a naturalized Brazilian director but the way the script was written it could’ve been any authoritarian Latin American state in the 1980s, locality wasn’t the point of the film.

Fernando Ramos da Silva in Pixote, A Lei dos Mais Fraco (HB Filmes)

Another Babenco film Pixote is a better example thematically. However, once you factor in the unfortunate history the film has (A child of the favelas, Fernando Ramos da Silva [pictured above] was cast for authenticity, but was murdered at the age of 18, as he went back to live where he always had) makes choosing this film a bit sensationalistic and tabloid, not that I’m looking to have my selection propagandize, but the film and the aftermath are inextricable to me. Such that any symbolic honor not based solely on cinematic merit is difficult to bestow upon it. I could, and still may, write a whole other piece about the ethics of hiring impoverished amateur children as actors. This case, and that of Slumdog Millionaire, illustrate a cruel injustice in my mind: the bottom line is there are professional actors of all ages everywhere, if you do not want to be beholden to that child after the film, as you should be, hire one of them. If you hire an amateur child from substandard living conditions you should, as Walter Salles did for Vinícius de Oliveira in Central Station, help improve their station in life. At that point you truly are picking a lottery winner rather than just casting a role.

Vinícius de Oliveira and Fernanda Montenegro in Central Station (Sony Pictures Classics)

What of Central Station then? Central Station made quite a bit of money in the US. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress. Brazil has more a pedigree on the high-end of world cinema than most would expect. What separates Brazil from most is the consistency of product and, of course, due to the dictatorship there was censorship and artists had to fend for themselves. Now, the government is more active in promoting the arts, the major studios have a presence in the country and so forth. Yet, the fact that Brazil has been up for the Oscar, is the only Latin American nation to win the Palme d’Or (O Pagador de Promessas) and has also scored at Berlin (Elite Squad) is not what is going to dictate the most Brazilian film. Those are just indicators of quality.

Therefore, what’s the quality of Central Station? It has memorable source music, it’s a heart-wrenching drama, it tells a tale of a letter-writer and poor illiterate boy. It crosses that divide and it check off a lot of the qualities I’m looking for in a film representative of Brazil. Not to mention that it’s named after the largest train station in the country, therefore it’s a metaphor for the country and the letter-writer hears many stories from people of all walks of life that are indicative of the country and its people. The blend that exists.

José Mojica Marin in À Meia-Noite Levarei a Sua Alma (Anchor Bay)

I think perhaps what is most important about addressing this question is deciding why certain films, or series of films, are being selected. It truly becomes a bit existential for me (and a tad corny) because the search is where the value is. Take for example the Coffin Joe films, after having seen a box set of his works I watched the documentary about him. In that film his frequent screenwriter made a very astute observation, which is that José Mojica Marins did something he thought was impossible: he created a Brazilian horror personage. All the other archetypes are decidedly American or European but this blend of religion, existentialism, patriarchy, propagation and misogyny is the perfect Brazilian horror type. In one singular, virtually indestructible entity Marins encapsulates and exaggerates virtually every possible aspect of the male psyche in Brazil and twists it to horrific effect. Does this make his films the most Brazilian? It’s not entirely out of the question. It certainly makes his films worth mentioning here, but hearkening back to how I introduced this question; no, I wouldn’t show someone Coffin Joe and say “This is Brazil.” I would show them Coffin Joe and say “This is horror” though.

A Opera do Malandro (The Samuel Goldwyn Company)

Now, with regards to the aforementioned regional aspect to the country, I and most my family have our roots set in Rio de Janeiro, though we’ve since scattered quite a bit. With that in mind, most of us recognize and appreciate the musical diversity of the country, but our affections are usually for Samba and MPB (Música Popular Brasileiro) above all else. Few artists represent these genres and Brazil as well as Chico Buarque. That brings me to A Opera do Malandro, which is a musical based on an album he wrote. It wasn’t Buarque’s only foray into musical entertainment, he and many stars wrote a version of the Town Musicians of Bremen (‘Os Saltimbancos’) that is a standard. Yet, here his tale is a cinematic adaptation, period piece, a sort of Brazilian noir, which represents a kind of Brazilian, (the Malandro), akin to but nor quite a wise guy back in a similar era here. So it doesn’t quite pass the universality test.

Alexandre Rodrigues in Cidade de Deus (Miramax)

Perhaps, the most accomplished work in the history of Brazilian cinema is City of God. This is a film that was a hit domestically as well as internationally, it earned box office success and critical acclaim. When writing about it I have likened it to the great films in history. Again this selection isn’t about greatness but representativeness. So while this film and the Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) movies are great dramatizations of societal problems and brilliantly map out “How’d things get this way?” they don’t paint a portrait of all of Brazil, which I’ll admit is hard to do, but as endemic as corruption in police and politics is, and as large as trafficking and crime syndicates in favelas have been, they are localized stories cinematically. So we move on to other choices.

Marepessa Dawn and Breno Mello in Orfeu Negro (Janus Films)

Perhaps, some symbolic stories are the last two that need to be discussed: Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) and Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands). Now, the former has had international success. However, it is a co-production with France, which I could even let slide but the fact of the matter is its the transposition of a Greek myth to (at the time) modern day Rio. Therefore, as Brazilian as it is with Carnaval and Samba Schools, it’s still rather European too. As for Dona Flor, its incorporation of Magical Realism and its colonial/post-colonial commentary made indirectly through her husbands and the fact that it’s based on a novel by one of Brazil’s greatest authors (Jorge Amado) make it a great candidate. However, Amado is Amado. As much of the director’s voice as can be added is but if you know anything about his work any of them bear his mark a bit too much to be truly emblematic of a nation in the encompassing sense I’m trying to choose said film within, which rules out any films based on Nelson Rodrigues‘ plays.

Leonardo Villar in O Pagador de Promessas (Lionex Films Inc)

So even as I began to outline and write this piece I realized there are big films from Brazil that I have not seen. At least two would be candidates for this honor The Given Word (The Given Word) and Menino de Engenho (Plantation Boy). There are likely others as well but those two are likely the ones with a universal quality combined with indigenous uniqueness that would qualify it here. For now, based on what I’ve see it’s Central Station, but I’m quite eager to continue searching and if you have any suggestions yourself please feel free to comment below!

So You Wanna Win Best Foreign Language Film?

Gaspard Mannesse and Raphael Fejtö in Au Revoir les enfants (Orion)

To be clear this article is not meant in any way shape or form to disparage the Academy. This list is aimed at the film enthusiast who may, as I used to, get a bit too worked up about who won or lost. Granted you will link your opinion to a sense of justice, however, it bears keeping in mind that below are over 30 films all of whom were nominated for Best Foreign Language Film but did not win all of whom have a legacy stronger than most winners of the award. Ultimately, time, the public and critical re-appraisal are what determine the films that last, awards, while nice, are in the moment comparatively speaking. The Oscars are a great show and if something or someone you like wins its even better but if not its not the end of the world. The list below is evidence of that.

1. Umbrellas of Cherbourg
2. Kapò
3. Marriage Italian Style
4. Kwaidan
5. Stolen Kisses
6. Lacombe, Lucien
7. Cousin Cousine
8. Jacob the Liar
9. That Obscure Object of Desire
10. Kagemusha
11. The Last Metro
12. Das Boot
13. Colonel Redl
14. Au Revoir Les Enfants
15. Pathfinder
16. Farewell My Concubine
17. The Scent of Green Papaya
18. The Wedding Banquet
19. Eat Drink Man Woman
20. O Quatrilho
21. Secrets of the Heart
22. Four Days in September
23. The Thief
24. Central Station
25. Children of Heaven
26. Amores Perros
27. Lagaan
28. Amélie
29. Evil
30. The Chorus
31. Downfall
32. Pan’s Labyrinth
33. After the Wedding
34. The White Ribbon
35. Incendies