Acquarello’s notes, Oscars

Online cinephiles have known for years that one of best writers on international cinema is Acquarello, whose Strictly Film School site continues to be a goldmine of information and inspiration. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC has been lucky enough to enlist him to write the programming notes for their new Yasujiro Ozu retrospective, and it’s a good read even for those who won’t be attending.

In other news, it has been many years since I bothered to watch the Oscar broadcast, partly because as a reflection of the year in film, it couldn’t be more restricted, inflated, and downright gaudy. One of its perpetual screw-ups, for example, is the Best Foreign Language Film category, which offers a completely unpredictable and random collection of nominees year after year. (The fact that this category exists in the first place is further evidence that the Academy, for all of its “recognizing excellence in cinema” rhetoric, is more interested in providing a three-hour advertisement for Hollywood than a reasonable overview of the year’s best movies.)

Part of the problem is the notoriously goofy rules applied to the Foreign category, which include:

ïThe film must have played in a commerical theater for least a week in its country of origin between September 1, 2002 and November 30, 2003.

ïEach country around the world can only submit one film for consideration.

ïThe print must be the version in general release in each country.

ïEnglish-subtitled prints must be provided, and voting is restricted to whichever Academy members attend each of the 50-plus screenings. (DVD or video screeners are not allowed.)

ïFrom the screening votes, the Academy selects five films for its official nominees.

ïTo qualify in any other Oscar categories, a foreign entry must have played as a 35 or 70mm print for seven consecutive days in a commercial theater in Los Angeles in 2003.

Even a brief glance at these rules suggests numerous problems: films must be exhibited commerically, thus preferencing, well, commerical films; films are restrictively chosen by their country of origin, thus preferencing officially-sanctioned productions; the necessary screenings would be limited in attendance and voting; and because foreign films are so poorly distributed commerically in the US, their inclusion in other categories is a long shot.

Add to this the fact that the Academy only recognizes specific countries as being eligible for submissions. Last year, it confusingly denied an official entry by Palestine even though it accepted entries from disputed territories like Taiwan and Hong Kong. Strangely enough, it has reversed this decision for 2003 and now accepts last year’s Divine Intervention as a contender for this year.

Given its bevy of restrictions, it’s no wonder that the five nominees typically comprise one of the most random and mediocre categories on Oscar night.

With some digging, however, we can at least appreciate the complete list of submissions for this year:

Afghanistan, Osama, Siddiq Barmak
Argentina, Valentine, Alejandro Agresti
Armenia, Vodka Lemon, Hiner Saleem
Austria, Free Radicals, Barbara Albert
Belgium, Sea of Silence, Stijn Coninx
Bolivia, Sexual Dependency, Rodrigo Bellott
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Fuse, Pjer Zalica
Brazil, Carandiru, Hector Babenco
Bulgaria, Journey to Jerusalem, Ivan Nichev
Canada, The Barbarian Invasions, Denys Arcand
Chile, Los Debutantes, Andres Waissbluth
China, Warriors of Heaven and Earth, He Ping
Colombia, The First Night, Luis Alberto Restrepo
Croatia, Witnesses, Vinko Bresan
Cuba, Suite Habana, Fernando Perez
Czech Republic, Zelary, Ondrej Trojan
Denmark, Reconstruction, Christoffer Boe
Egypt, Sleepless Nights, Hany Khalifa
Finland, Elina, Klaus Haro
France, Bon Voyage, Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Germany, Good Bye, Lenin!, Wolfgang Becker
Greece, Think It Over, Katerina Evangelakou
Hong Kong, Infernal Affairs, Andrew Lau & Alan Mak
Hungary, Forest, Benedek Fliegauf
Iceland, Noi the Albino, Dagur Kari Petursson
Indonesia, The Stringless Violin, Sekar Ayu Asmara
Iran, Deep Breath, Parviz Shahbazi
Israel, Nina’s Tragedies, Savi Gavison
Italy, I’m Not Scared, Gabriele Salvatores
Japan, The Twilight Samurai, Yoji Yamada
South Korea, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring, Kim Ki-duk
Lebanon, The Kite, Randa Chahal Sabbag
Luxembourg, I Always Wanted to Be a Saint, Genevieve Mersch
Mexico, Aro Tolbukhin (In the Mind of a Killer), AgustÌn Villaronga, Lydia Zimmermann, Isaac P. Racine
Mongolia, The Story of the Weeping Camel, Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni
Nepal, Muna Madan, Gyanendra Bahadur Deuja
Netherlands, Twin Sisters, Ben Sombogaart
Norway, Kitchen Stories, Bent Hamer
Palestine, Divine Intervention, Elia Suleiman
Peru, Paper Dove, Fabrizio Aguilar
Philippines, Dekada ë70, Chito S. Rono
Poland, Pornografia, Jan Jakub Kolski
Portugal, Um Filme Falado, Manoel De Oliveira
Russia, The Return, Andrei Zvyagintsev
Serbia and Montenegro, The Professional, Dusan Kovacevic
Slovakia, King of Thieves, Ivan FÌla
Slovenia, Spare Parts, Damjan Kozole
Spain, Soldados de Salamina, David Trueba
Sri Lanka, Mansion by the Lake, Lester James Peries
Sweden, Evil, Mikael Hafstrom
Taiwan, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, Tsai Ming-Liang
Thailand, Last Life in the Universe, Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Turkey, Distant, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Ukraine, Mamay, Oles Sanin
Uruguay, Seawards Journey, Guillermo Casanova
Venezuela, Sangrador, Leonardo Henriquez