Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Best Picture? What a Foreign Concept!
Posted by Courtney Small
Over the last eleven year’s TIFF has slowly become a major when it comes to Academy Award winners. Two of the last three Best Picture winners (Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech) were also winners of TIFF’s prestigious People’s Choice Award. 2009 Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, did not win the People’s Choice Award, but it screened at the festival the same year as Slumdog Millionaire. If you look closely at the Best Picture nominees over an eleven year span you will noticed that eighteen of the sixty-five nominated films screened at TIFF. This number increases drastically when you start factoring in all the other Academy Award categories.
One less publicized area where TIFF seems to have an outstanding track record is in the Best Foreign Language film category. In the past eleven years, every winner of this category has screened at TIFF. Despite its track record with foreign language films, TIFF has been unsuccessful in changing people’s perceptions of the Best Picture with respects to foreign language films winning. This year’s People’s Choice winner was Where Do We Go Now? The weeks leading up to TIFF, and especially during, people were speculating which films would win the award and thus become a front-runner for the Best Picture award. Many of the film titles being thrown around featured several well known actors/actresses. Then something strange happened, a Lebanese film was announced as the People’s Choice winner and the mood shifted immediately. No longer were the media outlets talking Best Picture buzz, but almost lackadaisically referred to the film as having a shot in the Foreign category.
The fact that a foreign language film immediately gets discredited from the Best Picture debate is still rather shocking in this day and age. Even more disturbing is that a foreign language film still has not won the Best Picture award. The last two foreign language films to even get nominated in the Best Picture category were Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000 and Letters from Iwo Jima in 2006. Both of those films lost to Gladiator and The Departed respectively.
Of course some will point to the fact that foreign language films have their own specific category; others will simply state that not every film can be nominated for Best Picture. However, these are probably the same people who will turn around and champion the merits of Pixar films such as Up or Toy Story 3 winning the Best Picture award instead of being relegated to the Best Animated category. The sad thing is that animated films, while good in their own right, still stand a better chance of snagging a Best Picture award than a foreign language film.
What is it about foreign language films that keep Academy voters away? Maybe the lack of Best Picture support is merely a reflection of the current film going culture. At the end of the day people want to cheer for stars they know. Critics and bloggers now post list of possible award hopefuls well before the actual film is released. Their views are often based simply on the film’s synopsis, director and cast. Clint Eastwood making a film on J. Edgar Hoover with Leonardo DiCapro immediately gets thrown in the Oscar discussion just based on the idea. Whether the film is actually good or not is the last thing considered. Foreign language films on the other hand are usually judged by the strength of their story.
It is a shame that with all the technology we have today, foreign language films are still viewed with a bit of distain. Although access to foreign language films has increased, it seems many are still not willing to look at them as serious Best Picture contenders. No matter how much people love a film like Amélie, at the end of the day films like A Beautiful Mind will most likely walk away with the Best Picture praise.