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How to understand foreign language movie awards

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Mark Kermode | 12:00 UK time, Monday, 23 February 2009

Here it is for the last time, in plain English.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Well I think you are spot on there Mark.
    I just think its ignorrant,when they snub films like Gommaroh(Not even in the foregin Oscars,terrible decision).
    Why can't they be nominated for best film like some of the British films,British films are viewed as foreign to film studios.

    Gomorah is also an important subject matter,that still effects Italy today.
    It's also a great film on its own merit.

    It just seems a shame to me that films like Gomorah,Waltz with Bashir and Hunger get snubbed,when they are good,artistic and important films.

    These type of films need that sort of exposure as well.

  • Comment number 2.

    Sorry about my spelling,dyslexic.


  • Comment number 3.

    Dear Doctor!

    Would the film you mentioned also not have been seen as being as worthy as other films for nomination as it is a horror flick. As spectacular as a film may be, there will always be the stereotype there. You cannot deny that past all the points you made (all of which i agree with) the same kind of films are picked for awards each year.
    This is why films like The Reader genre themselves around not any OFFICIAL film genre, but the new-found genre of the Likely To Win Awards kind of film.
    I'm sure i could go on forever about this but i wouldn't want to insult your intelligence.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think you highlighted the main problem there with the totally brilliant Let The Right One In.

    As the movie is in effect "representing" its country at the Oscars, LTROI was never going to be chosen by Sweden as its entry due to its content.

    That is definitely a huge drawback that the horror genre finds in this category year after year. Shame...

  • Comment number 5.

    Amen to scrapping.

    I've always enjoyed the wording of the Academy and the like saying "each country enters one film", which to me implies political debate and/or a BBC-One-Saturday-Night-Graham-Norton-Public-Phone-In-Selection-Programme.

    I need to see Gomorrah again, since I can't remember a huge amount of it, which I think is to its credit. It was so unremarkable in terms of its banality when dealing with crime, that I suppose it 'underwhelmed' me: a young Westerner, raised seeing crime as The Godfather and Heat (not that these aren't good films). It made crime, corruption, and brutality into such an everyday system it almost made me complacent to seeing it. It's only in looking back that I realise I wasn't bored because it was a bad film, but because it was the exact opposite.

    And I'm chomping at the bit for Let The Right One In. Should be the 2009 springtime horror equivalent of The Orphanage.

  • Comment number 6.

    Couldn't agree more. Looking forward to "Departures" now, though it would have to be brilliant to be better than Waltz with Bashir.

  • Comment number 7.

    Either option sounds like a sensible approach to me, though I prefer the idea of films judged on their merit irrespective of language - out of interest, how do foreign awards ceremonies deal with this issue - do the French and Germans, for example, have a bias for films in their native tongue like the anglophonic world?

  • Comment number 8.

    As far as I know, the rules for foreign language movies were slightly changed last year, after the Academy failed to nominate the highly acclaimed "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" for an award. Appearently the problem was that the foreign language movies were in the hands of volunteers whose only qualification was the membership in the Academy.

    They have now established a Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee presumably more capable of the task at hand. This committee will choose three of the nine movies on the shortlist.

    Which may not mean much of a change, but it looks like the Academy itself isn't too happy with the way this category is being handled either.

  • Comment number 9.

    You forgot the third option, scrap the Academy Awards!

    If the Kermode Awards are supposed to be "Anti-Awards" then why did you give Terry Gilliam a fellowship when BAFTA had just done the same thing? I'm not saying he doesn't deserve it though.

  • Comment number 10.

    Yes I think the Academy should scrub the foreign film category altogether, regardless of the language it's shot in. Perhaps BAFTA could lead the way and revolutionise their awards system. The Brits could demonstrate how truly international we are and 'Hollywood' has had it's day.
    Waving the flag a bit more, didn't Danny do well? Chuffed to bits and of course, 'YouKnowWho' predicted all this and we saw said Dr, basking in the glory of the late winter sunset on his blog! Good luck with the Roadshow in Leeds next month, Mark. Sorry I'm going to miss it.

  • Comment number 11.

    I agree with both those options completely. However, on the whole I think we need to go a step further and either stop treating the Oscars as so incredibly important, or scrap them altogether. I know neither of these will ever happen, but really the Oscars are a load of nonsense. We treat them like the awards for the greatest films that have been released in a particular year, but that's not what they are. They're awards for the most well-known, high-budget films made by Hollywood studios, mostly of the same broad genre (i.e. dramas about 'worthy' subject matter), and of course in the English language. Why shouldn't non-English-language films be allowed in to the other categories on the same footing? Because it's all just Hollywood patting itself on the back, then giving a few obligatory awards to some films in a foreign language in order to appear inclusive. The sooner we stop even caring about award ceremonies the better in my opinion.

    By the way Mark, are we going to get to see the Kermode Awards that didn't get shown on The Culture Show? I'm waiting to see who wins Best Sound!

  • Comment number 12.

    Really good post, Mark. The British Independent Film Awards have been judging foreign films on exactly the basis you suggest for the last 11 years. As you say, it's the only way that makes sense.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think we are getting closer to seeing this with the Academy and actually having more foreign language films being nominated in the more major categories. Look at the big winner on Oscar night, Slumdog Millionaire, a third of that film is in Hindi, a lot of which is unsubtitled, does this show that actually the Academy are becoming less apprehensive about nominating foreign language films in the Best Picture and Director categories? I think it probably does.

  • Comment number 14.

    Why are you on the roof? Don't do it Mark!

    I would agree with your second suggestion that the catagory ought to be scrapped all together. It seems to suggest that there are foreign language films and then 'proper' films; its almost like a novelty catagory to keep foreigners out of a cliquey hollywood circle.

    Separating the two doesn't celebrate cinema - but rather segregates it. Thus provoking even more awful remakes and dodgy accents. Attitudes towards foreign films have to change before studios do anything new; and the Academy must take some responsibility.

    keep on truckin

  • Comment number 15.

    Did you actually see Inside (l'interieur) with a Beatrice Dalle?

    It was my suggestion for the best film Kermode.

    That film quite literally blew me away. It was one of the best horror films of the last ten years yet as had no recognition at all over here (Don't even know if it was released in the UK)

    It's almost like if a horror film is not home grown, from Hollywood or Japan then people here just don't care.

    The same thing happened with another of my favourite horrors of recent years Michele Soavi's philosophical zombie flick Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man)

    The film was released in horribly dubbed version straight to video with next to no advertising. And that film starred one of England's most loved actors Rupert Everett.

    Why is it that English audiences (those who watch sub titled films) only seem to vibe with Japanese horror films......i find those films very very overrated.....where as great horror films from Europe either don't get released or get buried by the distributors.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi Mark - all the way from the USofA.

    I think your arguments re the Oscar Foreign Film Category is really interesting. Very British :-)

    1) The fact that it's even called foreign says much about the people who live round here.

    2) After being here for 13 years I see little evidence of reading. People seem to just sit in front of their ever bigger flat screen TV's and eat ever bigger portions becoming ever bigger and certainly not flat fronted. Subtitles don't work for your average American despite the odd exception.

    3) I 100% agree that we should abandon the category completely and make the Oscars a celebration of film.

    4) This takes me to a logical conclusion where the best film nominations this year would have been:

    a) Wall-E
    b) Man On Wire
    c) Encounters and the end of the world
    d) Slumdog Squarepants
    e) A foreign film of your choice Doctor

    A problem for the ratings me thinks...

    5) If you lose foreign films you must also lose documentaries and animation.

    6) Maybe we should head down the Grammy's and MTV route

    Best foreign movie
    Best animated movie
    Best comedy
    Best drama
    Best comedy
    Best horror
    Best science fiction

    That's all for now
    Rob Holloway

  • Comment number 17.

    I have a similar argument going with my girlfriend when it comes to the categorisation of our DVD collection. She insists that all the 'foreign language' films should be a single category. Where as I argue that they are no different to any English language film and they should be in their genre category like the rest of the DVD's. I’m sad I know but what can you do.


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