"What have I (and my intrepid colleague Thom Geier, who handles all the documentary and shorts races) gotten wrong?" asks Dave Karger as he unveiled their Oscars predictions at his EW blog. "Let us have it."
OK, Dave and Thom, here goes. You're wrong about what'll win best foreign-language film. It won't be "The Class." Sure, it won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but it benefited from being a Paris-set docu-drama about an inspiring ghetto schoolteacher, portrayed by the actual teacher. The brainy judges lounging along the French Riviera, buzzed from champagne, were easily smitten. But, come on, it's not one of the fest's most widely loved choices.
At least not among Oscars voters, who didn't pick it to be nominated for best foreign film. No, it didn't make the semi-final cut — at first. It got jammed onto the list by the academy's committee charged with overruling voters when they make decisions that might raise a hoopla. After voters pick six films to be in this race, the academy's internal committee gets to add three more, resulting in nine that go through one last vote result in order to determine the final five. That's the new system in place after all of the hoopla last year when the Oscars didn't nominate the last Cannes champ, "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days." Obviously, the committee wasn't going to make that mistake again. No, the academy hasn't admitted publicly that the committee shoehorned "The Class" into this category's semi-final list, but Gold Derby has an excellent source unafraid to spill the French green beans.
One voter in that category tells me that "The Class" has not gone over well with his peers. "A lot of us think it's too boring," he rats.
So forget about it winning the Oscar. What will?
Most Oscarologists are saying "Waltz with Bashir," but the voter cited above thought it was rather dull too — plus smug and whiny. It may be in trouble. Remember, it was eligible for best animated feature but wasn't nominated. Furthermore, as all of us kudos nuts know, there's a general prejudice against animated pix at all showbiz awards, particularly the Oscars. Only one has been nominated for best picture ("Beauty and the Beast," 1991), a bias so obvious, tragic and impossible to surmount that the Oscars finally had to create a separate category for best animated feature seven years ago. No animated film has ever won other top categories such as best director or screenplay — or foreign-language film. So why should we expect "Bashir" to be the exception? It was voted best picture by the National Society of Film Critics, true. That quirky group also gave that prize to Spain's "Pan's Labyrinth" two years ago and Taiwan's "Yi Yi" in 2000, and neither won the Academy Award. Only one was nominated ("Pan's").
The most underestimated contender in this race is "Departures," a submission by Japan, which won this category three times, but its last victory was more than half century ago. "Departures" is a poignant film that tells the story of a failed cellist who is reduced to working in a funeral home, where he must accept the icky job preparing dead bodies for the funeral.
"It's a powerful movie with a gorgeous musical underscore," says the voter. "It's the one film in this category that affected me the most. Maybe I should say haunted me the most. It still does. I absolutely loved it — and I voted for it."
There are only a few hundred Oscars voters in this category, which is not listed on the main ballot. Only academy members who attend screenings of the five nominated films may pick the winner. For some bizarre reason, it's not OK to vote in this category based upon viewing DVD screeners. But that's fine in all other feature-film races. Hmmmm. Read more about Rule 14 here.
Photos: Sony Pictures Classics, Regent Releasing