The Academy’s foreign film branch has been a bit of a joke, with a byzantine consideration process that excluded worthy films and largely reflected the sentimental tastes of an aging group of voters that often hadn’t even seen the films.
But over the last few years, branch president Mark Johnson has successfully turned it into the most vital category in a not-so-vital awards show (sorry, Oscar). All the selected films this year are incredibly well made, important (yes, occasionally self-important) and imminently watchable. Were their better foreign films in 2010? Perhaps – there’s always room for argument, but these are all very much worth seeing. Bring your Kleenex though- they’re tough!
Biutiful – One of my favorite films of the year…extraordinary filmmaking and acting, a devastating but ultimately hopeful film. Still playing in a few places around So Cal; the DVD is out May 31st.
Incendies – A riveting if devastating (that word again!) story (with a twist!) about Canadian twins returning to their ancestral Lebanon to find their long lost father and the brother they didn’t know they had. Now playing.
In A Better World – The ultimate Oscar winner was not my personal favorite of the five, but had unforgettable moments. A friend pointed out that an entire part of the film (shot in Africa in a refugee camp) could have been left out. She may be right, though it certainly would have been a very different film with a very different message. Opens today.
Outside the Law – Well directed if familiar tale of an oppressed people (in this case the Algerians) casting off the shackles of their oppressors (the colonial French). You, of course, root for the oppressed. But in a real post-9/11 head-tweaker, we realize we’re not only siding with terrorists…but with Muslim terrorists. So ask your self again: is terrorism ever justified? Not yet out on DVD.
Dogtooth – Weird and wonderful. But really weird. When things get this outside the box, you have to forget everything you know and just ask: Did I enjoy watching it? Did it keep me watching? And I have to say yes on both counts. Does that mean you’ll enjoy watching it, too? I have no idea. DId I mention it’s weird? The DVD’s out now.