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European Films And Talents Poised For Oscar Gold


Friday, February 22--------European films and talents are poised for Oscar wins, when the golden statuettes are handed out at the Kodak Theater this coming Sunday in Los Angeles. For the past three months, there has been a lingering cloud of doubt about whether the ceremony was going to happen at all. A strike by the Writers Guild of America, that effectively shut down film and television production and forced the cancellation of the Golden Globe Awards, was only recently settled, in part because of pressure from the industry to not cancel the Academy Awards ceremony (the world’s most watched television event after the World Cup).  

In the Best Picture race, only one film has European pedigree. ATONEMENT, the historical drama based on the best-selling novel by UK author Ian McEwan, is a co-production of Working Titles Films (UK), Studio Canal (France) and Focus Features (US). The film has received the most nominations this year, a total of seven (although its director, Joe Wright, and lead actors, James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, did not make the cut). With nominations in the technical categories of art direction, costume design, cinematography and music, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay (Christopher Hampton) and Best Supporting Actress Saoirse Ronan, ATONEMENT could be the night’s big winner. A win in the Best Picture race is far less certain, with strong competition from such films as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. But the recent Golden Globe and BAFTA wins for ATONEMENT could be repeated on Sunday night. 

In the acting categories, the frontrunners are all European thespians of note. Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrays a morally corrupt oil baron in early 20th century America, seems a lock for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. In the Best Actress category, the award seems a toss-up between Julie Christie’s comeback performance as a woman losing her memory in AWAY FROM HER and French actress Marion Cotillard’s stunning reincarnation of chanteuse Edith Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE. If Ms. Cotillard wins, it will be the first time since 1961 that an actress would win for a non-English speaking role (the last was Sophia Loren in Vittorio de Sica’s TWO WOMEN).  

In the Best Supporting Actor categories, the one definite seems to be Javier Bardem, for his myth-making performance as a demonic bounty hunter in the Coen Brothers’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. While the UK’s Tom Wilkinson could be an upset winner for his out-of-control lawyer in the legal thriller MICHAEL CLAYTON, all odds are pointing to Bardem, who will be the first Spanish actor ever to win an Oscar. On the female side, Saoirse Ronan of ATONEMENT and Tilda Swinton of MICHAEL CLAYTON are both strong contenders, but the outcome is uncertain (wags are either predicting Cate Blanchett for her role as Bob Dylan in I’M NOT THERE or veteran actress Ruby Dee for AMERICAN GANGSTER). 

Julian SchnabelJulian SchnabelWhile none of the Best Director nominees are actually European, one has directed a European film. Painter-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel is nominated for the adaptation of the French memoir THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY. While the Coen Brothers will probably walk away with the prize for their direction of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Schnabel has a very good shot, after his directorial wins at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes. Two eminent UK screenwriters are competing against each other in the Best Adapted Screenplay race. Christopher Hampton is up for his adaptation of ATONEMENT, which would be his second win after DANGEROUS LIAISONS in 1988. Ronald Harwood has been tapped for his adaptation of THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, based on the best-selling memoir of French author Jean-Dominique Bauby. This would also be his second Oscar, after winning the award for his screenplay of the Roman Polanski-directed THE PIANIST in 2003. 

KATYNKATYNEuropean films dominated the Best Foreign Language Oscar category, with four out of the five nominees coming from the continent. This is one race that remains too close to call, with KATYN (Andrzej Wajda, Poland) and THE COUNTERFEITERS (Stefan Ruzowitzky, Austria), two stories set during the dark days of World War II, the front runners. However, one should not count out the sweeping historical epic MONGOL (Sergei Bodrov, Kazakhstan) or the trial thriller 12 (Nikita Makhalkov, Russia). About the only surprise is the omission from the nomination list of such strong European films as FOUR MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (Cristian Mungiu, Romania), THE ORPHANAGE (J.A. Bayona, Spain), MY BROTHER IS AN ONLY CHILD (Daniele Luchetti, Italy) and PERSEPOLIS (Vincent Parrounaud and Marjane Satrapi, France), although PERSEPOLIS has been nominated in the Best Animated Feature category. 

AT NIGHTAT NIGHTEuropean films swept the Live Action Short Film category, winning all five nomination slots. Denmark’s AT NIGHT (directors Christian E. Christiansen and Louise Vesth), a gripping drama about three young women who spend the Christmas holiday in a hospital cancer ward, seems to be the favorite in the category. But don’t discount the other nominees: IL SUPPLEMENTE (Andrea Jublin, Italy) is a satiric tour-de-force about an usual substitute teacher who shows up in a high school classroom; LE MOZART DES PICKPOCKETS (Phillipe Pollet-Villard, France) is a quirky tale of two unlucky thieves whose fortunes change when they take in a deaf homeless boy; TANGHI ARGENTINI (Guido Thys and Anja Daelemans, Belgium) is a warm and winning story of a man who must learn to dance the tango in two weeks to impress a woman he has met on the internet; and THE TONTO WOMAN (Daniel Barber and Matthew Brown, United Kingdom) gives a modernist take on the American Western in the story of a mysterious cattle rustler who meet a woman living in isolation in a dusty, desert town. Luckily, all these films can be seen by the public in theaters, with the recent theatrical opening of THE 2007 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED SHORT FILMS compilation film (a mix of live action and animation nominees), distributed in North America by Magnolia Pictures. 

Whatever the final outcome, the sheer dominating presence of European films and talents up for Oscar statuettes this year demonstrates the strength and variety of contemporary European film culture. Bravo!!


Sandy Mandelberger, Awards Watch Editor   


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