Another year, another set of Oscar nominations.
First the good news: Joseph Cedar's Footnote scored another nomination for Israel in the Best Foreign Language Film (BFLF) category, making this Israel's fourth nomination in the last five years, and ten total since the founding of the state in 1948.
Israel received six BFLF nominations between 1964 and 1985, and then nothing until Beaufort was nominated in 2008. Based on a novel by Ron Leshem, Beaufort was also directed by Cedar (who co-wrote the screenplay with Leshem). Beaufort placed #2 on my own "Top Ten" list for 2007, and I am also a big fan of his first two films (Time of Favor and Campfire), so even though I haven't seen his new film Footnote yet, I have high hopes for it. Reliable sources in Jerusalem tell me it will open here in Metro Chicago sometime in February.
Agnieszka Holland also received a BFLF nomination for In Darkness which played here in November as part of PFFA '11 (the Polish Film Festival in America). This is Holland's third BFLF nomination, and the third time she has been recognized for her complex, multifaceted reflections on Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust.
Although Holland's mother was Catholic, her Jewish father served in the Soviet army during WWII, and most of his family perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. Meanwhile her mother, Irena Rybczynska, was honored by Yad Vashem in 1990 for her work with the Polish Underground. In Darkness is already scheduled to open here for a commercial release on Feb 17.
Now the bad news: neither of these films is likely to win the BFLF Oscar on Feb 26. The heavy favorite in this category is A Separation from Iran (which also received a nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category).
And the story is even worse on the home front. This was already a bad year for the Jews at the multiplex, but yesterday's list of nominations was even worse than anticipated because two seeming shoe-ins were snubbed.
Albert Brooks was named Best Supporting Actor by the Chicago Film Critics Association in December for playing" Bernie Rose" in Drive. Now I actually hated Drive, but Brooks was so surprising—and so good—in this role that he almost makes this otherwise excessively violent mess worth watching.
Here's what I said in my blurb about Brooks' performance for the CFCA Awards Ceremony at the Broadway Playhouse on Jan 7:
"Now it's your turn to clean up after me, Izzy." From his first scene eating take-out at Nino's Pizzeria ("Where are the chop sticks? Bring me chop sticks."), to his final attempt at negotiation in The Great Wall ("The girl is safe. No one knows about her."), Albert Brooks creates a thoroughly unique character in Drive.
A Jewish mensch who knows the game, Bernie Rose still tries to retain some compassion for life's losers. Amazing all of us who still thought of him as a nebbish forever "Lost in America," the CFCA proudly names Albert Brooks our Best Supporting Actor of 2011.
Note this wasn't just the local opinion. Applause for Brooks' performance in Drive was widespread. He was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category by critics in London, San Diego, and Toronto, and he won the award from critics in Austin, Boston, Florida, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Washington DC. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe award and an Independent Spirit Award. So not seeing his name on the Oscar list yesterday was a huge surprise.
The Driver: "My hands are a little dirty."
Bernie Rose: "So are mine."
Ryan Gosling (left) with Albert Brooks in Drive. © Richard Foreman Jr/Summit Entertainment
Also missing was 50/50, which received two Golden Globe nominations (Best Motion Picture-Comedy/Musical and Best Performance by an Actor-Comedy/Musical) along with a huge number of nominations for Will Reiser's screenplay from critics groups nationwide. Ironically 50/50 was released on DVD on Tuesday, but unfortunately the film won't receive the Oscar bump everyone rightfully anticipated.
OK, yes, this is the film about the guy who learns he has a 50/50 chance of survival when a curt physician announces he has cancer. Sounds grim, I know, and yet this is an incredibly well-told, life-affirming story, and I highly recommended it. Although no one in the film ever talks about being Jewish-much less turns to a Rabbi for advice or consolation-it has a Jewish vibe through and through. Almost all of the principals in front of the camera as well as behind it are Jewish, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt certainly earned the "Actor of the Year" award he received from the Hollywood Film Festival.
Seth Rogen (left) with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50. © Ed Araquel/Filmdistrict
50/50 was directed by Jonathan Levine who brought us the wonderfully quirky Indie The Wackness a few years back, and I can't wait to see what he'll do next. Kudos to the folks at the Aspen Filmfest who gave him the Audience Favorite Feature award way back in February!
That leaves Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, which was nominated for four Oscars yesterday: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Art Direction.
I've already spoken at length about Midnight in Paris in last month's post (buttressed by a review of Manhattan on my Second City Tzivi blog), so I'm not going to rehash all of that again. But I ask you to be skeptical in your embrace of someone who has buried his very Jewish persona in the body of a surfer dude so he can continue to romance inappropriately young women vicariously on screen. More power to him, I guess, but I can't ignore what I see just because everyone keeps telling me his whimsy is charming.