OSCARS: Does 'Amour' Have A Shot To Make Academy History?

Only once has the winner of the top prize in Cannes ever matched the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. 1955’s Marty won both, but no film has been able to duplicate that feat in the more than a half-century since.  But now Michael Haneke‘s Amour, nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture and also winner of the 2012 Cannes Festival’s Palme d’Or, has the chance to do it.  However it’s a clear long shot, this year’s Oscar wild card.

Related: OSCARS: Parsing The Foreign Language Nominees

No foreign-language film has ever won Oscar’s top prize, although several have been nominated such as Cries And Whispers, Il Postino  and others. A handful, only four before Amour, have been nominated in both the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture categories. Z (1969),  Life Is Beautiful (1998), and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)  all won in Foreign Language Film but lost Best Picture. The Swedish film, The Emigrants had the distinction of nominations in both categories over the course of two years when Academy rules for foreign language films eligibility in other categories was different. It lost both Foreign Language Film in 1971 and Best Picture in 1972.

Related: César Award Nominations: ‘Amour’ Scores 10

The problem seems to be Academy members generally think the Foreign Film prize is a kind of Best Picture award making the trick of actually winning both a Herculean task to be sure. The film has been the most low-key on the awards season circuit as well. Sony Pictures ClassicsMichael Barker and Tom Bernard are realistic about the prospects of Amour pulling this off (they were in this position with Crouching Tiger)  but never say never in a year that has been as widely split as this one, with several films still realistically in the hunt. Amour’s other nominations include Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Haneke and Best Actress for Emmanuelle Riva. It stands a reasonably good chance of winning for both Foreign Language and Screenplay althoughJean-Louis Trignant the last film to successfully put off both those wins was Claude LeLouche’s A Man And A Woman in 1966 (a film that ironically co-starred Amour’s Jean-Louis Trintignant who was not – and shamefully has never been – Oscar nominated, even though just like this year, his female co-star Anouk Aimee was up for Best Actress in that ’66 race).

Riva also is definitely a real contender to watch for lead actress. At 85 she is the oldest ever to be nominated in the lead category. In fact I have a hunch if it were just the actor branch voting she would take it, but in the finals it is the entire Academy voting. I have spoken to several high profile actors who always mention her – and the film – as their favorite. Her performance has a strong emotional connection for people. In fact during a SAG Q&A I moderated several weeks ago for Nicole Kidman, Kidman actually stopped talking about her own film in order to praise Riva’s work and urge the voters to see it. When I ran into Kidman at the Producer’s Guild awards last weekend we talked about it. “I told you. We actors know a great performance,” she said before going on in detail about what made it work so well and why it affected her so deeply. With the Academy’s preferential  system where voters usually put their most passionate choice in the first position on the ballot, Amour is the type of film likely to elicit number one votes from those who admire the movie. In a year where so many films are in play (including higher profile and more-buzzed contenders like Argo, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Life Of Pi, Les Miserables, and Zero Dark Thirty), a split could produce a scenario where the film, which is actually the Austrian entry in the foreign language race, could benefit, particularly from those members who aren’t eligible to vote in the Foreign Language category (where rules state you must prove you have seen all five nominees). At any rate it’s always fun to speculate. And the Guild contests which usually are good indicators are not helpful at all since Amour hasn’t figured in any of them for various reasons. A downside is that some people do find it too hard to watch, too close to home and that could hurt its chances with a segment of voters. But everyone seems to praise the performances.

In the actress race could Riva become only the sixth person to ever win an Oscar for a performance solely in a foreign language? It’s entirely possible if enough of the entire Academy actually see the film. Front runners Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain both deliver brilliant performances and have the most heat (particularly Lawrence after her SAG win), and Riva hasn’t been in Hollywood campaigning or on the Q&A circuit at all this entire season, but there does seem to be a sort of groundswell of support I am detecting. It would certainly be a nice birthday present. The French star, known best for 1960’s classic Hiroshima Mon Amour, turns 86 years old on Oscar day February 24th. Barker confirms she will be coming to the Academy Awards.

As for Haneke, 70,  the director is a two-time winner of the Palme d’Or as well as other prizes and was disappointed two years ago when his Foreign Language nominee The White Ribbon lost despite front-runner status in that category. This year his wrenching study of a couple dealing with the end of life and their lives together, is again a front runner at least in that category. It won perhaps the biggest, most sustained standing ovation I have ever seen in Cannes after the Palme d’Or was announced and Haneke, Riva and Trintignant took to the stage. It is also up for 4 key BAFTA awards, 10 Cesar Awards (including Picture and acting) and recently swept the European Film Awards in the top 4 categories. Its impact on the Academy, which of course has many senior members who may identify with the subject matter, shouldn’t be discounted. However Haneke told me in a recent inteview the film’s main theme isn’t really about “aging” at all. It’s more universal in scope.

“I would like to say  I don’t think I made a film about aging or dying, but rather in my personal life  I was confronted with the case of  someone who I loved very deeply, someone in my family who was suffering very deeply and I had to look on helplessly at the suffering and that led me to think about making the film. I could just as easily made a film about a 40-year-old couple who is coping with a child dying of cancer but, however tragic that story would have been, it would have remained an individual case whereas old age is something all of us are going to have to cope with at some point. So from the very beginning it meant choosing old age and allowing greater possibilities of identification for the audience,” he said.

Haneke said he would not have made the film if the 82-year-old Trintignant had turned it down. He wrote it specifically for him. The actor had not made a film in 14 years but was impressed by Haneke’s other films and agreed to do it. Riva was chosen after a number of age-appropiate French stars were seen for the role.

Unlike the rest of its Best Picture competition, Amour was a more modest film, almost entirely shot in a single apartment which according to Haneke was always the idea. “First when you get older, when you have  ill health then your life is reduced to the four walls you are living in. But beyond that  there was also the challenge that dealing with a theme of this gravity you want to find a form for the film that is on the same level, and for that I went  back to the classical use of time, space and action,” he said.

Whatever happens it is probably safe to say this much-acclaimed film is likely to find itself in the winners circle at some point on February 24th. How far it can go is anyone’s guess.

  1. Brutal film, just devastating, about a part of life that the movies just don’t show. I would never watch it again, although I’m glad I saw it. One of the people I saw it with was sobbing quietly but helplessly *through the entire last hour of the film* and wouldn’t talk about it afterwards.

  2. A true masterpiece from arguably the greatest living filmmaker. Easily the best film and performance(s) of the year. Of course the Academy will play it “safe” – and likely award frivolous nonsense like Silver Linings Playbook – but this is a masterclass of form and content that is long gone from American cinema. AMOUR is everything great cinema should be: gripping, challenging, truthful and emotional. Michael Haneke – take a bow, sir. Regardless of what the Academy think, you are a inspiration to world cinema.

    1. “AMOUR is everything great cinema should be: gripping, challenging, truthful and emotional.”

      It’s also 30 minutes too long and pales in comparison to AWAY FROM HER.

      And there’s never been an emotional moment in a Haneke film. That would require a soul from the filmmaker.

      1. AWAY FROM HER was a fine film, but its a little like a bike with training wheels compared to AMOUR. So pedal your heart out, Ryan. YOU WON’T FALL! Just keep off the big-people road, okay?

        1. “AWAY FROM HER was a fine film, but its a little like a bike with training wheels compared to AMOUR.”

          Give this guy a medal or something. Polley makes the most boring and dull choices possible, making her one of the blandest filmmakers of North American independent cinema. In ‘Take This Waltz’, she expects critics to lose their shit because Michelle Williams is framed left-to-right when being the good wife to Seth Rogen and when opening up to Luke Kirby and right-to-left when fighting with Rogen or when she’s unforgettable with Kirby. Wow, that’s like profound … and she repeats that visual idea ad nauseum. Her execution is often frustratingly stilted and on-the-nose, yet she’s called an artist or something just because she explores subject matter rarely touched upon by studios or even other independent filmmakers. To compare Haneke to her is, in itself, an insult; to suggest that ‘Away From Her’ is better than ‘Amour’ is like telling us a little leaguer is better than Miguel Cabrera.

      2. “And there’s never been an emotional moment in a Haneke film. That would require a soul from the filmmaker”

        Funniest quote I’ve seen on deadline. Every single Haneke film is literally drenched in emotion for me. If on the other hand you’re looking for overt OTT emotions and schmaltz, look elsewhere, like Ron Howard/L. Brooks, Spielberg (not Lincoln though) movies.

  3. The movie is outstanding and if there’s God, Riva will take Oscar. She’s light years better than her competition. The only thing is the voters need to watch it first. After they watch they’re gonna vote for her and Haneke.

  4. Amour is Rembrandt ‘s self portraits especially as he aged and with the pain in his life. The eyes in these paintings are the ‘windows to his soul”, and so too, Amour is a window into the soul of love, loss and death with honor.

    Truly elegant…a masterpiece of filmmaking.


  5. Yeah, this was something special. don’t go see it if you want to laugh, although it has its funny moments. it deals with something we hate to look at, but something that, if we’re lucky, we’ll all have to look at at some point. The performances were magical. I loved seeing Trintignant back up there on the big screen, his spine not so straight these days but his eyes as clear with intent as always.

    1. Everyone thought WHITE RIBBON would win, too, but the film from Argentina beat it. People admire his movies for sure, but sometimes they don’t love them.

      1. White Ribbon’s odds were about 1.8:1 from Vegas (i.e. it had ca 55% chance to win). Amour’s odds is 1.02:1 (meaning it is a virtual lock). Personally I prefer Ribbon but it was much more artsy/weird/typical Haneke. Amour will win best foreign in a landslide for sure

        1. True, but the other front runner that year was A PROPHET which didn’t win either. I’m just saying this branch is unpredictable. AMOUR will probably win because it has such momentum and voters clearly like it a lot. I think NO is the only one of the others with an outside chance to steal it. It’s the only real feel-good movie in the bunch and it strikes the political chord that seems to be resonating with the Academy this year. The visual technique is very cool and sets it apart from the others which are all pretty traditional. We’ll see on the 24th.

  6. I saw it on Monday night at San Francisco’s Clay Theatre and found myself moving in ways I hadn’t expected. Riva should win the Oscar. Surprised that even for San Francisco, with a large and dedicated fan based for Serious Cinema, the 7 pm show had a decent crowd. Regardless of Oscars, it should play a long while and rake in robust coin for Sony Classics Pictures.

  7. Great as it is, AMOUR may not even be a lock for Best Foreign Language Film, as those who vote in that category have a long history of going against the obvious front-runner, even if it’s up for other awards. In 2007, PAN’S LABYRINTH won three other Oscars but lost Foreign Language Film to THE LIVES OF OTHERS. In 1977, both SEVEN BEAUTIES and COUSIN COUSINE were up for directing and/or acting Oscars yet both lost Foreign Language to BLACK AND WHITE IN COLOR. In this category, there’s no such thing as a sure thing.

  8. Emmanuelle Riva performance is extraordinary. Far and away the best female performance of the year. In a perfect world she would’ve been the Best Actress frontrunner. Same goes to her legendary co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant. Still, don’t understand why he was snubbed completely this season despite his film doing so well in other categories.
    Riva’s role in Amour is every actress’ dream. I wish Hollywood would cherish its legendary actresses the same way Europe and particularly France does.
    Why can’t acting giants like Angela Lansbury, Gena Rowlands, Joanne Woodward, or Debbie Reynolds to name just a few get a role like that?

    1. Because they all want big bucks and the Movie will be watched by 10 artsy type people. The law of the land, customers equal money

  9. Riva should win!!!!! you cant even compare the other performances to hers. Chastain doing her Clare danes “Homeland” light and Jen Lawrence (good but not Oscar worthy in an upscale rom com). Rivas physicality and emotion and honesty are tremendous in this film

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