When the Oscars‘ Foreign Language shortlist was unveiled before Christmas, it contained few surprises. Today’s final selection of the five nominees has a bit more shock value — for France, especially. Expectations were high that The Weinstein Company’s feel-good box office smash The Intouchables would land an Oscar slot. But the Academy was evidently not in a laughing mood.
Many watchers even had Intouchables facing off with Austria’s perceived frontrunner Amour (Sony Pictures Classics) on February 24. Michael Haneke’s heartrending love story about an aging couple found a lot of love today with not only a Foreign Language nomination but also nods for lead actress Emmanuelle Riva – at 85 the oldest woman ever nominated – Haneke’s directing, his original screenplay and Best Picture. This week, Amour was nominated for four BAFTAS and last weekend, it won the National Society of Film Critics’ top honor. It had previously won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s best picture nod and of course began its career in Cannes where Haneke won his second Palme d’Or. But could so much love from the Academy today end up cancelling Amour out here? As producer Margaret Menegoz told me before the nominations, “We were almost certain for (2009 nominee) White Ribbon. You never know.”
While Haneke’s film is Austrian, it is in French and while that may have confused things, the lack of a French nominee today holds with an interesting statistic: Since 2000, France has had a film nominated in the category for two years in a row, then been absent for two years. If the trend holds, next year should produce a nominee. But a winner would be more elusive as one French exec tells me today, “The real issue is the way movies are selected to represent the country. It’s unbelievable that producing 200 movies a year France has not been able to win a single [Foreign Language Oscar] in 20 years.”