Why the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Oscar is a Joke


Thanks to the Oscars, a few moviegoers will rush out to see The Counterfeiters, feeling adventurous for taking time out for the Best Foreign Language Film of the year. But here’s a saddening bit of information: The award won by The Counterfeiters doesn’t mean a thing.


First, read the article by Robert Koehler at Film Journey, which starts like this:

Computer programmers have a term for the risk flawed data input poses to the goal of good data results: Garbage In, Garbage Out. No four words better sum up the profound problems that have turned the foreign-language Oscar category into a sad, pathetic joke. When the head of the executive committee overseeing the Oscar’s foreign category—that would be widely-respected producer Mark Johnson—looks at you directly, as he did to me while we rode a shuttle bus during this year’s Sundance, and tells you that it’s time to “blow up” the section, it’s a way of saying that the dilemmas hobbling the foreign film competition go far, far beyond the obvious issue that this year’s nomination list left off Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days.

Then, read the additional commentary from Robert Davis, who concludes with these two anecdotes:

1) At Sundance this year, an excited volunteer told a pack of 4 or 5 festival attendees standing near me that he’d seen seven films this year and that Sugar was “the best film at Sundance.” If he’d said this about a worse film, I’d have challenged the notion. Perhaps he misspoke. Perhaps he meant to say “of the seven I’ve seen.” But, yeah, he was just an excited volunteer, talking big. I can’t complain too much. But when the selection committee for the most publicized movie award ceremony on earth functions essentially the same way, I feel like plopping my weary frame in the chair of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber with the throat-slitting blades.

2) A commenter in an Oscar live-blog that I was following during the televised event was genuinely excited that so many foreign-born actors won in major categories this year — Day-Lewis, Cotillard, Bardem, Swinton — which made it seem like Hollywood was becoming aware of the outer world. Yes, aware of the outer world as long as the outer world is Europe, as long as the outer world comes here (where the movies are made), as long as the outer world speaks English, Cotillard excepted. This is faux progress, weak evidence of a Hollywood melting pot.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.