This afternoon, the nominations for the Chicago Film Critics Association were announced, with winners to be decided upon just after Christmas. (I know. Your pulse is racing, right?) Since four of the five A.V. Club film critics work out of Chicago—the fifth, Noel Murray, belongs to the Southeast Film Critics Association (which awarded its top prize to The Departed yesterday)—we have small stake in the CFCA awards, though our influence can’t possibly be that substantial, given that Babel leads the field with eight nominations and Little Miss Sunshine collected five. (Abigail Breslin, seriously?)
Anyway, I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of CFCA nominations, because I can see a few of you are falling asleep already. But one category caught my attention:
Best Foreign-Language Film
Letters From Iwo Jima
It never occurred to me during the nomination process that Apocalypto and Letters From Iwo Jima—both movies from major actor-directors that received healthy studio financing (from Buena Vista and Warner Brothers, respectively)—would even be considered for “foreign-language film.” Though there’s never any discussion over the movies before voting (which I think is a mistake, but that’s another issue), had I paid attention to the list of films available for nomination in this category, I’d have at least lobbied to make them ineligible. To me, nominating Letters From Iwo Jima and Apocalypto for Best Foreign-Language Film is a clear example of following the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit: Yes, both of those films were either partially or wholly shot in a language other than English and yes, they make an attempt to connect with the perspectives of another culture. I haven’t seen Apocalypto, but Iwo Jima is an accomplished work that deserves credit for engaging with “the other side” like few American war films ever have. However, the ostensible purpose of this category is to acknowledge art that arises from cultures other than our own. Otherwise, you’re just looking for another place to reward one of your favorite Hollywood films.
Obviously, there’s room for argument here. Were the category renamed Best Foreign Film, that would eliminate Apocalypto and Iwo Jima from contention, but open up the potential for English-language films from Great Britain (like this year’s The Queen) or Australia to enter into the mix. (And what to do about poor Ken Loach, whose films are often so thick in working-class Glaswegian brogue that they wind up released in English with English subtitles?!) But again, I think these questions of eligibility are resolved when you look past the letter of the law and consider its intent. There’s so much cultural crossover between countries with the same language that it wouldn’t make sense to include them, just as it doesn’t make sense to include films about other cultures told from a Hollywood perspective.
Or maybe I’m just pissed that L’Enfant, Gabrielle, The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu, and Duck Season were overlooked to make room for Mel. (Or, more likely, that the vast majority of CFCA members never bothered to see those four movies yet chose to vote in that category anyway.)
Let us not follow the dark path of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Critics Association…