Culture

The Millennium Trilogy: Where's the Oscar love?

Quick: Name last year's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film. Nothing leaping to mind right away? Okay, then name any one of five films nominated in that category. Drawing a blank? Don't feel bad. You're not alone. Odds are, even the list of answers won't look all that familiar with the possible exception of Jaques Audiard's elegiac prison drama, "A Prophet."

For years, foreign film buffs and indie film producers have grumbled that the best foreign films rarely place among the five nominees for the  Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Instead, more often than not, through a byzantine selection process, the members of the foreign film committee seem to studiously avoid selecting a field of contenders that includes films U.S. audiences actually went to see.

This year was no different. As The New York Times' A. O. Scott pointed out in a fascinating piece about why foreign films have gone missing from Stateside theaters, the Academy neglected to recognize many of 2010's most critically and commercially acclaimed films, including this year's Golden Globe winner, "Carlos" by visionary French filmmaker Olivier Assayas. Scott goes on to discuss the many deserving films the Academy has overlooked due to an inefficient and outdated system of whittling the vastness that is global cinema into a manageable field of eligible titles.

Among the Academy's most glaring omissions from this year's list of foreign film nominees -- and one Scott fails to mention -- is that not one of the films based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy made the cut. Mind you, we know the Oscars is not a popularity contest -- at least not explicitly. But it seems a gross oversight to ignore a tectonic cultural event of this magnitude. Put another way: Americans have become among the most notoriously subtitle-allergic moviegoers on the planet. But these three pitch-black Swedish language films managed to break through that resistance among the first foreign films to break through that resistance in a long time and collectively grossed nearly $24 million at the box office. That kind of deep impact isn't possible without effective storytelling. That's got to be worth at least a shout-out on Oscar night.

Setting Millennium aside for a moment, the foreign film category has been a battleground in recent years. Small distributors have been lobbying to loosen the requirement stipulating that each eligible film must receive a theatrical U.S. release. In the age of instant streaming and Video on Demand, this stipulation has lost its relevance if not its usefulness. Then there's the notoriously contentious (and, some say, arbitrary) allotment of only one Oscar-eligible film per country. That has meant that many deserving films from countries with thriving film industries -- like France, Korea, Germany, and Mexico -- were never even in the running for a nomination.

As a result, this Oscar watcher has spent too many Oscar broadcasts without any real rooting interest in the foreign film category and wondering why the best subtitled films seem to be missing from the proceedings. Here are a few that immediately leap to mind: Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding"; Guillaume Canet's adaptation of Harlan Coben's novel Tell No One; Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "Sugar"; Olivier Assayas' "The Summer Hours"; and Matteo Garrone's riveting Mafia saga, "Gomorrah," based on journalist Roberto Saviano's 2006 bestseller, which prompted the Sicilian mob to order a hit on him.

Is any of this striking a nerve with you foreign-film buffs? Have you found that many of your favorite subtitled films are MIA on Oscar night? If you had to nominate the five foreign films from the past decade that most deserved a shot at the award, what would they be?

Photos: © Music Box Films (Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) and ©A.M.P.A.S.® (Oscar statuette)

  • carina cooper

    ...I was just discussing this matter with my husband last night, he said; "the academy dosent pay attention to foreign films, it's not important to them"
    ...I am personally very suprised that the first film of the triology; the girl with the dragon tattoo was not nominated??
    but why? maybe they dont want the rest of the world, to find out the increadible talent and intelligence there is in the rest of the world ...? I dont know...I am just very suprised....

  • Michael O’Neill

    Although I am a big fan of all three Millennium movies I don't really think they are great movies. What does disappoint me is the 'failure' to nominate Noomi Rapace for Best Actress. I don't say I'm surprised, just disappointed. She captured her character as well as that can be done - certainly at least as well as the five nominees did. It's just too bad - but the Oscar process is hardly a reliable 'judge' of good film work whether it's foreign or domestic.

  • HoneyBakedHam

    Film projected on a screen is the most beautiful thing the human eye can ever see (or so say I, a man who might be too romantic about the magic of cinema).

    I'm willing to concede there is a problem, but disagree that the requirement for theatrical release is irrelevant.

    As grateful as I am to live in the era of instant digital gratification, TV is still a pale imitation of the big screen.

    The problem isn't that these films need theatrical releases to be nominated. The problem is these films can't get theatrical releases.

  • http://jkranak.blogspot.com Joseph

    Only five foreign films from the past decade that should've been nominated? Hmm, let's see. Number one would have to be City of God. It's mind boggling this wasn't nominated. It was submitted by Brazil and the Academy gave it four other nominations. At the imdb it's the highest rated movie of any that year My other top choices would be Oldboy, Spirited Away, Black Book and 3-Iron, but there are others. And then there's the fact that Pan's Labyrinth and Amelie both got nominated, but didn't win. What were they thinking? If a movie can get six nominations and win three of them, but not win best foreign language film, something's wrong.

  • http://cineinternational.blogspot.com Ravi Ganne

    I really feel that the 'Academy' should at the least increase the number of films officially nominated for the Best Foreign Film title similar to what they have done with the Best Film category. If anything, this will bring many of the most amazing foreign films in spotlight and enable them to reach a wider audience.
    I run a personal blog-site about great foreign films ( http://cineinternational.blogspot.com ) , and most of my friends aren't even aware of these amazing foreign gems until I recommend to them.

Like What You're Reading? Get the best of Signature, delivered to your inbox every week. Join the Signature newsletter