The European Film Award nominations have been announced and what we have this year is an interesting mix of two separate years of Oscar's Foreign Film contest alongside one English language feature: Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer. Side note: I had thought that the film was simply called The Ghost in Europe (?) but perhaps I misremembered.

The Ghost sizes up his competition at the European Film Awards

As faithful readers know I reject the notion that any group should be judged in accordance with how they "influence" or "predict" the Oscars as I think the only true worth of any group is whether or not they have their own identity or any sanity when it comes to proclaiming what is "best."

But, that said, I do think all awards bodies offer us interesting nuggets of ideas about the way votes reveal collective consensus thoughts that might help us in thinking about each year's Oscar race, even though ballots outside of festival jurying are usually filled out individually in secret and eligibility lists and membership rosters are much different from prize to prize.

Take, for instance, the interesting case of Mike Leigh's Another Year...

We've only seen three awards bodies weigh in so far when it was eligible (Cannes' competition jury, BIFA and now the EFA) and the groups are much different and dealing with different rosters of all films. But in all three instances it came up short when it came to "Best Picture" equivalents and the response to Lesley Manville has been buzzy but confusing. Despite winning the most hype at Cannes she was passed over, BIFA proclaimed her supporting and now the EFA has named her as one of their European Actresses of the year.

What does it all mean for the Oscar hopes of the film?

Though the film is unquestionably well-liked, is support is too soft when it comes time to actually say "Yes, that one!" when voting? That's my gut instinct but things could easily change by the time Oscar nominations roll around in. Sony Pictures Classics has... hmmm, less than 79 days -- ooh I love my new countdown clock -- to beef up the enthusiasm that already exists.

Here is the complete nomination list with commentary.

European Film

  • Bal a.k.a. Honey (Turkey/Germany)
  • Of Gods and Men (France)
  • The Ghost Writer (France/Germany/UK)
  • Lebanon (Israel/Germany/France)
  • The Secret in Their Eyes (Spain/Argentina)
  • Soul Kitchen (Germany)
Both Bal (Honey) and Of Gods and Men are shaping up as real threats to the Oscar Foreign Language Film finalist list. They are definitely well liked. Here's the trailer for Honey so you don't start thinking that that old Jessica Alba picture is going to be in Oscar contention this year...  

The Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes, which has done very well for itself in multiple countries, is also represented in their lineup. Lebanon and Soul Kitchen weren't submitted for Foreign Language Film consideration but they did receive theatrical release in the States this year so theoretically they are eligible for other Oscar nominations. If you go by nomination counts, The Ghost Writer is the leader of the pack but I suspect it's not going to win. Just a hunch.

But will we be seeing a bigger Oscar campaign for that Polanski film than we'd originally expected?

European Director
  • Olivier Assayas for Carlos
  • Semih Kaplanolu for Bal (Honey)
  • Samuel Maoz for Lebanon
  • Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer
  • Paolo Virzi for La Prima Cosa Bella
Out go the French monk drama, the Argentinian procedural and the Germany restaurant comedy to make room for the exceedingly acclaimed 5 hour french crime biopic Carlos. Assayas is one of my favorite filmmakers (Summer Hours + demonlover + Irma Vep = take me now) but I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around sitting through anything that's 5 hours long. Supposedly it's beyond worth it.

Sylvie Testud experiences a miracle in Lourdes
  • Zrinka Cvitešić  for Na Putu (On the Path)
  • Sibel Kekilli for When We Leave
  • Lesley Manville for Another Year
  • Sylvie Testud for Lourdes
  • Lotte Verbeek for Nothing Personal
Here we see the winner of Germany's Oscar Ms Kekilli -- we like her. We put a pic of Sylvie above just because she's such a damn fine actress. (I haven't had the opportunity to see that movie. Anyone?) Like most festival prizes, the EFA does not distinguish between supporting or leading acting so we don't know how they consider Lesley Manville other than that they love her for her work in the Mike Leigh film.

  • Jakob Cedergren for Submarino
  • Elio Germano for La Nostra Vita
  • Ewan McGregor for The Ghost Writer
  • George Pistereanu for If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle
  • Luis Tosar for Cell 211
Trivia note: All of these nominees, save teenage George, are in their 30s. If you saw last year's Danish Oscar submission Terribly Happy, you'll recognize Jakob Cedergren. Elia Germano, who just turned 30, had a small role in the musical Nine.

The inclusion of McGregor seems odd to me. I am a big fan but his role in the Polanski film was actually asking him not too deliver much by way of a performance. He's playing a rather identity free role. In fact, his character doesn't even get a name (one of the most brilliant and subtle things about the movie). So it seems a smidgeon odd to name as a Best Actor. Ewan faces off against men from Italy, Spain, Sweden and Pistereanu, the young lead of the Romanian Oscar submission.

Who will win this prize? Who knows. Luis Tosar won the Goya for this same role (it's a prison drama) and he's also been a nominee in this category before. Maybe him?

  • Jorge Guerricaechevarria & Daniel Monzon for Cell 211
  • Robert Harris & Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer
  • Samuel Maoz for Lebanon
  • Radu Mihaileanu for The Concert
If the European Film Academy voters care about back stories and "angles" in the way American voters do, I could see this going to Samuel Maoz who based his screenplay on his own war experiences (the film takes place entirely inside a tank.)


Of Gods and Men
  • Giora Bejach for Lebanon
  • Caroline Champetier for Of Gods and Men
  • Pavel Kostomarov for How I Ended This Summer
  • Barış Özbiçer for Bal (Honey)
I've heard over and over again that the Turkish Oscar submission (Bal) is a beautiful film. Oscar likes pretty pictures. I now expect it to place in the shortlist as a Foreign Film nominee.

  • Luc Barnier & Marion Monnier for Carlos
  • Arik Lahav-Leibovich for Lebanon
  • Hervé de Luze for The Ghost Writer
I personally didn't love Lebanon as much as many critics (though it's worth seeing) but I'm not sure how I feel about either of these technical nominations. Perhaps my problem is more in the direction than in the lighting or the cuts. It's one of those films so enamored of tight close-ups that it's difficult to know where you are in the tank or where the person you're looking at is in relation to any of the other people crowding him. So the claustrophobia of the tight space isn't really reading though you can feel the claustophrobia on a one-on-one proxy basis since you can count all the pores and the beads of sweat.

Production Designer
  • Paola Bizzarri & Luis Ramirez for I, Don Giovanni
  • Albrecht Konrad for The Ghost Writer
  • Markku Paetilae & Jaagup Roomer for The Temptation of St. Tony
St. Tony, Estonia's Oscar submission, is high on the curiousity list at this point. Everything we hear about it suggests that Oscar won't touch it with a ten foot pole but that it's totally an interesting film. The production design of The Ghost Writer was definitely fun. The spaces are so stark, foreboding and slightly off (like the plot) but also weirdly anonymous (like the protagonist). So this is a smart nomination. 

The Ghost Writer won 7 nominations. How many wins are coming? 
  • Ales Brezina for Kawasaki's Rose
  • Pasquale Catalano for Loose Cannons
  • Alexandre Desplat for The Ghost Writer
  • Gary Yershon for Another Year
Truth: Score composition is the most difficult work (for me) to judge in a movie. It seems to me that people only notice it when it's super obvious but being super obvious in no way suggests quality. It can (Desplat isn't exactly a "shy" composer but his work is often brilliant) but a noticeable score can just as easily can be way too intrusive and heavy-handed (see, or rather, hear Rachel Portman's work on Never Let Me Go.) I'm having a moment and can't recall the score of Another Year at all. Maybe that's a good sign. I'm eager to see the film again anyway.

What do you make of all this?

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