Best Suporting Actress:

Amy Adams in Junebug (2005); Phil Morrison, director

Everyone who saw this sharp Sundance indie knew that Amy Adams had what it took to become a major movie star.

What makes this film so remarkable is that it is nuanced enough to headfake like it is going to poke fun at Southern stereotypes, then reverse to make you think it is actually a heartwarming tale about loving family for who they are, then it breaks once more to conclude that – gasp! – all people are individuals and few people are either saints or demons.

Okay, so I just made this movie sound really heavy. In actuality, it’s a really smart, character-based comedy that has been completely forgotten now that Adams is, indeed, a big star.

Best Director:

Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly 2007

That trailer lays it on a little thick with the affirmation of life jazz, but if it came out and said “this is a movie about a guy where all he can do is blink” it’d be pretty tough to get butts in seats. It also does a decent job of hinting at just what a visual feast this movie offers.

Indeed, how the hell do you tell a story about a guy who can only lay in bed and blink? For one, you find the warmth and humor in every situation, then you go nuts with the associative imagery. Schnabel is willing to try just about any filmmaking trick to get you to empathize with his characters. Bonus points for making a film in French when he is, in fact, American. If you believe the press, he taught himself the language prior to production.

Best Foreign Language Film:

Four Days in September (1997); Bruno Barreto, director

Sorry the above trailer is in Portuguese with what is French and (I think) Flemish subtitles. But you may get a sense of the heavy drama going on.

It’s the late 1960s and the corrupt Brazilian government is oppressing its citizens like the day is long. A group of idealistic radicals, most of them good people, realize they can only get the international attention they need if they do something big. Someone suggests kidnapping an American diplomat. In retrospect, not a good idea.

There are few films that personalize a political struggle as well as this film. You grow to love all the characters, you grow to hate all the characters. This is essential viewing for anyone who likes to make blanket statements about sweeping world affairs.

Note: don’t confuse this one with One Day in September (the very good documentary about the terrorists at the Munich Olympics) or Four Days in November (a documentary I haven’t seen about the Kennedy assassination made by Mel Stuart.)

Extra Points!!

In 2003, the most deserving Foreign Language Film actually won the award with the Quebecois picture The Barbarian Invasions. For God’s sake, please don’t check out the trailer online – it makes it look like the worst Miramax schmaltz you’ll ever see. It is actually a sublime character study of a group of friends converging to say goodbye to a dying friend. Watching this film was almost like a religious experience for me. It doesn’t bullshit, it doesn’t talk down to you, but it leaves you with a sense of peace that is absolutely breathtaking.

Best Animated Film:
Chico & Rita (2011); Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, directors

We’re gonna close out with something that’s up for a nomination this year. No, I don’t actually think it deserves to win (Rango 4 Life!) but this is a really fun and charming animated film for grown-ups. And if you are a fan of classic jazz, it’s a must-see. (It’s not often you’ll get to see a cartoon rendering of Thelonius Monk, you know.)

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