The Israeli film Ajami was selected as one of the five nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar on Tuesday. The Academy Award nominees in all categories were announced in a press conference in Los Angeles.
This is the third year in a row that Israel has received an Oscar nod in this category, and Israel’s ninth nomination overall. No Israeli film has ever won the Best Foreign Film award.
Ajami, a drama about crime in Jaffa, was directed by Scandar Copti, an Israeli-Arab Christian, and Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew. Copti, Shani and the rest of the movie’s cast and crew headed to a restaurant in Jaffa to celebrate the nomination after the announcement.
While it’s anyone’s guess whether Ajami will be Israel’s first Oscar-winning feature, the fact that it received a nomination at all is a triumph for its young directors, both first-time filmmakers. They spent seven years making the film, which features a cast of almost all non-professionals, mainly from Jaffa. Its complex narrative involves the conflicts and alliances among Israeli Arabs and Jews, Arab Christians and Muslims, as well as West Bank Palestinians and Beduin.
Just after Ajami won the Ophir Award (the Israeli Oscar) last September, which made it Israel’s official entry for the Oscars, Copti told The Jerusalem Post, “We’re still on a hysterical adrenaline rush from it all. This is more than I dreamed of in my wildest dreams.” It’s also a triumph for Israel in a year in which prominent industry figures called for a boycott of a program of Israeli films at the Toronto Film Festival last fall. Ajami is a partnership between directors, producers and actors of different religions and points to the openness of Israeli society. It received some of its funding from the Israel Film Fund, which is government-supported.
The other nominees in this category are El Secreto do Sus Ojos (Argentina), Un Prophete (France), The White Ribbon (Germany) and The Milk of Sorrow (Peru). 65 countries submitted films for consideration for a nomination. Each country can submit a single film.
Ajami, which won a prize for Special Distinction in the Camera d’Or competition for first-time filmmakers at Cannes, faces stiff competition. The White Ribbon, directed by Michael Haneke, won the Palme d’Or, the top prize in the main competition at Cannes, while Jacques Audiard’s The Prophet, a prison drama, won the Grand Prix there. The Milk of Sorrow, directed by Claudia Llosa, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival last year.
Israel’s previous two nominees in recent years were both about the first Lebanon War, Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, and Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort. Some expected Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival last year, to be Israel’s Ophir Award winner and Oscar contender this year. Others questioned the wisdom of sending a third film about the Lebanon War to the Oscars. Israel’s six other nominees, between 1964 and 1985, were Sallah, The Policeman, The House on Chelouche Street, I Love You Rosa, Operation Thunderbolt and Beyond the Walls.
IN OTHER categories, this is the first year since 1943 that there have been 10 nominations in the Best Picture category. These went to Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up in the Air, Up, and A Serious Man.
In the Best Director category, former spouses James Cameron (Avatar) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, a drama about the war in Iraq), will be facing off against each other. If Bigelow wins, she will be the first woman ever to take home the Best Director Oscar. The Hurt Locker will have its Israeli premiere on the YES television network on March 7. The other nominated directors are Jason Reitman (Up In the Air), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), and Lee Daniels (Precious).
Avatar and The Hurt Locker also garnered the highest number of individual nominations with nine apiece.
In the Best Actor category, the nominees are George Clooney for his performance as an alienated corporate traveler in Up in the Air; Jeff Bridges as a broken-down musician in Crazy Heart; Jeremy Renner as a confused soldier in Iraq in The Hurt Locker; Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus; and Colin Firth as an English professor in A Single Man.
The Best Actress nominees are Sandra Bullock as a woman who becomes a foster mother to a black football player in The Blind Side; Carey Mulligan as a high-school girl seduced by an older man in An Education; Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie & Julia; Gabby Sidibe as an abused teen in Precious; and Helen Mirren as Leo Tolstoy’s wife in The Last Station.
The Oscar winners will be announced at a ceremony on March 7 in Los Angeles.