The 86th Academy Awards ceremony, which will be held on Sunday in Los Angeles (and which can be seen live in Israel at 2 a.m. on March 3 on both the HOT and YES networks) will have millions around the world glued to their television screens.
Although there have been many Israeli films nominated for Oscars in recent years, this year, the only Middle Eastern film among the nominees is Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar.
Abu-Assad, born and based in Nazareth, is an Israeli citizen, but he did not take funding from Israeli film funds for Omar, and so, like his last film, Paradise Now (2005), which was also nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Omar is competing for Palestine.
The plot of Omar bears an odd resemblance to Israel’s entry for a Best Foreign Language Film nod, Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem. Both are about Palestinians who become informers for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Israelis who work with them. But Bethlehem did not make the Oscar shortlist this year.
All countries are invited to submit one nominee and this year, and a record 76 countries did so. In the past seven years, four Israeli features – Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort (2007) and Footnote (2011), Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (2008) and Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti’s Ajami – received nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, but none took home a statuette.
Omar seems like a long shot to win the Best Foreign Language award, since Academy voters aren’t likely to warm up to a movie whose hero kills an Israeli soldier. A Cambodian film is nominated for the first time, Rithy Pran’s innovative documentary about the Pol Pot years, The Missing Picture, but it’s in the lucky-to-be nominated category. Thomas Vinterberg’s suspenseful drama, The Hunt, from Denmark, is about an accused child molester, which voters may find off-putting.
The most intense competition is between Paolo Sorrentino’s mournful, Fellini-esque The Great Beauty, about an aging playboy, and Felix Van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown. Broken Circle is likely to have more appeal to younger voters, since it’s a lively, tear-jerking film about two Belgian bluegrass musicians who fall in love and have a child who gets ill. It’s been available on various streaming platforms for months, and the actors have been in Hollywood promoting it heavily.
In past years, Oscar voters had to prove they had seen all five films at official screenings in order to vote in this category, so that the award wouldn’t automatically go to the only nominee Academy members had heard of.
But few voters had time to see five films in theaters, so this year they received screeners and are on an honor system: They are only supposed to vote if they have truly seen all five films.
But knowing Hollywood’s reputation for disregarding the truth when convenient, this rule change is good news for the highest-profile nominee, The Great Beauty, and bad news for Cambodia’s The Missing Picture.
We’ll know tomorrow how it all turned out, and for Israel, there’s always next year.