oscar statue 88.
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Although no Israeli movie was nominated for an Oscar this year, Ari Sandel's "West Bank Story" did win for Best Live Action short. A parody version of West Side Story set you-know-where, this very funny film was made in California. The son of an Israeli father, Sandel thanked Israeli composer Yuval Ron, who wrote the music, in his acceptance speech.
But if you long for the day when an Israeli film will take home (or at least be nominated for) an Oscar, you may only have to wait another year. Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, which opens in Israel next Thursday and which recently won the Best Director Award at the Berlin Film Festival, may well be that movie. It's a serious look at a universal theme: How modern war is waged and what it does to those fighting. Audiences around the world won't need to have an interest in the Lebanon War in particular or even the Middle East in general to respond to Beaufort, and that may well win it the audience abroad that has eluded even the finest Israeli movies in the past.
SPEAKING OF this year's Oscars, it was nice to see Martin Scorsese win his Best Director prize, which pretty much amounted to a Lifetime Achievement Award, since The Departed is one of his least interesting films. There's nothing new about rewarding a director for work done in previous years, and it's understandable that he was happy; but it was a bit disconcerting to see a man who made his name as a maverick and rebel so eagerly embrace this symbol of acceptance by Hollywood's establishment.
"You don't make pictures for Oscars," Scorsese said a couple of years ago. But The Departed, a rather mechanical and pointless remake of the Hong Kong action flick Infernal Affairs did seem as if it were calculated to bring home the statuette for its director.
Still, no living filmmaker deserves the honor more, and maybe this Oscar won't be Scorsese's first and last. He may have several more great movies in him. And even if he doesn't, he'll be remembered for the guilt-ridden hood and his psycho sidekick, played by Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, in Mean Streets and De Niro's angry loner in Taxi Driver. He's also made some excellent movies in all kinds of genres that few associate with him, such as the "Life Lessons" segment of New York Stories, about a troubled artist played by Nick Nolte (well worth renting), the adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence and Kundun, a biography of the Dalai Lama. His current projects showcase this eclecticism: He's working on a documentary about the Rolling Stones (and also made The Last Waltz, about the farewell performance of The Band) and is developing a biography of Teddy Roosevelt with Leonardo DiCaprio and a film about European priests traveling to 17th century Japan.
THE ISRAELI DRAMA Close to Home, about female soldiers patrolling the Jerusalem city center, has just opened in the US to good reviews. Derek Elley of Variety appreciates the film's lack of preachiness: " . . . the movie's special quality is that it deals with issues that arise from Israelis policing a divided city in a way that puts characters first and political grandstanding second." Stephen Holden of The New York Times picked up on the spirit of the film: "The process of stopping pedestrians and bus riders is portrayed as uncomfortable for both sides. If you've ever stifled a bubble of rage while going through airport security, you will recognize the tensions that Smadar and Mirit [the film's heroines] must face all day, every day. And many of their days are punctuated with explosive emotional confrontations."
When my review of this film was published last year, I got on an unusual e-mail. The headline on the piece, which featured a photo of the two beautiful young actresses in uniform, was, "The Women Watching Over Us." A man who gave his address as Folsom, California, wrote: "Wow! Those IDF women can watch over me anytime they want!" Folsom, California is the site of one of the largest prisons in the US (and was made famous by Johnny Cash in his song "Folsom Prison Blues"). When I e-mailed this reader back, thanking him for his interest in the Jerusalem Post, I got a reply that said that he was not permitted to receive e-mail. In any case, I'd like to inform any of the Post's Folsom readers that they can now see Close to Home at a movie theater or if they have access to Video on Demand.