Eyes on the prize

In a year in which Israeli films have won top prizes at festivals all over the world, will tonight’s Ophir Award winner stand a chance of Oscar success?

Marco Carmel’s My Lovely Sister_311 (photo credit: Ron Mendelsohn )
Marco Carmel’s My Lovely Sister_311
(photo credit: Ron Mendelsohn )
There is a great deal of anticipation and suspense about this year’s Ophir Awards, the awards for the Israel Academy of Film, which will be held tonight in Haifa, and broadcast on Channel 2 at 10:30 p.m. The show will be hosted by actor Moni Moshonov.
That’s because, unlike in some years when one film clearly dominates the field, this year there are a number of films that have received critical acclaim both here and, even more so, abroad.
It’s been years since there has been such a strong crop of films contending for these prizes. And it’s very much on the minds of the Ophir voters that the film that wins the Best Picture Award here will be eligible for an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
This does not mean that the Ophir winner automatically gets an Oscar nomination – approximately 70 countries submit films for the five nomination spots in this category each year – but it will be Israel’s official selection.
Since three Israeli films in a row in the past few years – Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort, Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir and Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s Ajami – received nominations for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, it’s likely the voters will go for whatever film they think will appeal to Hollywood. No Israeli film has yet won an Foreign-Language Oscar.
The two apparent front-runners, Joseph Cedar’s Footnote and Yossi Madmony’s Restoration, have each won major awards abroad: Footnote took the top screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival this year, while Restoration won Best Screenplay at Sundance and Best Picture at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic. It was shown at the Toronto Film Festival as well, while Footnote will be shown in the New York Film Festival, which starts at the end of the month.
The Ophir nominating committee gave these films nominations in multiple categories, 13 for Footnote and 11 for Restoration. The films also have similar themes: Footnote is about the troubled relationship and rivalry between a father and son, both of whom are Talmud scholars in Jerusalem, while Restoration is about a troubled relationship between a father who works with his hands and a son who is a yuppie lawyer in Tel Aviv.
But it was a surprise that Marco Carmel’s My Lovely Sister, a movie about the troubled relationship between two sisters, received 11 nominations, as many as Restoration.
ROUNDING OUT the Best Picture category are Maya Kenig’s Off-White Lies, about the troubled relationship between a father and his estranged daughter, and Nadav Lapid’s Policeman, the most political of the five Best Picture nominees, about an anti-terrorist policeman who becomes involved with a group of terrorists.
Chances are that the Academy will go with one of the four troubled-relationship movies, since Policeman is a movie that, so far, has sharply divided audiences. Along with Footnote, it is being shown at this year’s New York Film Festival, and it is a film likely to do better at foreign film festivals than with the Academy.
Whenever award nominations are handed out, there are always snubs. Since Avi Nesher, the director the Academy loves to ignore, didn’t make a movie this year, they chose to nearly shut out My Australia, which won the Audience Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival and certainly the movie I enjoyed the most there. This story of a single Jewish mother in Poland in the Sixties, who has kept her sons’ religious background a secret from them and then suddenly moves the family to Israel, was one of the most appealing and best acted films I’ve seen all year. However, it was nominated only for Best Costumes. Jakub Wroblewski as the younger brother gave one of the best performances by a child actor I’ve ever seen and his omission from the support actor category is strange.
So who did get nominated for the acting awards? A mixture of well-known and newer actors are competing this year. The Israeli Academy is a bit more predictable than the Oscars, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the lead and supporting actress awards go to Evelyn Hagoel and Reymonde Amsallem, respectively, for their memorable performances as tormented sisters of Moroccan descent from My Lovely Sister. These two actresses have been giving wonderful performances in less showy movies for years and have not gotten quite as much recognition as some of their peers. Moran Rosenblat, nominated in the Supporting Actress category for her role in Lipstikka, was a bright spot in that otherwise dull and pretentious film, but I doubt she will win.
In the Best Actor category, I expect Shlomo Bar Aba in Footnote to edge out Sasson Gabai in Restoration, since Gabai took home the prize in 2007 for The Band’s Visit.
Lior Ashkenazi could also have been nominated for Footnote in this category, since his part is just about as large as Bar Aba’s, but he got a Supporting Actor nod. Although Ashkenazi gave what was arguably the best performance of his career, I think the award will go to newcomer Henry David in Restoration, who is the unquestionable standout of that film.
Finally, my guess is that Footnote will edge out Restoration, since the Academy has honored Cedar twice in the past (for Time of Favor and Campfire) and gave Beaufort the chance to represent Israel at the Oscars when it turned out the Ophir winner, The Band’s Visit, had too much English dialogue to qualify for that category.
In any case, expect an overlong and dull telecast, which has become an Ophir tradition – the better Israeli films get, the more boring the awards become: Why is that? You can think it over during the dull stretches.