Watch out, Spielberg. Michael Haneke’s Amour and its six Oscar nominations are coming for you
Sometimes it’s easy to predict which way Oscar-voters will lean. In the Best Picture category, they tend to play it safe, opting to vote for films that promote a message that isn’t too “out there”. Basically, they avoid controversy.
In 2006, the front-runner for Oscar’s top prize was the brilliant-yet-controversial Ang Lee picture, Brokeback Mountain. It was a film that broke boundaries and forced many to confront their fears and prejudices. Yet, the Best Picture prize went to Paul Haggis’ Crash, a fine film in its own right, but marred by clichés and predictability. Oscar played it safe.
This February, nine films will be competing for Best Picture in the 85th Academy Awards, but really, this is Lincoln’s race to lose. The Steven Spielberg film leads with 13 nominations and has received praise left, right, and centre. If any film can steal Spielberg’s thunder, it would be Argo – an entertaining political thriller about Hollywood filmmakers rescuing hostages in Iran.
However, there’s one film that has the ability to surprise everyone: Michael Haneke’s Amour. The best way to summarize this devastating and emotionally exhausting film is to quote the words of Peter Travers, movie critic for Rolling Stone: The movie “defines what love is”.
Amour is an Austrian film that focuses on an aging couple, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), whose love for each other is tested when Anne suffers two strokes and the couple’s enviable lifestyle is thrown into turmoil.
While not easy to watch, Amour is a beautiful film. Many scenes are truly frightening, revealing the coldness and desperation human beings are capable of. But perhaps the most remarkable quality of this film is its ability not to preach or take sides.
Beauty is a delicate thing and can appear pretentious, or even ugly, onscreen if not handled appropriately. What Haneke accomplishes with Amour is similar to what Bergman accomplished in Wild Strawberries – a compassionate yet unsentimental work that confronts death and examines the complexities of life.
But let’s get back to Oscar. In the Academy’s 85 years, it has never given out a Best Picture prize to a foreign-language film. To put it bluntly, Oscar doesn’t like foreign films. The last foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture was Clint Eastwood’s Japanese-language 2007 film, Sands of Iwo Jima.
For all the knocks against the Academy Awards, they do have the capacity to surprise. Amour is just the film to level that surprise. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Amour to take home Hollywood’s biggest prize.[hr]