Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Early Oscar Prognosticating

(Note: Blogging will be light for the next week, as I will be attending a Christening in Prague.)

I predict the awards other pundits just won’t prognosticate, like the jazz categories at the Grammys. For the Oscars, that includes best documentary and best foreign language film. These two categories are particularly difficult to gage given their unique voting rules within the academy.

I have seen some excellent docs this year, but do not expect any of them to win, for reasons of political correctness. The winner will be about hardcore propaganda. However, with even MTV’s Kurt Loder fisking Sicko’s issues with truth and reality, this won’t be Michael Moore’s year. Domestic box office for his valentine to Cuban health care is also only $24.5 million, respectable for a documentary to be sure, but a crushing disappoint compared to the $119 million for Fahrenheit 9/11. DiCaprio’s global warming doc 11th Hour by contrast is an out-and-out flop, with ticket sales of only $700,000. Even Roger Friedman found it “mind-numbingly dull,” so scratch that one too. However, Jonathan Demme’s hero-worshipping Jimmy Carter Man From Plains opens soon. I have not seen it, but it smells like an academy favorite from here.

Gore may have won the documentary award last year, but liberty loving film goers could take satisfaction from the foreign language award for The Lives of Others, a remarkable look at Communist oppression in East Germany before the fall of the Wall. Maybe this year, we can root for Poland’s official submission: Katyn, Andrzej Wajda’s dramatization of the Soviet massacre of 4,000 Polish prisoners of war in the Katyn Forest, not far from Smolensk in Russia. Long denied by the Soviet Communists, Gorbachev finally admitted their guilt in a 1989 Glasnost-era “our bad.”

Katyn still has tremendous resonance for Poles and Polish-Americans. One of the most striking sites (perhaps the only one) of my former hometown of Jersey City is the enormous Katyn Forest Memorial. Its dramatic depiction of a Polish Officer of bayoneted in the back almost brings to mind the grand-scale Russian WWII monuments. Normally it provided a stark contrast to the placid Manhattan skyline, but on September 11th, the juxtaposition took on added meaning, as these pictures attest.

If I had a vote for best documentary it would be for The Rape of Europa, but I will be delighted if it is even nominated. I am more hopeful for Katyn’s chances to make the nomination cut, or at least find distribution here in America. Yet how sad is it that for films that really understand the idea of liberty and totalitarian attempts to proscribe it, American film patrons have to look to Poland and Germany.