The recently announced Oscar nominations include films of interest to progressive cineastes.
Best Actor nominee Tommy Lee Jones gave a stunning performance in “In the Valley of Elah” as a father determined to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of his son, a soldier who just returned from Iraq.
Other nominated films include Michael Moore’s “Sicko” and the brilliant “No End In Sight,” among other antiwar films in the Best Documentary category. The Beatles saga “Across the Universe” directed by Julie Taymor got a nod for Best Costumes.
In the Short Film category James Longley’s “Sari’s Mother” was a surprise choice. With the increased access to digital camcorders, everyone is taking a stab at making their own films. While this fortunately puts moviemaking and truth telling in the hands of the masses, it also creates some amazingly artless although well-intentioned statements.
It takes a director like Longley to remind us that filmmaking can be an art, that documentaries don’t have to be cold talking heads and that form is as essential as content. His lovingly created story of an Iraqi mother tending to her young children, one of them with AIDS, is a beautifully edited and photographed gem. With little dialogue but carefully framed sequences, this short film is more effective than many features. Reminiscent of the early humanist works of legendary documentarist Robert Flaherty, Longley’s films (“Iraq in Fragments,” “Gaza Strip”) should be necessary homework for all budding filmmakers. With the honor of a nomination, this moving 22-minute film now has a better chance to be widely seen.
The Israeli antiwar film “Beaufort,” about the Israeli army and the war in Lebanon, and “The Golden Compass,” a fantasy attacked by the Christian right, might also be of interest.
But one of the most unique nominations is in the category of Animated Feature Film. Normally reserved for the likes of Disney and Dreamworks and their computer-generated animation, “Persepolis” breaks the mold with its hand-drawn history lesson about a young woman growing up in Iran.
Iranian-born Marjane Satrapi has written an award-winning series of graphic novels that form the basis for “Persepolis,” winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes. Drawn in mostly stark black and white animation, heavy on the black, the movie tells the story of a young woman growing up in Iran during the turbulent years of the revolution. Many of the Communists in her family who fought to remove the Shah ended up being persecuted worse by the Islamists. Personal stories of Marjane’s struggles with being a woman, dealing with religious and political repression, and simply trying to be a teenager, make this a unique and telling film about life in Iran.
The Academy Award winners will be announced Feb. 24. There is also excitement for film lovers when the Spirit Independent Film Awards are announced the day before, on the Independent Film Channel. Focusing more on alternative cinema not produced in the Hollywood studio system, the Spirit Awards honor low-budget but high-quality film art.
Among the foreign films nominated there is a favorite from the Toronto Film Festival, “The Band’s Visit,” another totally different peace-loving film from Israel.
At a time when the future seems bleak in the Mideast, this film tells a warm, good-natured story. Not far from the wall that was recently blown out in south Gaza, an eight-piece Egyptian military band arrives in a small desert city, invited for a special musical performance. The Israeli hosts fail to arrive to greet them, and the band is stranded with no money or transportation. The local Jewish townspeople save the day by providing rooms and entertainment, and memorable experiences that will not soon be forgotten. This award-winning film has won the hearts of many viewers, and will remain long in your memory, presenting a message of hope with a different perspective of that troubled region.