Every year at Oscar time, one is reminded again that Hollywood is the center of the filmmaking universe.
Not only is the annual awards presentation widely viewed around the world each March, but the emphasis of the films honored time and again is the world at large, as Hollywood demonstrates an abiding awareness of its global importance.
As U.S. pix continue to increase their market penetration abroad, it is useful to recall how international Hollywood has been throughout the Academy Awards’ 66-year history.
Just as the United States has been a magnet for oppressed peoples, Hollywood has always attracted foreign talent. Central European emigres such as Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder came in the ’20s and ’30s and conquered moviemaking.
Today, the minute Neil Jordan comes out with a “Mona Lisa” or “The Crying Game,” or Alfonso Arau emerges with a “Like Water for Chocolate,” Hollywood studios deluge the suddenly hot foreign directors with scripts and offers.
No better record exists of the degree of international content in Hollywood films than the Academy Awards. Fully a third of the 66 films to win best picture have had a non-U.S. focus.
From “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Grand Hotel” in the 1930s, to “Casablanca in” 1943, to “Amadeus” in 1984, the European flavor of U.S. Oscar faves is undiminished. Witness last year’s winner, “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg’s profound re-examination of the plight of the European Jews during World War II.
Movies from England have taken an enormous share of best picture trophies over the years.
Winning pix produced, directed, written or performed by Brits include “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941, “Hamlet” in 1948, “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962 and “A Man for All Seasons” in 1966. (The last two were penned by British scribe Robert Bolt, as was 1965 best picture nominee “Dr. Zhivago.”)
Over the past decade, as Eurocentric thinking in Hollywood and the culture at large has given way to a more multicultural point of view, epic spectacles like “Gandhi” (1982), “Out Of Africa” (1985) and “The Last Emperor” (1987) have broadened the Academy’s focus to include India, Africa and Asia.
Though none of these pix is a foreign film (to the Academy, “foreign” means foreign-language), and while they are cast with and emphasize Anglo characters, the fact remains that Hollywood during the Oscars reaches out to the international community.
And, though non-U.S. films in the best picture category, due to the language barrier, have been widely dominated by the British, four foreign-language pix have received best picture nominations over the years.
In 1938, “Grand Illusion,” Jean Renoir’s story of three French war prisoners during World War I, was a best picture nominee.
In 1969, “Z,” a blistering account of conditions under a Greek military regime, scored a coup by getting a best picture nomination in addition to winning the Oscar for best foreign-language film. Costa-Gavras’ suspense thriller is widely acknowledged as one of the great political films of the ’60s.
Then, in 1972 and 1973, the Academy recognized successive Swedish films with best picture nominations: “The Emigrants” and “Cries and Whispers,” the latter one of the last films by director Ingmar Bergman. Bergman returned a decade later with his delightful coda, the “Fanny and Alexander,” which took the foreign-language film trophy.
In 1980, the nomination of “Tess” for best picture heralded the arrival of a wave of international co-productions, a trend that grew throughout the ’80s and continues unabated today. The Roman Polanski film, produced by Claude Berri, starred Nastassja Kinski.
In 1981, the British pic “Chariots of Fire,” directed by Hugh Hudson, was the surprise winner over “On Golden Pond” and “Reds.” The producer of the inspiring period pic about Olympic runners, David Puttnam, returned in 1984 with another best picture nominee, “The Killing Fields” – a feat for which he was rewarded with a short-lived, stormy tenure as head of Columbia Pictures.
In 1986, the Brits were back when Merchant Ivory’s “A Room With a View” was nominated for best picture. James Ivory also received a best director nomination.
In 1987, British film “Hope and Glory” received a best picture nomination. The film’s director, John Boorman, also picked up a nom.
In 1989, Jim Sheridan’s “My Left Foot,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, received a best picture nomination; last year, Sheridan and Day-Lewis reprised that accomplishment with another Irish pic, “In the Name of the Father.” The star, a best actor nominee for both perfs, took home the trophy for “My Left Foot.”
In 1992, two more Irish/British films were nominated for best picture: “The Crying Game” and “Howards End.” Reports of the demise of the British film industry belie its ability to produce a handful of good movies each year.
This year, “Tom & Viv,” a Brit drama about poet T.S. Eliot’s first marriage, won acting prizes for Miranda Richardson and Rosemary Harris from the National Board of Review in a possible preview of the Oscars.
Last year, New Zealand displayed unexpected force with Jane Campion’s period romance, “The Piano.”
The pic gained the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, followed by Oscars to Holly Hunter (best actress) and Anna Paquin (supporting actress), as well as a best picture nomination.
New Zealand is on a roll: One of this year’s most celebrated small films is Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures,” about a celebrated Kiwi murder case.