LONDON — The Oscars look different from Europe. I’m not surprised, just a little mesmerized by the depths of ambivalence toward something, that for Americans at least, is so simple: Awards good, losing bad.Sartre and Beauvoir may be gone, but their legacy of angst endures in these parts, even seeping into the ranks of showbiz types you’d think were immune to such tortuous soul searching. Swedish director Lukas Moodysson made the news this past week when it was surmised that his acclaimed film “Together” missed out on this year’s Swedish film awards because he gave the audience the finger a couple of years ago when he won for the colorfully titled “Fucking Amal.” Danish helmer Lars von Trier didn’t bother to show up at the European Film Awards, where his film “Dancer in the Dark” took top prize, and neither did his best actress-winning Icelandic diva, Bjork. Score two for European irony as their U.S. distributor/producing partner, Fine Line, works furiously on keeping up their Stateside awards season profile. Take the London spin on “Billy Elliot.” With Golden Globe noms for best picture and actress, critics kudos and big box office, the view in London is “U.K. movie contends for top Oscars,” right? If you said “yes,” you probably live west of Greenland, if not Cahuenga. Yet Jan. 5’s Independent newspaper banner headline blared: “Time to give ‘Billy Elliot’ the boot,” with the accompanying article damning the film as “bogus,” accusing it of “wallowing in a sentimentalized past.” Did I read anything, anywhere about the excitement in London for “Billy” and other Brit films in the race? Nope. Maybe I missed them. But let me put it this way: Oscar fever hasn’t been the talk down at the Groucho Club. I asked a top U.K. producer his thoughts about whether or not Europeans saw awards in a slightly more complex light than the Americans. “There’s a certain quasi-pride,” he says, “but it’s a mixture of pride and disappointment. “Of course there’s a hunger for validation and approval. There is pride about the talent that’s involved, but disappointment that they’re working mostly on American films.” I asked him if this led to European bitterness against the continuing power of the Hollywood studios. “No, no, no. I think people are pleased, but not thrilled, disappointed, but not horrified.” OK. Don’t tell anyone Over Here, but I’ve looked at the awards contenders and I’m thrilled for international cinema. Not horrified, not ambivalent, but absolutely thrilled; I think this year’s awards season is a testament to the quality of filmmaking all over the globe. To my untuned American mind, the United Kingdom should be excited as hell over the plaudits rolling in for their films and filmmaking talent. In the thick of the awards race, they’ve got Sean Connery, Albert Finney, Ridley Scott, Nick Park and Peter Lord, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tracey Ullman, Ralph Fiennes, Alfred Molina, Brenda Blethyn, Judi Dench, Julie Walters and the rest of the aforementioned “Billy Elliot” team, as well as the late, great Oliver Reed. What’s to be horrified about? Jet over to their Commonwealth cousins in Oz and you’ve got Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet and Russell Crowe. Channel hop and there’s EU compatriots Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Lasse Hallstrom, Wolfgang Petersen, Istvan Szabo and Bjork. And there’s the bevy of awards and kudos already pocketed by Spanish thesp Javier Bardem. This isn’t including all of the great below-the-line contributions of Euro lensers like John Mathieson, Roger Pratt, Jean Yves Escoffier, Slawomir Idziak, et al., composers like Rachel Portman and many, many art directors, costume designers, etc. When you zip over to Asia, it’s historic. For the first time in its 25-year history, a subtitled picture, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” took top kudos from the Los Angeles Film Critics, and it looks like a contender for several slots come Oscar time. Amazingly, in the same year, the National Society of Film Critics just awarded Taiwan’s “YiYi” the top honors, its first foreign-language topper in 15 years. So, though Euro-based, a typical, ebullient, sunny American I remain. On Oscar night, you’ll find me at the Groucho, reveling in the dazzling range of movies and creative contributions from around the world, including America. But I’ll say a big “Cheers!” every time an international entry grabs its fair share of the gold. Quietly, to myself, of course.
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