HFPA not limited by Oscar's eligibility rules

Its critics may scoff at the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s curious ways, but there’s no denying the Globes has one ace in the hole when compared to its big-boy Oscar rival: the foreign language category.

While the Academy doggedly sticks to its one film per country rule, the Globes happily ignores such bureaucratic standards and considers multiple films from many countries. The results may eliminate countries with little film production (Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, for example ), but they foster a climate for hot competition among major titles.

In a year when many countries — including France, Italy, Belgium, Japan, Argentina, China and South Korea — have several top films, and when more and more films are being co-produced in complex international partnerships, the Globes are in a far better position than the Oscars to consider the cream of the foreign crop.

Though the Globes and the Oscars have frequently seen eye to eye when it comes to the top foreign-language film (16 times since 1949), with an even more frequent agreement on nominated films (and, recently, an interesting countertrend), there’s still a respectable list of classics and near-classics that the Globes have recognized with awards or noms while Oscar ignored them.

It would surprise many, for instance, that HFPA and not the Academy have acknowledged such cinema masterworks from world-class directors as Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Ordet,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist,” Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” (despite the Acad’s long-running love affair with the Japanese director), Grigori Kozintsev’s “Hamlet,” Eric Rohmer’s “Claire’s Knee,” Carlos Saura’s “Cria!,” Luchino Visconti’s “The Stranger,” Paul Verhoeven’s “Soldier of Orange,” Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “The Double Life of Veronique,” Bertrand Tavernier’s “A Sunday in the Country,” Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “The Marriage of Maria Braun” and Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Celebration.”

If that roster isn’t breathtaking enough, then consider other widely liked movies that caught the Globes’ — and not the Oscars’ — eye for foreign language consideration: Vittorio DeSica’s “Two Women,” Federico Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits,” Hector Babenco’s “Pixote,” Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo,” Krzysztof Zanussi’s “The Year of the Quiet Sun,” Lasse Hallstrom’s “My Life as a Dog,” plus two each from those perennial favorite Claudes from France, Lelouch (“Live for Life” and “And Now My Love”) and Chabrol (“Story of Women” and “Madame Bovary”).

Diverging paths

The Academy’s rule limiting each submitting country to one film only has recently begun to produce more disparate results between the Oscars and the Golden Globes, largely due to a ramp-up in the overall quality of world cinema and more countries producing more major pics. This has resulted in several fresh cases of the Globes trumping the Oscars, ranging from Alfonso Cuaron’s “Y tu mama tambien” and Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding” to Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver” and last year’s coup of Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” and Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” which caused the Academy embarrassment when both failed to even be nominated.

For 2008 and beyond? Expect this trend to continue.

Topping the list is a cluster of films, many co-productions with blurred national identities (often with plentiful Gallic support), that have scored well at festivals and/or wickets: Arnaud Desplechin’s “A Christmas Tale” (France); Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo” (Italy/ France); the Dardenne Brothers’ “Lorna’s Silence” (Belgium/France); Jerzy Skolimowski’s “Four Nights With Anna” (Poland/France); Philippe Claudel’s “I’ve Loved You So Long” (France/Germany); Mabrouk El Mechri’s “JCVD” (France/Luxembourg/Belgium); and Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” (Sweden).

Adding to this year’s intrigue is a greater than usual number of films from individual countries joined in a battle for Globes. The matchups range from France (“A Christmas Tale” vs. “I’ve Loved You So Long” vs. “The Class”), Belgium (“Eldorado” vs. “Lorna’s Silence”) and Korea (“Crossing” vs. “The Good the Bad the Weird” vs. “The Chaser” vs. “Night and Day”) to Italy (a particularly fierce competition between “Il Divo” and “Gomorrah”), Japan (“Departures” vs. “Tokyo Sonata” vs. “Still Walking”) and Argentina (“Lion’s Den” vs. “The Headless Woman” vs. “Empty Nest” vs. “Liverpool”).

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