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OSCAR’S FOREIGN COUSINS

Int'l awards often modeled after American version

The phrase peppers press kit bios of foreign thesps and helmers — “winner of the X award, country Y’s equivalent of the Oscar.” It’s a publicist’s shorthand for describing an international film award, whether it’s the Silver Menorah of Israel or the Dutch Gold Calf.

Unsurprisingly, a number of these organizations model their rules and format on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Oscar (indeed, from the mid-’40s to 1961, Brazil’s most prestigious film prize was called the Oscar Brasileiro), though there are diversions here and there. For example, the Indian Film Awards include categories for male and female “playback singers” — vocalists who dub the singing parts of Hollywood actors, a testament to their popularity and revered status in the industry. And for a few years in the 1980s, the French-awarded Cesars for “best poster.”

More like Oscar than not

But the similarities usually prevail (there’s only so much room for variation with these things): A good number of film awards carry human nicknames, including Mexico’s Ariels, Norway’s Amandas, Spain’s Goyas and Denmark’s Roberts. Even Great Britain’s BAFTA awards once were commonly tagged the Stellas.

In other cases, the awards are often an object preceded by an auric qualifier: the Gold Horses in Taiwan, China’s Gold Roosters, the Swedish Gold Bugs, the Brazilian Gold Owls. Or simply straightforward, as is the case with the Japanese Academy Awards or the Deutscher Filmpreis (German Film Prize).

Among the more widely recognized of Oscar’s overseas kin:

The most diplomatic

  • The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has been recognizing the best in homegrown (and, as often as not, American) filmmaking since 1947. In fact, the very first best overall film award went to William Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our Lives.” (A corresponding British-only category saved the academy from complete embrassment).

    Though various protests and rules changes have arisen since to push U.K. product to the front (in 1952, British and foreign actors were separated into different categories, but they were again elided 16 years later), the BAFTAs are the most diplomatic of o’seas film awards, and the most welcoming to pics from beyond its borders. (Just to cite an example, in 1973 and ’74, the top BAFTA went to French-language films “Day for Night” and “Lacombe, Lucien”; Oscar has yet to confer its best pic prize on a non-English-language film).

    Currently, there are three best pic awards: overall film, foreign-language pic and British film. (Last year’s awards went to “The Full Monty,” “L’Appartement” and “Nil by Mouth,” respectively). The winners of the BAFTAS and the Oscars have corresponded on numerous occasions, but not when Union Jack patriotism has tipped the scales away from Hollywood releases (e.g. “Secrets & Lies’ ” Brenda Blethyn over “Fargo’s” Frances McDormand, “The Full Monty” instead of “Titanic”).

    Often the British Oscar also-ran (“A Room With a View,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) has received its full due on home turf. And there are always the left-field surprises, such as when “William Shakespear’s Romeo & Juliet” helmer Baz Luhrmann, an Aussie, bested “Titanic’s” James Cameron, “Monty” helmer Peter Cattaneo and “L.A. Confidential’s” Curtis Hanson for the ’97 director prize.

    A quick comparison of best pic winners of the two academies reveals that the BAFTA and Oscar have agreed no less than 14 times during the British org’s 50-year history, the last being 1996’s “The English Patient.” There is less tendency for the British acad to favor Yanks over Britons in the acting categories, save the odd exception (“The Ice Storm’s” Sigourney Weaver, a non-nominee with Oscar, took the ’97 supporting actress BAFTA). British acad nominees are announced in March, the awards in April.

    Hail Cesar

  • In the land of Cannes, it is the Cesar, named for the statuette’s designer, that is Oscar’s cousin. Now in its 28th year, France’s academy awards was created by film publicist Georges Cravanne working in conjunction with the AMPAS. Like the BAFTAS, the Cesars separate French and international productions, but language is less of an issue than one may assume, as a few non-Francophone films, including “Providence” and “Tess,” have taken home the top French prize.

    A minor backlash fomented the short-lived best Francophone film category in the early ’80s, created to recognize output from French-speaking nations around the world. But the French have not stinted in recognizing world cinema, tapping four Italian films in a row between 1975-78, and honoring a number of U.S. pics such as “The Elephant Man,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Dead Poets Society” and “Dangerous Liaisons,” none of which snagged the best pic Oscar at home (though some of Cesar’s internationl choices are quizzical, such as this year’s winner, the Brit comedy “Brassed Off.”)

    However, only French-language performances traditionally are nominated (including in the male and female newcomer categories, which have no corresponding Oscar competitions). There is also a best first film competition, solely for French-lingo pics. The awards are announced in late February or March, giving them enough lead time before the nation is inundated by the international film community during May’s Cannes fest.

    Highlighting the continent

  • The European Film Awards, formerly known as the Felixes, are in their 11th year, after a decade of upheaval and transition. Originally based in Berlin and founded by a collective of European filmmakers who wished to increase the profile of Euro cinema, it has since been restructured and, with the financial support of various U.S. and European industry corporations and membership of individual film enthusiasts outside the industry, is in the midst of a five-year plan to turn the awards into an Oscar-caliber international event.

    As part of that agenda, the EFA ceremony will be televised, after the fact, in the U.S for the first time. The premiere broadcast will be on the Sundance Channel on Dec. 15, 11 days after the awards are handed out in London. Also, this year’s major nominees, announced in November, are films that, for the most part, have been or will receive theatrical release in the U.S. (including Warners’ “The Butcher Boy,” MGM’s “Live Flesh” and Artisan’s “My Name Is Joe” and foreign-language Oscar submissions “The Celebration” and “The Dreamlife of Angels”).

    In addition, the awards categories include the Screen International Award for a non-European film (nominees this year include four U.S. pics, including “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Truman Show”) and a laurel for achievement in world cinema, which honors European actors and directors’ work in non-Euro productions (every nominee is cited for a Hollywood film, including “Titanic” star Kate Winslet and “Mask of Zorro” topliner Antonio Banderas).

    Donatellos American-friendly

  • Italy’s David di Donatello awards, five of which Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful” snagged in July, have been around since 1955. Among the big winners at the first awards was Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.” Since then the Donatellos, which are gold-plated likenesses of the award namesake’s sculpture of David, have tapped a varied number of American films, including Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and in a diplomatic tie, “Cabaret” and “The Godfather.”

    The Donatellos were one of the few award bodies to honor “Days of Heaven” and “Thin Red Line” helmer Terrence Malick; the American director took a screenplay award in 1979 for “Days,” as did his leading man, Richard Gere. It had been tradition at various times in the past to divide actors and directors into foreign and domestic categories (among the first non-Italo winners were Laurence Olivier and Ingrid Bergman, while Susan Sarandon and Harvey Keitel won at the ’96 awards), although at the most recent awards, all the major winners have been Italian.

    Among the Donatellos’ special honors is the Luchino Visconti prize, awarded semiannually to an individual who has left an indelible imprint on world cinema. Among its recipients are Orson Welles, Francois Truffaut and Federico Fellini.

    Locals only

  • The Canadian Genies, now in their 19th year, have never offered categories for foreign films. The one exception made early on was for non-Canuck thesps in Canadian films, but that was dropped after the honorees (George C. Scott in “The Changeling,” for one) were thought to be less worthy for their quality than their Canadian pedigree. This draconian circumscription has led to some interesting choices (two awards for the summer-camp comedy “Meatballs” in 1979) but has also allowed homegrown talent to flourish (David Cronenberg, never an Oscar nominee, has four direction Genies, for “Videodrome,” “Dead Ringers,” “Crash” and “Naked Lunch”; the Genies also saw fit to bestow an acting prize on British actor Jeremy Irons — also snubbed by Oscar — for his perf in “Ringers”).

    Last year, Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter” was the predictable big winner, snagging eight statuettes including awards for the writer-director and his lead actor, Ian Holm. Genie nominations are announced in November and awards in December of each year. The award reportedly takes its name from an objective of recognizing the “magic of motion pictures.”

    Steppingstone to Hollywood

  • Though they lack a cute moniker, the Australian Film Institute awards have been one of world cinema’s most reliable barometers for future Hollywood success. Since broadening its scope to include features in the mid-1970s (prior to that, the AFIs had been primarily focused on shorts and docus), a number of the award-winning thesps and directors have made the leap to Hollywood to great acclaim, including two-time winner Mel Gibson and five-time winner Judy Davis.

    Other past winners include thesps Russell Crowe, Toni Collette, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Rachel Griffiths and Cate Blanchett; and helmers Fred Schepisi, John Duigan, Gillian Armstrong, Peter Weir, Jane Campion, Vincent Ward, George Miller and Philip Noyce. The AFIs even espied the talent of a young Chris Noonan (who would go on to direct the hit “Babe”), awarding him a docu prize in 1981.

    The nominees are announced in October, with the awards a month later. Since 1992, there has been a foreign film category; past winners include “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Fargo,” the New Zealand pic “Once Were Warriors” and “L.A. Confidential.” Though there have never been foreign actor races, a handful of Yanks, including Meryl Streep (“A Cry in the Dark”) and Holly Hunter (“The Piano”) have scored wins Down Under.

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