Italy’s ‘First’ choice stirs ‘Love’ nest

Oscar hopeful draws criticism from different camps

As Oscar noms near, Italy’s film community is doing some head scratching about whether the country may have backed the wrong horse for the second consecutive year by excluding Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love” from the foreign language film race.

Instead, crowdpleasing meller, Paolo Virzi’s “The First Beautiful Thing,” was tapped to rep Italy. It performed better at the Italo B.O. but outside of Italy Guadagnino’s Tilda Swinton-starrer is an awards-season standout, landing a Golden Globes nom, a British Independant Film Awards nod, and six BAFTA longlist bids, besides making several crix lists and pulling in over $5 million Stateside via Magnolia Pictures.

“Thing” will be released in April in the U.S. via Palisades Tartan.

“When the Golden Globes were announced, I simply raised the question, ‘Is the commission still convinced that they made the right choice?’ says Guadagnino, hastening to add that he “wishes Virzi all the best.”

Helmer Marco Bellocchio — whose “Vincere” scored a National Society of Film Critics honor for protag Giovanna Mezzogiorno — also questioned the selection commission’s criteria. Last year “Vincere” lost out as Italy’s foreign language Oscar contender to Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Baaria,” which has yet to get a U.S. release.

“The commission should be able to figure out which Italian movie has a better shot at an Oscar,” blasted Bellocchio in the Italian press.

Conspiracy theories abound about the Italo Oscar selection process, the most common one being that both “Baaria” and “Beautiful Thing” are backed by Medusa, a subsid of Mediaset, which is owned by Italian premiere Silvio Berlusconi.

But the real reason may just be that Italians are incurably insular.

Not Guadagnino, however, who’s in early stages on “Corsica ’72,” a Mafia movie penned by Neil Purvis and Rob Wade, who wrote “Casino Royale,” and produced by Alison Owen and Paul Trijbits.

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