Foreign-Language: Tough subject matters hope to win voter love

Eye on the Oscars: Best Picture Preview 2013

Bolstered by an impressive series of accolades — including an Oscar best picture nom, along with nods as best film of the year by the European Film Awards and the Los Angeles Film Critics and best foreign film by the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle — “Amour” has more than enough momentum to win in foreign-language.

But how does a movie about two old people dealing with aging, illness and death — in a manner so devoid of sentiment that it’s been described as “clinical”– win over Academy voters?

“There’s no question that it’s tough subject matter,” says Michael Barker, co-prexy of Sony Pictures Classics, which released “Amour” in December, more than half a year after its triumphant appearance in Cannes. “But the reason the movie works is not only the precision of Michael Haneke, but because these two actors” — Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant — “give these star turns. And in watching the love between these two people, the idea of watching tough subject matter falls by the wayside.”

This year’s other nominees are by no means pieces of cake, either, with perhaps the exception of Norway’s action-adventure epic “Kon-Tiki”: Chile’s “No” and Denmark’s “A Royal Affair,” for example, both depict struggles against political tyranny, while Canada’s entry “War Witch” follows child soldiers in Africa.

As further indication of the Academy’s embrace of more sobering foreign-language fare, the biggest surprise in this year’s nominees was the omission of France’s crowdpleasing submission “The Intouchables.”

“We all expected it,” says veteran foreign-lingo Oscar campaigner Fredell Pogodin. “Audiences love it, and its commercial success was indisputable. But box office doesn’t always translate to what works for the foreign-language committee.”

Returns to the Best Picture Preview 2013