(Promotional photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)
By Dawn Riordan
NORMAL - The Oscar nominations have been announced and -- BANG! -- the race is on. Or rather, the race now has some direction.
You see, the race to win an Academy Award actually starts in late November and lasts through December. Here is the somewhat tiny window where all the big “to-be-considered” films are released. Well, "released’ is purely a technical term, because most of them are only released in Los Angeles and New York – two hubs of film business territory that Oscar has sanctioned as the first places any film wanting to be considered should play first.
It’s not set in stone, but if you look back at the release patterns for most of the Best Picture nominees, you’ll find out that these coastal oases are the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Oscar and the power-playing nominees.
Need proof, so you don’t have to surf further? Well, while "Lincoln" was released on Nov. 16, "Silver Linings Playbook", "Les Miserables" and "Django Unchained" both came out on Dec. 25. "Zero Dark Thirty" was actually released to the common-folk (Also known as a wide-release) just this week. Now, somewhere (see the first paragraph) there was a limited-release on Dec. 19 but I couldn’t tell you where it screened.
Two titles rounding out the nominees had early release – if you call October an early release to qualify for an awards program that is supposed to consider every movie released in 2012. My point is that Oscar must not have a very good memory, because unless it’s fresh in the mind when nominees are solicited, your movie is probably going to get passed over.
I know, because we have played some very worthy movies at the Normal Theater throughout 2012 that should have gotten one or more nominations. We just finished showing one – "Chasing Ice" – a documentary with twin purposes. It proved global warming and show us that it ain’t easy to be a National Geographic photographer. But is it on the list? Nope.
Nor is the movie we’re showing this weekend – "Chicken With Plums." It is a parable for those who need a refresher on love, loss and regret.
The story: We meet a violinist virtuoso whose perfect violin is destroyed in a spousal spat, and that simple act drives him to an assumptive death. Not the stuff of comedy, except that because of its fairy-tale treatment, the movie becomes a highly entertaining master-work.
Recently, dark comedies have been pouring out of France. Most of them are highly creative and smartly done. From premise to execution (no pun intended), this is the way to watch a movie with a tragic story. Apparently the French see life’s comedy and tragedy walking hand-in-hand.
It’s a universal concept that some bad things that happen to people actually have some sort of comedic twist to them. And the French can tell this story with finesse.
The co-directors and writers are Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, whose film Persepolis was nominated for a 2008 Academy Award. So why no nomination for this one? It is just as good. Better yet, it's different enough to show that these two filmmakers can do more than make an animated film about a difficult subject. (They once produced an animated film about seeking asylum from Iran.)
I’d like to believe that the Academy members watch every film made in a year in order to be fair with the nomination process. Surely they can’t just do it by hype. Surely, the Oscar only goes to the best of the best out of everything accomplished. Right?
"Chicken With Plums" is a remarkably entertaining film about one man’s tragedy that leaves the viewer actually wanting more. It is well-written, acted, directed; the special effects are cool, the make-up and wardrobe are spot on, and all the other categorical ducks, (or Oscars) are well-done, enough to get a nomination somewhere – and it did get noms at the Venice Film Festival, the Ghent International Film Festival and the Dublin International Film Festival, where it won their Critics Special Jury Prize.
I say see it for yourself and you be the judge.
"Chicken With Plums" continues this weekend through Sunday at 7 p.m. each evening. I’d tell you to contact the Academy after your viewing to express your concern over the omission of this wonderful film, but they seem to have already made up their minds, and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Dawn Riordan is manager of the Normal Theater.