Marco Werman: Hollywood is increasingly global. Just look at the Oscars. Among the favorites to pick up a statue on Sunday is Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron. He could become the first Mexican citizen to win an Academy Award for best director. As for the lowdown on the foreign language films nominated this year, we turn to Matt Holzman of station KCRW in Santa Monica. A record 76 countries submitted a film this year, but it's down to the five nominees, and Matt, they are?
Matt Holzman: The Broken Circle Breakdown, from Belgium, the story of a bluegrass roots group and the relationship between the two main singers. The Hunt, a Danish film about a man wrongly accused of sexually abusing a child, a really tense movie. The Missing Picture, from Cambodia, which is actually a documentary about the Khmer Rouge. Omar, from Palestine, which is a really tense thriller about a Palestinian informant and his Israeli handler, and the favorite, The Great Beauty, from Italy, which is about an aging socialite who's having second thoughts about his life in the high life.
Werman: Why is The Great Beauty, aside from being an Italian film, and an homage to Fellini, and the Academy loves them some Fellini, why is that the favorite?
Holzman: Some of these are like movies and they have characters, stories and music and all of those things, and some movies seem to exist somewhere high above the plain of movie making. They're in a world that is complete and unto themselves. This is a really surreal Fellini-esque movie and yet it feels like a place that actually is and that you desperately and everything is really beautiful and every night is a party. Not only that, it's really touching. It takes this backdrop of this Roman socialite high life and it goes deep into the heart of this man who is realizing that his life might have been wasted on parties.
I only saw it on the small screen and I feel really cheated and I can't wait to find an opportunity to see it on the big screen because it is a spectacularly beautiful movie.
Werman: Let's talk about one of your favorites of the final 5 foreign language films, the Palestinian movie, Omar. What's it about?
Holzman: It's about a young man who's caught in a love triangle and is forced, in a way, to become an informant for the Israeli secret service. Hany Abu-Assad, who directed the film and was also nominated in 2006 for Paradise Now, has created a movie that is just great. It just has great characters and you care about them, but it is also a very political movie because it talks about how he views how his people are treated by the Israelis. It's a really powerful film. Having said that, it's also a Palestinian film, which makes its chances with the Oscars somewhat dicey. When he was nominated for Paradise Now in 2006, his movie was supposed to be announced as the official entrant from Palestine and they announced it as the official entrant from the Palestinian territories, so the politics in the movie somehow bleed over into the Oscar consideration and that may actually play against it. Having said that, The Great Beauty is such an extraordinary movie. I'm not sure Omar really has a chance.
Werman: What film did not make the cut?
Holzman: The movie that I did see that I thought that they really missed the boat on was a film called An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker. It's from Bosnia-Herzegovina by a filmmaker named Danis TanoviÄ‡. This movie is the story of a lowly iron picker, a guy who literally finds pieces of metal and sells it to somebody in order to make a living. He and his wife attempt to try to get health care because she's having a miscarriage and she's quite sick. It's a true story that happened and then they got the original people back and recreated this tiny, tiny, tiny little story. One of the things that films can do is they can take you to a place that you've never been and that can be a physical place, it can be an emotional place. This movie takes you to a world that you just don't know -
Werman: It's a Roma family too so this is like -
Holzman: It is. It's a Roma family indeed, so in some ways, even the people that live in that part of the world might not know this family and how they live.
Werman: Matt Holzman, he produces a screening series "First Take" for KCRW in Santa Monica, California. Thanks a lot, Matt.
Holzman: Thank you.