Reviews matter. This is how I interpret the love the Academy has shown this year for “Drive My Car,” nominating the three-hour Japanese drama in four separate categories: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and International Film, and in doing so, effectively launching a referendum. to the Cannes jury headed by Spike Lee who awarded the Palme d’or to the relatively controversial “Titanium”.
Of course, other non-American films have already been widely recognized by the Academy. ‘Parasite’ scored six nouns and won best picture just two years earlier, but that film was also a huge commercial phenomenon, earning $25 million on the day the nominations were announced in 2020. ‘Drive My Car’ , on the other hand, had yet to crack $1 million.
Keep in mind: Academy voters who select International Feature Film nominees watch all films submitted for this honor. But in all other categories, popularity matters, and nothing gets nominated unless enough members watch — and respect — those films.
To me, the Academy’s endorsement of “Drive My Car” can only mean one thing: All of the critical support for Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s moving adaptation of Haruki Murakami succeeded in convincing Academy voters that it was one of the must-see movies of the year.
It’s not often that the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. okay, although in cases where it happens, it has certainly helped films such as “Roma” and “Boyhood” to make their way into the best picture category.
But that’s not a de facto sign that “Drive My Car” should be considered a frontrunner in the international race, since voters need to watch all five nominees in this category. So while this near-unanimous chorus of critics will no doubt resonate in the back of their heads, this is a very strong selection and other favorites could emerge.
The Danish documentary “Flee”, for example, had one of the most award-winning festivals of any film last year (it was selected by the 2020 Cannes Film Festival canceled by COVID and launched 2021 with the prize of World Cinema Dramatic grand jury at Sundance). Many more kudos followed, including the clear and overwhelming support from a jury I oversaw last year, at the Animation Is Film festival in Los Angeles. (“Flee” is also nominated in the Animated Feature and Documentary categories at the Oscars.)
Former Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino (“The Great Beauty”) has channeled Federico Fellini for most of his career, but never more so than in his autobiography “The Hand of God.” Netflix audiences may not make the connection, but critics and Academy members can’t ignore that the film, which captures a turning point in his childhood, is essentially Sorrentino’s answer to “Amarcord.”
As often happens in this category, terrific submissions fly under the radar, only to surprise pundits when they appear on the final ballot – although Variety Critic Richard Kuipers’ rave review for the Bhutanese teacher drama “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” was an early sign that this crowd pleaser was something special. Academy members and the general public alike respond to moving stories, and this one combines stunning views from its rural location in the Himalayas with an effective twist on the usual mentor-student formula: here are the eager-to-learn children who inspire their ambivalence. instructor.
For this film critic, however, the rival to watch is Joachim Trier’s ‘The Worst Person in the World’, which competed alongside ‘Drive My Car’ at Cannes. Where Hamaguchi’s film is calm and quiet enough (we see what almost everything “Uncle Vanya” read or repeated sounds like), paying off in the last half hour, Trier’s kinetic, ultra-cinematic portrait of a young woman groping your way through the world by trial and error feels like a very different kind of race – and one I suspect many Academy members may prefer.
Renate Reinsve beams positively at the center of this film, and while both films are masterpieces in their own way, it may well come down to whether voters respond more to energy or understatement.