Ajami’s Foreign Language Oscar Nomination for Israel: Can it win?

The first thing that needs to be said is, “Way to go Israel!” This is the third year in-a-row that an Israeli film is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In fact, Ajami  is Israel’s ninth candidate to make the final round of nominees–making Israel the country that has been nominated the most times without a win. They’re turning into the Susan Lucci of foreign films.

I wrote about Ajami back when we premiered the film in DC as part of the 20th Washington Jewish Film Festival. While I don’t think it is as strong a film as Israel’s two prior nominees (Beaufort and Waltz With Bashir), this category is particularly quirky and there are good reasons why this film could be the one to finally take home the golden statuette for Israel.

First, is the film’s subject which is a neighborhood mixed with Jews, Christians and Muslims in the city of Jaffa. It also deals with several characters who have snuck into Israel-proper from the West Bank and are working in Arab businesses illegally. The film provides real humanity to all of its characters without forcing you to choose sides. In this way it pulls off the neat trick of being a film about Arab-Jewish relations in Israel that isn’t chiefly concerned with the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Second, the production team behind the film reflects the mixture of peoples in Jaffa. The film is co-written, co-directed and co-produced by the Yaron Shani, “an Israeli Jew” and Scandar Copti “a Palestinian citizen of the Israeli state” according to their bios on the film’s website. Hollywood likes the warm fuzzies that come from collaborations like these — although the film is by no means warm and fuzzy.

Third, this just might be Israel’s year by sheer fact that they have had a nominated film for the last three years. Oscars are rarely about the quality of the actual films. Sometimes they are about what makes good TV — giving Ajami the Oscar could provide a memorable moment for a Jew and a Palestinian to stand at the podium making a plea for tolerance and communication. 

Finally, Israel can only be nominated so many times without winning before someone begins to cry foul.

This category is notoriously hard to predict, especially with traditional cinema powerhouses like Germany and France present. Ajami is also a difficult film to appreciate with a non-linear story-line, a host of characters to keep track of, and an ending that doesn’t send you out of the theater smiling.  But it is great for Israel to have it in the Oscar mix, and another reminder of what a filmmaking dynamo the state has become.

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Shabbat Surfing–Media Consolidation Edition

This week brought evidence that even alterna-indie Jewish publications are not immune to the forces of globalization and media conglomeration. We’re speaking of course, of the “merger” (although that probably isn’t the right word) between Jewcy and Zeek. It is a slightly odd marriage between a hip, snarky cultural comment blog-cum-purveyor of equally snarky baby-doll tee-shirts; and a high minded literary journal that dares to publish poetry along with short fiction and brainy essays on literature, art and music. I’m a fan of both and understand that it is just an online collaboration–Zeek will continue to publish its bricks and mortar journal. I just hope one doesn’t get lost inside the other. This week, Zeek has a great interview with Joseph Cedar, the Israeli director of Beaufort which was nominated for an Academy Award. Meanwhile, Jewcy uses the occassions of Yom HaShoah and the Anniversary of Hitler’s death for a hilarious (to me anyway) exposition of Godwin’s Law: in which all three major candidates, a celebrity chef, Santa Claus and the student body of Columbia University are all compared to Hitler. Very funny stuff.Ayelet Zurer

Elsewhere, our favorite Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (The Treatment, Nina’s Tragedies, Florentene) is about to go totally Audrey Tautou in a prequel to the DaVinci Code.

Finally, the media synergy between Jewlicious and Shemspeed records continues with this DJ Balagan re-mix in honor of Israel @ 60.

Live Blogging: A Guide to Jewish References in the Oscars Broadcast

Translations for the Hebraically challenged appear in purple.

*8:36 pm–Jon Stewart “Atonement captures the raw sexuality of Yom Kippur.” Yom Kippur is translated as the “Day of Atonement.”

8:40 pm–Jon Stewart “Gaydolf Titlar” Adolf Hitler was an infamous 1930s and 40s dictator with a bad mustache. Also a murderous antisemite.

8:47 pm–Bob Hope “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as its called in my house Passover.” Passover seders tend to run a little long. Updated: Were told from the Washington Post live chat that this is actually a pun on the fact that Hope was perennially “passed-over” for an Oscar. This disqualifies the reference from being Jewish as we just don’t think puns are all that funny.

10:00 pm–Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen as Dame Judy Dench and Halle Berry. Not technically a Jewish reference except that instead of being classy and sexy they are chunky and Jewish.

10:43 pm–The Counterfeiters wins Best Foreign Film. The story of the counterfeiting operation at the Ravensbruck concentration camp — I saw the film last year at the Berlin Film Festival and thought it was amazing. Sony Pictures Classics which opened it this weekend in NY and LA will probably do a bigger rollout very soon. Too bad that Beaufort, from Israel didn’t win. It would have been nice to have a Jewish film not about the Holocaust win the Oscar. I guess the Academy just isn’t ready for Jews as soldiers–flawed ones at that.

10:52 pm–Spielberg talks about winning the Oscar for Schindler’s List and we get the delicious juxtaposition of him (in flashback) dedicating the award to the six million, and then declaring (in 2008) “It was the best night of my life.” Interesting editing choice.

10:56 pm–Most Menchlik Moment (M3) – Jon Stewart brings Markéta Irglová back onstage to say her brief thank you’s. Jon, your mother should be so proud.

11:01 pm–Kaddish

11:43 pm–The Coen Brothers win Best Director and Best Picture for No Country For Old Men (they picked up Best Adapted Screenplay earlier). They’ve recently signed-on to adapt Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union (see Shabbat Surfing).

11:48 pm–Roll credits. The show ends before midnight. We can all go to bed.

*All times Eastern

Shabbat Surfing: Academy Award-Winning Links

Joseph Cedar's Joseph Cedar director of the Academy-Award nominated Israeli film Beaufort (featured in the 2007 WJFF) resolves his shabbat dilemma. Meanwhile, there is another Jewish-themed film competing for Best Foreign Film – The Counterfeiters. The Austrian/German co-production is in limited release this weekend from Sony Pictures Classics, which had hoped to have three films nominated in this category, but The Band’s Visit was disqualified for having too much English, and Persepolis was a surprise exclusion from the final nominees. Naturally, we’re all rooting for Beaufort and the good folks at Kino Films. Meanwhile, we ask, is host Jon Stewart Jewish?

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