Stephen Simon’s Favorite 2012 Foreign and Documentary Features

January 12, 2013

Each branch of The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences nominates in that branch for the Oscars; that is, actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, etc.

Everyone also gets to nominate as many as ten films for “Best” Picture. Then, when the nominations are announced, we all get to vote in most categories for the actual Oscars. The Academy, however, insists that members attend and sign in at actual screenings of foreign, documentary, and short films before we can vote. Wisely, this rule is meant to guarantee that voters see all these less-publicized and not as easily accessible films before voting.

Cool. So be it. Nonetheless, I love the two films I mention below so much that I want to highly recommend these two movies. One got nominated. One didn’t.

Favorite Foreign Film: Intouchables is one of the most delightful, exhilarating, heartfelt films of this or any recent year. The French film revolves around Philippe, a wealthy widower who has been rendered a paraplegic by a hang gliding accident. Much to the consternation of everyone else in his life, he hires Driss, a young man with a very checkered past as his caregiver or, as he puts it, his “arms and legs.” What follows is a film that is almost entirely (and thankfully) based on the relationship between Philippe and Driss. Just good, “old-fashioned” storytelling with two exceptional actors, a witty, deeply felt script, and direction that calls attention only to the unfolding and riveting story, not to camera or editing tricks. From start to finish, Intouchables is a total delight. While I know that Amour is the overwhelming favorite here, I’m very bummed that Intouchables was left out of the Academy nominations altogether.

Favorite Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man. In Detroit in the early 1970s, a singer/songwriter named Sixto Rodrigues made a huge impression on small audiences and some record executives alike. Compared by some at the time to Bob Dylan, he recorded a couple of albums that went nowhere and then, for reasons no one seemed quite able to understand, just faded from view.  Except, that is, in South Africa where unbeknownst to Rodrigues and almost everyone in America, his music became such a huge sensation that many considered him the troubadour who inspired the overthrow of apartheid. Presumed dead for decades, Rodrigues was actually discovered still living in Detroit and brought to South Africa for a triumphant tour. Talk about inspiring! One of my favorite documentaries ever, Searching for Sugar Man (which fortunately did get nominated) is beautifully shot and edited. Its story will also make your jaw drop open in amazement and bring tears of joy to your heart and eyes.

What are your favorites in these categories?

(Stephen Simon co-founded The Spiritual Cinema Circle. He also produced such films as Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come, produced and directed Conversations with God, and is the author of both The Force is With You and Bringing Back The Old Hollywood. Twitter: @Old_Hollywood.)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Mills January 15, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Stephen, I was surprised that INTOUCHABLES was not nominated too. Now, it looks like being a clear run for AMOUR, which was brilliantly acted and directed. The film left me emotionally drained with a simply amazing performance by Emmanuelle Riva.


Stephen Simon January 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm

I’m thinking it may not have qualified? I saw somewhere that it originally opened in 2011. Well, nomination or not, it’s a classic film. Thanks, Brian!


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