Competition for the “Russian Oscars” Continues
In Russia, two film prizes are competing for the status of the domestic “Oscar” — the “Nika” which has been around for more than 20 years, and its much younger competitor, the Golden Eagle, which was introduced six years ago. This year, the competition between the two awards was even more controversial and bitter than usual because veteran director Nikita Mikhalkov withdrew his film 12 from Nika’s competition. This decision by one of Russia’s foremost directors sparked a controversy about whether a director should have the right to withdraw his movie from the nominations, but no major changes to the award’s rules are likely to take place in the near future.
Incidentally, Mikhalkov’s movie, a remake of Sydney Lumet’s 1957 12 Angry Men, had already collected 16 Golden Eagles. It also won an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film for 2007. In previous years, more often than not, films that won Golden Eagles have often been overlooked by the Nika awards jury. Mikhalkov may not have wanted this kind of outcome for a relatively successful awards year for his movie.
However, to maintain the award’s high-profile status in competition with the Golden Eagle this year, the Nika jury had to find some kind of a major winner that could be considered comparable to 12 in quality and success. Their choices were quite limited as the jury wanted to demonstrate some originality and most of last year’s major movies had already picked up awards, leaving Nika to rubberstamp those awarded already. The most original and radical move would have been to select Alexei Balabanov’s Gruz 200 [Cargo 200] which was totally ignored by the Golden Eagle jury, as the jury was way too conservative to consider this gruesome and dark film about late Soviet times.
The Nika jury eventually picked the Kazakh-German-Mongolian-Russian co-production of Mongol. Directed by Russian Sergei Bodrov Sr., the film was Kazakhstan’s official submission in the foreign-language film category for this year’s Academy Awards, and, just like Mikhalkov’s 12, won a nomination but no statuette. The story recounts the early life of Genghis Khan who was a slave before rising to the status of conqueror of half the known world.
Mongol won Nikas in the two main categories of best feature film and best director, plus other categories such as best cinematography, best costume design and best sound design. So did the movie really deserve it? The answer is not easy. On one hand, there are reservations about whether it is really a “Russian” film. The fact that it was directed by a Russian and co-produced by a Russian company may not be sufficient as the vast majority of the cast and crew were not Russian. On the other hand, awarding a major international co-production with Russian participation may look like recognition of the fact that such projects are important. Also, the professional level at which the movie was made is quite high, which is also a factor.
Interestingly, the jury chose not to ignore 12 in secondary nominations, honoring the movie for best original score (by composer Eduard Artemyev) and best actor (Sergei Garmash). Meanwhile, the best actress prize went to young Maria Shalamova for Anna Melikyan’s Rusalka [Mermaid]. This is in line with the movie’s international success as it has already collected a number of prizes at international film festivals, including a prize for directing at this year’s Sundance Festival.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Fans of the Indiana Jones series have been waiting nearly 25 years since the last installment in 1989. For a while, it looked like the chances for another sequel were slim at best: The project didn’t get off the ground until the early 2000s and was reportedly shelved several times since then. But after several screenwriters and cast changes, Steven Spielberg, the director of the three previous movies, has completed a fourth. In the latest film, archeologist Indiana Jones, played by the 64-year-old Harrison Ford, ventures into the jungles of South America in a race against Soviet agents who are determined to find the mystical Crystal Skull. Some may be skeptical about the actor’s physical fitness for the part, but, according to the producers, age only makes Indy a more fallible and therefore believable character, adding to his appeal. Unlike the previous films, which were all set in the 1930s, the latest movie takes place in the 1950s, which, the creators maintain, presents our illustrious hero with all kinds of new challenges.