Jeff Bridges Wins Best Actor Oscar, Ajami Loses
I saw Crazy Heart recently and thought it was terrific. I haven’t seen every picture Jeff Bridges has done but I’ve seen a lot of them and he’s consistently tough, honest, yet vulnerable. Those are qualities you don’t find in many leading actors. In Crazy Heart, he played a washed-up country singer a la Townes Van Zandt, who finds one last shot at redemption in the form of a beautiful young woman played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. The character’s name, Bad Blake, is perfection itself.
Besides Bridges’ straight from the heart performance, the music played a major role. It was produced and the original material co-written by T-Bone Burnett, who also produced the music for O Brother, Where Art Thou? As I wrote above, I heard echoes musically and in the plot of the life of Townes Van Zandt in the film. One of his most wonderful songs, If I Needed You, is even included in the soundtrack. As I watched Bridges face and listened to his singing voice I also kept hearing Kris Kristofferson, who would’ve done great honor to the role as well.
The film’s website quotes one of the most famous aphorisms about country music: “It’s three chords and the truth.” That’s what is so powerful about virtually every song by Van Zandt. It’s what’s so riveting about Bridges’ performance as well. You’re not on the outside looking in at this man. You’re right there with him. Every song he sings isn’t an act, it’s the hard-won wisdom of a man down on his luck, but clawing his way back from the brink towards redemption.
I haven’t seen Ajami yet but look forward to doing so. It was the losing nominee from Israel for Best Foreign Film. This is the third year in a row that an Israeli film was nominated and failed to win. Previous nominees were Waltz With Bashir and Beaufort. I was conflicted about the prospects for these films which, in many ways represented conventional liberal Zionist narratives about the Israeli-Arab conflict. But Ajami is different. It was directed by Israeli Jewish and Palestinian co-directors. The actors were largely not professional. Instead they were local residents of the Israeli Palestinian neighborhood, Ajami. This was the hard-luck story of the Israel left behind by the high tech bubble and bronzed bodies of Tel Aviv’s beach culture.
In a true to life story that would’ve fit perfectly into the plot, the Israeli Palestinian director’s two brothers were arrested by Israeli police two weeks before Oscar night for defending local children they claim were burying a family pet, and who police claim were concealing drugs. This is the conflicting narrative that is current Israeli society. The elites see the down and out as the unwashed, the enemy. The underclass see the police and political class as corrupt arbitrary forces that mean them no good.
What concerned me leading up to Oscar night was the embrace that even the most pro-Israel Diaspora Jews and Israeli government were offering the film. I became especially concerned when I heard statements endorsing the film by the director of the Seattle Jewish Film Festival while at the same time she specifically rejected the new documentary about Rachel Corrie’s life as being too downbeat (“the very first scene displays her death!”). Does this woman have a clue what she’s talking about? Ajami isn’t downbeat? Does she know a thing about this real place and the ferocious obstacles its real inhabitants face in living in modern Israel?
The problem with Ajami is it became the nation’s hope even though it ill-fit such a nationalist packaging. Earlier today, the director acknowledged this by renouncing his patriotic duty to represent Israel in the Oscars:
“I am not Israel’s national team and do not represent her,” Copti reportedly said. “It is an extremely technical thing…it says ‘Israel’ because that’s where the money comes from. The film technically represents Israel, but I don’t represent Israel. I cannot represent a country that does not represent me,” he said, according to Army Radio.
In truth, I think that Israel damages its Oscar prospects by representing its nominees as so closely a product of a national film industry and effort. Oscar voters may not dislike Israel per se. But they know things are ugly over there and they’re not inclined to wade into an internethnic conflict to make a statement on behalf of an Israeli film, even one that tells it like it is like Ajami. In future, I’d suggest as Yossi Sarid does here, that the Israeli government let its nominees speak for themselves as films and not place them in the awkward straightjacket of national pride. Israeli triumphalism in film or politics is not a message that resonates with Oscar voters or virtually anyone outside Israel (except perhaps a few thousand hardline pro-Israel Jews).
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32 thoughts on “Jeff Bridges Wins Best Actor Oscar, Ajami Loses – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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“In truth, I think that Israel damages its Oscar prospects by representing its nominees as so closely a product of a national film industry and effort….. I’d suggest as Yossi Sarid does here, that the Israeli government let its nominees speak for themselves as films and not place them in the awkward straightjacket of national pride. ”
Sorry, I didn’t quite get that… how should a film produced with Israeli funds, crew etc.(the Israeli film industry) be presented in a festival or contest like the Oscars without being connected to the country that sponsored it?
Not meant as an attack… just please clarify what you meant. If I’m not mistaken, countries, not individuals need to enter their films for THIS category (Best Foriegn Film). I believe things like documentaries, shorts, etc. can be individually entered.
Now, on that similar line of thinking, but separate:
The director Copti did himself and the film a dis-service in the timing of his “right of expression”.
He kept his mouth shut when the Israel film industry awarded him and his co-director 2 million NIS to produce this film. He kept his mouth shut when he was awarded the “Ophir” (Israeli Oscar) for best film. He kept his mouth shut all during the lead-up time and travel to the “big event”.
If he felt so strongly that Israel does not represent him, nor he represent israel, then don’t take the money, turn down the prize, and dont’ take the trip on Israel’s nickel!
Sure he’s entitled to his opinion, and I know you and others would agree that Israel does not justly represent Palestinians… part of what your website is working on correcting.
He has only shot himself in the foot. Israel (which doesn’t represent him anyway-right?) will probably never support anything he proposes to do again. I don’t kniow if other Israeli independents will work with him because of that (limited chances of getting Israeli funding). Perhaps, as one commentator mentioned this morning- he can go to Gaza for funding. I bet there WILL be plenty of supporters for him in the Palestinian film world.
Frankly, if I were a producer… even a Palestinian one… I’d be hesitant to fund someone like this who is stupid enough to bite the hand that feeds him.
Again he is entitled and SHOULD make his thoughts known… just not so blatantly hypocritical. He looses respect and weakens his message… which I believe the film addresses in a much stronger way that he did!
Last point- The Israeli films that have made it to the Oscars are not really films of “national pride”. They take on the poltical and ideological problems in/around Israel.
The pride is that they are made in Israel. The pride is that there is a small and struggling film industry that has the creative and technical ability to produce these films- which do challenge the fabric of Israeli society and politics.
I don’t think these films are “feel good” films of national pride that say “Hey, it’s great to be an Israeli and our country has done a world of good”. That type of film would almost certainly not make it to the Oscars… the world doesn’t really want to hear that about Israel.
In this case, I think Richard has a more rational approach. Art is an individual expression, not a national.
The element of pride that I derive from all three films, is that they are all individually inquiring, real art, and that is possible in Israel.
There has been similarly self-inquiring art coming from Palestine, which does have a lively film culture, if limited for lack of funding and logistical limitations.
I think an element of Richard’s thinking (my guessing), is that if Ajami is presented as an Israeli product, that in solidarity to it he is compelled to at least consider boycotting it, or risk violating the boycott on Israeli cultural products (presented as PR or not).
It is an unintended consequence of boycott, that dissenting artists would also be boycott.
I oppose cultural boycott for two reasons. One is that I want to be informed by diverse cultural impressions, and don’t want to be ONLY propagated to.
The second is that socially, my goal is that the society’s come to accept and respect each other, and that boycott makes that more difficult. I find it horridly ironic that in the name of urging a single democratic integrated state, one-state activists urge cultural isolation.
It wasn’t practiced consistently relative to South Africa. We still read Andre Brink, Nadine Gordimer, Athol Fugard. We didn’t boycott South African culture, we engaged it.
Well, exactly, Richard Witty,–a boycott could be selective. One could read South African writers and still support sanctions against the apartheid regime. In the case of Israel, a boycott could be carefully targeted only at organizations or activities directly linked to the oppression of the Palestinians. There’s no morally defensible reason for shipping weapons to Israel, for instance, given that they often use them to kill civilians. One could take that position and still go and see flawed films like “Waltzing with Bashir”.
First, don’t bother “guessing” about my thinking because invariably you’ll be wrong. Second, that’s not at all what I was thinking. Third, I wouldn’t boycott Ajami. I don’t adhere to the definition of BDS represented by Omar Barghouti. My view of BDS is closer to Neve Gordon’s. I don’t believe boycotting Ajami is useful or productive. But I have no problem boycotting other Israeli films which do not deal w. important social or political issues as Ajami does. And I applaud the director’s admonition to Israel that his work is not part of the national patrimony. Fourth, your comment is off topic.
Commentary on cultural boycott is off topic?
“Sorry, I didn’t quite get that… how should a film produced with Israeli funds, crew etc.(the Israeli film industry) be presented in a festival or contest like the Oscars without being connected to the country that sponsored it?”
Well, do you think it should have been presented as a German film then?
Just take a look at the production companies. With the exception of Inosan productions, which was created for this film, they are all German.
You either know what I mean or should. If you don’t read the Sarid article which explains his & my pt of view quite clearly. Israel trumpets its films as representatives of the national spirit & genius of Israel. It does the same w every international competition in which it has contestants such as Eurovision, Nobel Prizes, etc. This is distinctly off putting to every outside Israel itself. A film or performer should stand on their own & not wave a national flag as part of their performance. If they do, then the judges or audience will factor into the competition their like or dislike of that particular national msg.
Here is a perfect example of what I mean:
First, it was Israel that kept its mouth shut about the film till it became the country’s nominee for the Oscars. Then the hasbara machine took over & made the film a national messenger. It was this which made Copti so uncomfortable that he had to speak out. If Israel chauvinists like Limor Livnat & others would’ve kept their mouths shut, he might not have felt the need to divorce himself.
And I think you raise a good pt. If a film truly wants to win an international award it should if possible forego Israeli government funding. This will remove the national taint & allow it to be judged on its own merits. Unfortunately, there is so little private funding in Israel for films that this is unlikely to happen.
And you know this because of what inside film industry knowledge you have? In fact, as a nominee I’d think Israel would want to stay with a winner & that such a prospect would allow Israeli film industry/government honchos to hold their noses the next time they hand him a check. And perhaps they’ll also learn a lesson & not attempt to appropriate his work next time for the patriotic benefit of the state. Also, as a nominee Copti may find it easier to find outside financing for his next venture.
This is a perfect representation of Israeli nationalist chauvinism, also at work in this statement:
You have an Israeli citizen who came within a whisker of winning an Oscar & when he states out his national & artistic independence, this ticks you off to such an extent that you’re pleased to send him into the arms of your national enemy.
Frankly, you’re NOT a producer & there are many good reasons for that. If you were, you’d either be producing films far diff. & worse than Ajami or you’d be bankrupt (likely the latter). Second, about Copti’s alleged stupidity–you should only be stupid enought to have created the wonderful film that he has. When you get that stupid, let me know & maybe our readers here can sink some money into yr next project.
Do you really think losing yr respect or weakening his msg. in YOUR eyes is of any concern to him whatsover? No, nor should it be. You’re not his audience as you’ve already made up yr mind both about the political & social issues w. which the film deals.
But you’re wrong. Israeli liberals pride themselves that liberal Israel can make films which portray it as having such a profound moral conscience about the injustices it has committed against its own citizens & neighborhing Arab nations. That is a form of national pride that Israel is not entitled to in my opinion.
The challenge is quite mild again imo. When a film like Rachel or Defamation or countless others can be seen & have an audience in Israel then you can talk.
"And you know this because of what inside film industry knowledge you have? Well, Richard, I work in the film industry, and the first cardnial rule in any level of production is " don't piss off the producer", or in this case the one who is funding your project. So YES dis-associating himself was a stupid thing to do. There are people more talented than this guy who have done dumb things like this and have lost their projects.
"–you should only be stupid enought….. let me know & maybe our readers here can sink some money into yr next project." You twist the meaning of the word…You mean talented .. No need to get smart and attack me like that. Yes he and the other director are talented and certainly deserve that credit – BUT this doesn't exempt them from being capable of doing stupid (career dangerous) acts. you may not know the film industry and the competition for funding or getting films completed. This was not a smart move.
Yes, it wold be great to get funding from your readers… how would they then feel if then I totally disassociated myself from them and say they didn't represent me, nor I them?
What do you do in the film industry just to check yr bona fides.
And you mean to say that no filmmaker has ever pissed off a producer? And that no filmmaker has had good reason to do so? And that every filmmaker who has done so has never made a film again & ruined their career in the process? And this will with certainty happen to Copti?
Perhaps if the Israeli system were like the Chinese & Copti had to lap water fr. bowls offered to him by Israeli film industry executives. But the senior Israeli film industry executive at the Hollywood party who was interviewed had no problem w. anything Copti had said. So apparently at least one senior executive understood what Copti did & why. Limor Livnat denounced Copti because he doesn't sing Hatikvah first thing in the morning when he gets out of bed. I'd venture to say there are a few more enlightened Israelis than you or her who will not hold it against him, esp. if his next film is as good or better than Ajami.
I would maintain that once again that it is yr presumptive certainty that you know what is best for Copti in this particular situation that is stupid, & not his actions.
I am an independent producer / director. ( and AVID editor… if you know what that is), Check out "Victim & Victor"-it's listed at IMDB "Victim & Victor (2003)… Shownn on several PBS affilliates. is that enough , or will you charge me advertising time as well (meant jokingly).
Yes, there are those who publicly downplayed it, perhaps less to cause more media attention. Perhaps they really feel that way… people do have different opinions- proof in the pudding will be what Copti continues to do within the Israeli film industry… or outside it.
I could name literally scores of directors who've feuded w. producers (including some for political reasons) who've had fine careers, and some davke BECAUSE they stood up for their political & artistic principles.
You're being deliberately small-minded because it suits yr own political views and pretending that you're the voice of career wisdom.
" …. and some davke BECAUSE they stood up for their political & artistic principles".
Yes, that's what I said when you " pay the consequences" (good or bad). You skirt my point. Have they taken monies from a Fund, then after receiving it dis-associate themselves from the funder not just expressing POVs? Standing up for " their political and artisitic princiiples" is not taking money given by a sponsor and then saying I don't asociate myself with that person or group. This is being ingeniuous and deceiving.
This is all "noise." Of course filmmakers have taken funding fr. producers & then dissociated themselves fr. them. But that's not precisely what's happened here. Copti took money from the Israeli film industry agency, whose director had no problem w. Copti's statement. Various Israeli flag-wavers then attempted to hijack the film for political-patriotic purposes. Copti then renounced the hijacking effort of his work.
He has not dissed the agency that provided him funding or any Israeli who honored his artistic integrity & independence. His problem is w. the Limor Livnat's of Israeli politics. We shall see what happens in future. Either he will work with the film agency again & it will be shown to have some independence fr. gov't hack bureaucrats like Livnat. Or he will be ostracized & forced to make other accomodations.
This is more "white noise" & means nothing. Copti showed integrity by his behavior. To have acquiesced to the Israeli gov't pandering would've shown no integrity.
Who said he did that? One rule here is that commenters not make stuff up. If this indeed happened you need to present proof it did. If it didn't don't waste our time w. tall tales. I can't stand that.
Who said he did that?
Plain and simple. The film fund that gave him 2 million NIS is part of the Israeli government- and Israeli film industry. Copti said: " Technically, the movie represents Israel. I am a citizen of Israel but do not represent it. I cannot represent a country that does not represent me,"
LA times article- http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/201…
I take that to mean that he is dissassoicating himself from Israel-the govenment, thus the fund that supported his project. I suppose you think he endeared himself to the fund by doing so?
I see no attack whatsover by Copti on the Israeli film industry or the agency which funded him. And for the 3rd time (ea. time you neglect to mention this) the executive who runs the film agency was at the after awards party & was interviewed by the Jewish Journal & said he was happy w. the film & had no problem w. what Copti said. YOU can take what Copti said in any way YOU want. But that's not what matters. What matters is how he is viewed within the film industry & agency. And if he is viewed negatively whether he can find other funding sources. I maintain he will likely be able to surmount these obstacles in his career & may even benefit.
Yes it is my opinion… that's what I think and what my experience tells me. Correct, time will tell how it effected his future with the Israeli film industry AND receiving funding from the same organization.
Just a clarifiaction please; "Various Israeli flag-wavers then attempted to hijack the film for political-patriotic purposes. Copti then renounced the hijacking effort of his work."
Please back this up, with a link- I don't know where youg got this. Who said what to "politically hijack the film"?
Ajami has been touted by multiple American Jewish film festivals as the cream of the crop of the Israeli film industry. The MFA was in overdrive promoting it for its Oscar consideration. It did so w/o any regard to content or substance. For them, this was merely an Israeli product to be sold to the world. This annoyed Copti.
Have you actually read what Limor Livnat has said about Copti & the film both before & after the blow up?
Thanks for the clarification. I did not see what Copti said prior to the Oscar's remarks- at least not specifically in rebuttal to anyting Livnat said earlier on. I did see many (not all) of the "push' for the film leading to the Oscars. I saw them as promoting a good film made in Israel. Yes, the topic was mentioned about Arab/Israeli relations (and tensions), but maybe not to the degree you would have liked.
Yeah, nobody likes an ungrateful, uppity <s>n*****</s> Arab. He should never say what is really on his mind, but act like a good little <s>n*****</s> Arab and keep his mouth shut, grin, look down at the ground, shuffle his feet, and say "thank you, suh. massa, fo' the opportunity you have give me to live heah in De Onlies' Democracy In De Middle Eas'™. Ah 'preciates everthing y'all has done <s>to</s> fo' me heah, an' Ah hopes ya'll will let me stay heah and serve you fo'eva."
Here is what the Jewish Journal is reporting on last night:
Out of all the Oscar parties in Hollywood last night, the one for “Ajami” was surely the most __________ (fill in the blank because I can’t come up with a word to describe it)
Moved out to the lobby because several of the actors were underage is surely a metaphor.
Richard, I saw Crazy Heart a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it, great acting on the part of Jeff Bridges (he definitely deserved the Best Actor Oscar) and Maggie Gyllenhaal. I suppose the story was a little cliched and there were some hokey moments, but it delivered the goods nonetheless. And you’re right, great music in the film.
Totally missed the Oscars the other night; I’ll check out the winnings online…
If you look at the wikipedia entry for best foreign picture you will notice the chart showing the number of nominations and awards from every country. Obviously, it is a sign of national pride and achievement for most if not all countries, not just Israel. Much like the Olympics.
Also, I used google news search for Argentina and auto translate and noticed that they too see it as a form of national pride. It is the second time an Argentinian film has won, and this is duly noted and highlighted, as it should be.
The Argentinian who accepted the award said “vamos Argentina” towards the end of his speech.”The recipient yelled “Vamos Argentina” as the music played him off.” “Vamos vamos Argentina is a popular chant in Argentina, used by supporters in sports events, mainly in football (soccer) matches of the national team”
So I don’t think Israel is particularly unique in this regard regardless of what Yossi Sarid thinks.
I was rooting for Ajami until Copti gave me the finger. Now I’m glad he lost. Shadenfreude. I admit it.
Typically nasty, small-minded Israeli nationalist response which is why we love you here. If we ever want to hear that perspective to remind us of Israel’s limitations, you’re right here at the ready. Israel will fail until all Israelis including you realize that Copti owes nothing to you or Israel until it truly embraces him, his experience, his ethnicity, etc. Till then any achievement by Copti is almost in spite of Israel rather than because of it.
Argentina hasn’t been occupying the land of a neighboring country for 40 yrs. So it can bellow all it wants about national pride & no one will think twice about it. But when Israel attempts to exploit similar jingoism, it rings hollow to all ears but the pro Israel crowd. People in glass houses shouldn’t boast of how impregnable their house is to the rock thrower in the driveway.
Copti certainly doesn’t owe me anything. But Copti, who was born in Jaffa, went to Israeli schools, graduated with an engineering degree from the Haifa Technion, decided to pursue movie making, had his first film produced by the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, his other works were screened at the Israeli Center for Digital Art, the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art and at the Redding Art Fair 5 in Tel-Aviv not to mention that Ajami has won just about every Israeli film award imaginable, owes everything to Israel its institutions and its citizens who support his work.
For you to say that any achievement by Copti is in spite of Israel just shows how truly ignorant and spiteful you are.
You mean, except you & all those at the Hollywood party who were high-fiving & text mesaging to ea. other in celebration when he lost…don't you? Or did I mistake yr distaste for him & his work for support?
And as for the support he received from national institutions–are you claiming that Israel runs or should run a Bolshevik or Chinese like film system in which filmmakers owe national allegiance or fealty in order to get a film made? In most other truly democratic systems filmmakers are not expected to have to do these things in order to make a film. They don't ever feel the need to bite the hand that feeds them because that hand never reminds them incessantly that it IS feeding them. In Israel, that appears different.
Yr compliments are truly bracing. Coming fr. you an insult, no matter how feeble comes across as a compliment.
"are you claiming … blah blah blah …?"
No. I didn't claim any of those things.
Waltz with Bashir, and probably Beaufort as well, is an example of typical Israeli self-indulgence. No matter how egregiously Israel abuses others, somehow Israelis end up being the real victims. It’s all part of the Israeli shoot and cry schtick, of which Golda Meir’s “we don’t hate you for killing our sons, we hate you for forcing us to kill yours” is probably the most odious example.
Richard- I wanted to reply to your comments, yet I see there is no longer a thread here. Is this a technical issue with the site or do I need to do something else to re-connect with the thread?
I've just installed a new comment system. For you & anyone else reading this, pls. rpt to me anything hinky you notice about it. It may take a little bit to work out all the technical glitches. I'm hoping that overall, it will improve things for everyone here as many have complained about the default WordPress comment system.
Can you do a favor and post some type of estimate as to how much we can say?
I think you are wise to limit what is written in each reply, yet please help us out by letting us know "our lmit".
If commenters find there is a character limit let me know. I may be able to change the default setting on that.
I think the film, despite the Oscar loss, was a triumph for Copti and the Palestinian cause. Ingeniously, Copti was able to use Israeli funds to refute zionism. He may have trouble getting funds from the zionist entity again, but many will step in to fill the void