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December 22, 2014
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UK hails Oscar win as sign of surging industry

Steve McQueen jumps in joy after accepting the award for best picture for 12 Years a Slave.

Italy cheers Academy Award for foreign film return but critics remain impervious

The big winners on Oscar night may have been set in the 19th-century American South and outer space, but for many people across the Atlantic, this year’s Academy Awards belonged to Britain.

Best-picture winner 12 Years a Slave has a British director — Steve McQueen — and star, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Gravity, which took seven trophies, starred Americans Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and had a Mexican director, Alfonso Cuarón, but it was made in London, using British special effects teams and post-production facilities.

“It’s very obvious the amazing quality and sophistication of the British film industry made this film happen,” said Cuarón, who won a directing Oscar for the 3-D space thriller.

Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to praise the British successes, congratulating McQueen in a tweet yesterday and calling the wins for Gravity “a tribute to the brilliance of British special effects wizards.”

This year also recognized British effects artists, composers — Steven Price took an Oscar for his Gravity score — and cinematographers. (Spare a thought for Britain’s Roger Deakins, cinematography nominee for Prisoners, who has now had 11 Academy Awards nominations without a win.)British director Malcolm Clarke won the documentary short prize for The Lady in Number 6, a profile of musician and Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer, who died last week at age 110.

Cheap Fellini knockoff

Italy celebrated yesterday after The Great Beauty ended the country’s 15-year hiatus and won the Oscar for best foreign-language film. But even the film’s muse lamented the fallen Rome it portrays and critics including the Vatican said it was just a cheap Fellini knockoff.

Paolo Sorrentino’s homage to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Rome’s seductive decadence has divided Italians, with many critics uncomfortable with its indirect reflection of Italy’s political and economic stagnation.

“At this time we have to be thinking about other things, and we’re doing so,” Premier Matteo Renzi tweeted. “But everyone is part of this Italian moment of pride for Sorrentino and The Great Beauty.”

President Giorgio Napolitano said it evoked the “great tradition of Italian film with a new capacity for creative storytelling for today’s reality.”

Many Italians have resented the film as a rip-off of Fellini — there’s a dwarf, a giraffe and Fellini-esque scenes of Romans behaving badly — but even they seemed to appreciate that it showed off the Eternal City in all its stunning, albeit fading, glory.

Raffaele La Capria, the famous Italian writer on whom Sorrentino is believed to have modeled Jep Gambardella, said the film did indeed echo Fellini. “But the movies of Fellini were portraying a happy era of success, while the situation described by Sorrentino is like a deteriorated Fellini,” La Capria said in an interview yesterday. “You don’t find that happiness anymore redeemed by the images that was present in Fellini’s movies.”

Selma Jean Dell’Olio, a film critic for Il Foglio daily and one of the Italian critics who disliked the film, said Sorrentino’s Oscar wouldn’t do anything in the long run. “It’ll make Italy happy for five minutes,” Dell’Olio said. “Every time a halfway decent film or one that goes abroad comes around ... they talk about a renaissance. But one swallow doesn’t make a spring.”

Herald with AP, online media

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