Aside from the certainty that host Chris Rock would be relentless and hilarious in mocking the absence of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations, there were two sure bets going into Hollywood’s annual orgy of self-congratulation: Sylvester Stallone would cop a sentimental trophy for Best Supporting Actor and the Hungarian movie Son of Saul be awarded Best Foreign-Language Film.
Remarkably, the Academy ignored the chance to haul a blubbering vet on stage to thank God, his mother, his agent, and everyone responsible for allowing him to play an aged Rocky in the crypto-remake Creed—a movie written and directed by a talented young African American filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)—and instead chose to honor Mark Rylance for his portrayal of a Soviet agent in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies.
Up until last night, the only four Holocaust-themed movies to have been denied an Academy Award in any category were all foreign-language films (including the 1983 Hungarian feature The Revolt of Job). But Son of Saul, like 21 of 25 Holocaust-themed nominees going back to the first, The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), received at least one Oscar—or should we say Oskar.
None of the six Holocaust-related documentaries nominated since Genocide (1981) had ever gone home empty-handed, but the 2015 Oscars changed that streak as Adam Benzine’s documentary short Claude Lanzman: Spectres of the Shoah (the first movie to have “Shoah” in its title) lost to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, a movie about Pakistani “honor killing,” the extreme punishment meted out by male relatives who feel themselves shamed by a woman’s perceived romantic transgression. (Chinoy previously won for her similarly-themed 2012 documentary, Saving Face). The other documentary shorts concerned the ebola epidemic (Body Team 12), the effects of Agent Orange (Chau, Beyond the Lines) and the putting to death of a veteran suffering from PTSD (Last Day of Freedom), all of which spoke to a diversity of suffering and noble intentions.
As presenter Louis C.K. (descendent of Hungarian Jews) joked, “You cannot make a dime on these.”
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J. Hoberman, the former, longtime Village Voice film critic, is a monthly film columnist for Tablet magazine. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books, including Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds and, with Jeffrey Shandler, Entertaining America: Jews, Movies, and Broadcasting.