The annual Academy Awards telecast, just hours away, marks 12 months of awesome and awful cinema. If one movie stands out for me in this period, not to be conflated with outstanding, it has to be Comrade Kim Goes Flying.
That is the first fiction film made in North Korea, with western directors and producers. The movie deals with a young coal miner, Kim Yong Mi, who seeks to attain her fantasy of becoming a Pyongyang Circus aerialist. It features such memorable Stalinist dialogue like: “We, the working class, can do anything if we put our minds to it.” In other words, retarded Bollywood hack meets the Workers Party of Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department. Never before in the rolling credits at a film’s conclusion have I seen cast and crew members described as People’s Artist or Merited Artist.
Though sitting through the film was a first-class struggle, it was certainly preferable to other recent North Korean productions such as Comrade Kim Conducts Nuclear Test or Comrade Kim Threatens To Annihilate South Korea.
Comrade Kim will get its US premiere in March, though rumours that North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un will mark that occasion by blasting off a few celebratory missiles are unconfirmed.
Anything set in North Korea, of course, makes for fascinating viewing simply because that hermetically sealed nation is always making headlines. Interestingly, when it comes to this year’s Oscars, the slate has rarely featured so many high-profile movies that jibe with current hotspots like Iran or Pakistan.
Among the Best Picture nominees is Zero Dark Thirty, based on the mission to decommission Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. That film, though, is not favoured by bookies to clinch the big prize because of its depiction of torture. But that’s enough about being subjected to watching Bruce Willis reprise his role as John McLane, Die Hard: With A Ventilator.
There’s also Argo, the film about a group of American diplomats who escaped the US embassy in Teheran at the time of the hostage crisis, secured refuge in the residence of the Canadian Ambassador and, in a daring CIA mission, using the production of a fake film as cover, were exfiltrated from Iran. At one point in the film, a Hollywood-based character says, “You can teach a rhesus monkey to be a director in a day.” That may be the missing link as to why its director Ben Affleck was nixed by the Academy though he won best director honours for Argo at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs. His prominent exclusion is somewhat like making a Fallen Sports Icons documentary and omitting Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius.
Argo, though, is shortlisted among the Best Motion Picture hopefuls, along with others like Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Amour, Django Unchained, Les Miserables and Beasts of the Southern Wild.
If all else fails, there’s always Steven Spielberg. The maestro can always be depended upon to deliver a compelling character portrayal that makes for a profound cinematic experience. But that’s enough about The Adventures of Tintin. This year, he brings the biopic, Lincoln, to the table.
One of them will lift that most-coveted Oscar statuette. Hoisting that trophy isn’t easy. In 2009, when the Oscars were Slumdogged, AR Rahman’s arms ached from lugging around the brace he collected. At an afterparty that evening in Los Angeles, during an interview, he asked me to take them off his hands. Unfortunately, I had to return them. But they do throw their weight around, at nearly four kilos, it’s like lifting a newborn.
Speaking of infants, the Academy Awards this Sunday are hosted by Seth McFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, the animated series about the supremely dysfunctional Griffin brood, especially psychotic one-year-old Stewie.
It may be pertinent to borrow from his wisdom to deliberate about the awards show, as Stewie opines in an episode: “Forecast for tomorrow; a few sprinkles of genius with a chance of doom!”
Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years. The views expressed by the author are personal.