When the Oscar Foreign-Language Film shortlist was announced on Wednesday, one question immediately occurred to most Oscar-watchers:
How the heck did “Dogtooth” make the list?
The Greek film, after all, is likely the weirdest feature film ever to make an Oscar shortlist. The bizarre drama (or is it a deadpan comedy?) deals with a family that indoctrinates its children into a mindset where airplanes are toys, cats are man-eaters and there’s little difference between oral sex and licking an elbow; it’s widely known to have had a disastrous screening for the voters in the Foreign-Language general committee, who chose six of the nine films on the shortlist.
An exhilarating selection that marks the latest and most decisive break from years of painfully timid foreign-language choices, “Dogtooth” was unquestionably added to the shortlist by the Foreign-Language Film Award Executive Committee, a group of 20 members charged by chairman Mark Johnson three years ago to add more adventurous films to the mix than the normally conservative general committee would.
Committee members are not allowed to talk about which films were shortlisted by the general committee and which were saved by the exec committee, so officially no one can confirm that "Dogtooth" was a save. But in this case, it's certainly no secret. “When the general committee realizes that ‘Dogtooth’ is on the shortlist, they’re going to want to kill Mark,” laughed a committee member this week.
So who are these people who embraced something so far outside the mainstream, and so widely disliked by the larger body of voters? They’re the director of “The Lives of Others,” and the producer of “Little Miss Sunshine,” and the writer of “The Player,” and the cinematographers of “Black Swan” and “Schindler’s List” and “The Right Stuff.”
Some Oscar watchers have treated the executive committee as if it’s a mysterious cabal – a “secret executive panel of smart experts … whose names would be nice to know,” wrote the Hollywood Reporter this week.
In fact, the executive committee’s names are printed each year in the Oscar program, and Mark Johnson agreed to release the list early to theWrap.
So the folks responsible for the inclusion of “Dogtooth” (and I’m sure for the Japanese film “Confessions,” plus one less obvious choice) include Caleb Deschanel (“The Right Stuff,” “The Passion of the Christ”), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“Lives of Others,” “The Tourist”), Michael Tolkin (“The Player,” “Changing Lanes”), Ron Yerxa (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Cold Mountain”) and Matthew Libatique (“Black Swan,” “The Fountain”).
Some of the members have served on the committee for years, dating back well before it was charged with adding films to the shortlist; others are recent additions. The full list, including Academy branch:
Chair: Mark Johnson, producers branch
Co-chair: Caleb Deschanel, cinematographers branch
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Members at large:
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 30 members of two phase-two committees view the shortlisted films – and while those 30 include 10 taken randomly from the general committee, they also include notable directors, producers and actors hand-picked by Johnson and AMPAS executive director Bruce Davis.
Based on what I know about the committee makeup, I expect them to be as adventurous as the executive committee – meaning that “Dogtooth” has a pretty good shot as moving from the freakiest shortlisted Oscar movie to the freakiest Oscar nominee.