If Hollywood is dominated by Jews, it sure let our side down.
The third time was to be the charm for Israel’s entry in the best foreign-language film competition. While the highly touted Ajami made it to the five finalists list, the prize went to Argentina’s El Secreto de sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes).
The victory of the little–seen or publicized The Secret over such highly favored pictures as France’s A Prophet, Germany’s The White Ribbon and Ajami came as a general surprise, and repeated the pattern set over the past two years.
In 2008, Israel’s war movie Beaufort was also among the five finalists, as was the country’s Waltz with Bashir last year.
When the unheralded Japanese entry Departures upset all the favorites last year, the respected Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan proposed an explanation which may be just as applicable to this year’s results.
This year, as in 2009, four out of the five finalists were edgy, tough and innovative films, while the fifth tended to be softer and more conventional.
Turan proposed that the predominantly older Academy voters, enlisted as foreign-film judges, were more likely to favor the conventional film, while splitting their other votes among the four grittier finalists.
The same pattern may well have been repeated this year. While not without merit, the Argentinean entry was the most conventional among the five finalists, a crime thriller in which officials try to solve the 25-year murder and rape of a beautiful young woman.
Most Jewish hopefuls during the glittering evening also struck out.
The widely touted Inglourious Basterds, in which a group of American Jewish soldiers sow terror and revenge among Nazis, had to content itself with a best supporting actor Oscar for Austrian actor Christoph Waltz as a suave and sadistic Nazi officer.
Waltz got another moment of jocular glory, when hosts Steve Martin and Alex Baldwin noted that his Nazi character is labeled as “The Jew Hunter.”
"Well,” observed Martin, indicating the heavily Jewish audience with a sweep of his arm, “tonight he’s hit the motherload.”
Jason Reitman, who directed the popular Up in the Air with George Clooney, also lost out, as did Joel and Ethan Coen, writers and producers of A Serious Man, a chronicle of Jewish life in suburban America.
About the only consolation for the Jewish rooting section was provided by war correspondent Mark Boal, who walked off with two Oscars as writer and co-producer of The Hurt Locker.
The gripping story about an American bomb disposal squad in Iraq was the evening’s big winner with six Oscars, including a first-time best director award for a woman, Kathryn Bigelow.