Much is being made right now about the fact that, for the first time, all the Oscar winners in the acting categories happen to not be American. Although two of them play Americans (convincingly, I might add), Javier Bardem is Spanish, Marion Cotillard is French and Daniel Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton are both British.
This is significant perhaps only in context: it seems that the Academy may finally be embracing the fact that Hollywood is truly a global place, even when it comes to acting.
Certainly, many foreigners have been nominated before and several, especially the Brits, have taken home awards left and right. But we only need to look back to the year I graduated from college to see an example where this wasn't true.
We could debate left and right whether or not Marisa Tomei really deserved the Oscar for this film based on her performance. At the time it happened, I was as outraged as many, particularly since I believed Judy Davis had been robbed for her incredible performance in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives; I also thought this because, quite honestly, I hadn't bothered to see My Cousin Vinny. Years later, I did and her performance is actually quite good. Tomei has since proven herself several times over, including fantastic turns in In the Bedroom (where she deservedly picked up a second nom) and last year's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (where she might have picked up a third, had the field not been so incredibly overrun with really prime performances). I still don't think it's better than Davis', but maybe it's not so bad either. Besides, comedy is harder to play than it looks, so maybe we should be happy that at least this time it was rewarded.
And yet, as time has gone on, it becomes evident that one of the main reasons why Tomei probably won was that she was the only American that year. The other three nominees were all British: Joan Plowright in Enchanted April, Miranda Richardson in Damage and Vanessa Redgrave in Howards End. (Davis happen sto be Australian.) That year the field was clearly also tight: these are fine performances all and may have served to cancel each other out. That Tomei got as many votes as she did, however, speaks something to the age and overwhlemingly American composition of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In many ways, Tomei represented the home team -- and my guess is that many voted for her out of a sense of nationalism more than anything else.
It seems strange now to consider that, given how global we now take our movies. I am thrilled, for one, that this aspect has come through: that one can make it here from an international perspective. All of the winners this year still work in some of the smaller, crazy cinema projects back in their home countries (save Day-Lewis, who simply doesn't make many movies at all these days), so perhaps some attention will be drawn to those cinemas as well; certainly the Spanish is quite vibrant and deserves more attention.
Naturally, my only gripe about all of this is that the year that Oscar finally showed the love for overseas acting happens to be the one year when none of those actors were from Latin America. Maybe next year, Gael.