‘Ajami’ passed over at Oscars, ‘Jew Hunter’ wins

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Israel’s half-century jinx at the Oscars continued and three Jewish-themed films were passed over, but "The Jew Hunter" took home an award.

The Israeli entry “Ajami,” a gritty film about the Jewish-Arab tensions in the mixed quarter of Jaffa, lost out Sunday for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards to Argentina’s entry, "The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)," directed by Juan José Campanell.

Three Jewish-themed films vying for the best picture nod — "Inglourious Basterds," "A Serious Man" and "An Education" — also missed out. And Quentin Tarantino lost in the directing category, despite high praise for "Inglourious Basterds," a brutal counterfactual fantasy in which a band of Jewish GIs scalps German soldiers and assassinates Nazi leaders.

"Inglourious Basterds" did win the first award of the night, with Christoph Waltz taking the Oscar for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Hans Landa, aka "The Jew Hunter," the terrifyingly and hilariously meticulous German colonel charged with capturing the Jewish soldiers.

"Oscar and Penelope, that’s an uber-Bingo," said Waltz in his acceptance speech, referencing the award being presented by the sultry actress Penelope Cruz and invoking one of the Austrian actor’s classic lines in the movie.

Co-host Steve Martin also drew laughs with a Hans Landa joke during the night’s opening segment: "[You] played a Nazi obsessed with finding Jews in ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ " Martin said, as he opened his arms to the crowd. "Well Christoph … the mother lode."

It was the third consecutive Oscars in which an Israeli film nominated for best foreign language film left empty-handed — the Lebanon war-themed films “Beaufort” and “Waltz with Bashir” were considered leading contenders before being passed over in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

"Ajami" was a joint production of two young Israeli filmmakers, Scandar Copti, a Christian Arab, and Yaron Shani, a Jew. It was Israel’s top drawer at the box office in the past year.

Just hours before the Oscars ceremony, Copti said he was not representing Israel.

“I am not the Israeli national team and I do not represent Israel,” Copti said in an interview on Israel’s Channel 2. “It is an extremely technical thing, that’s how it works in the Oscars. It says ‘Israel’ because the funding comes from Israel. There’s a Palestinian director, an Israeli director, Palestinian actors and Israeli actors. The film technically represents Israel, but I don’t represent Israel.”

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat criticized Copti’s remarks.

"The film ‘Ajami’ was produced and received an Oscar nomination thanks to funds from the State of Israel, which Scandar Copti now tries to renounce," Livnat said. "Without the state’s support, Copti would not be walking on the red carpet tonight."

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