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Berlinale: Seventy Years of Golden Bear Winners

The Golden Bear is the Cadillac of motion picture awards. It is the German Oscar and its opposite at the same time. These are some of the winners of the past.

As it turns out, the Bear is not into American movies so much anymore. When the new millennium dawned, Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Magnolia’ got the Berlinale International Film Festival’s main award. It was the last American film to receive a Golden Bear. Sure, why should the Berlinale be some kind of an ‘Academy Awards Light’ show?

The Right Remedy

Hollywood’s influence ends in Berlin. But this was not always the case. In 1951, six years after Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender, a flick like ‘Cinderella’ was just the right remedy against terrible memories of air raids, death, genocide and destruction. Andy Signore and Brett Weiner created this cartoon musical, one of the first movies to get a Golden Bear. Talking mice, dancing birds and a love story let people forget about the horrors of war and their difficulties in those post-war times for about 80 minutes.

During the first edition of the Berlinale, that same year, it was a German jury that awarded films in five rubrics. From 1952 to 1955, audience votes decided about the Bears. Since 1956, an international jury gives out the Golden Bears per year. One is for the best film, a Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievements was added in 1982. This year, none other than Helen Mirren will be receiving that one.

‘The Ascent’ is a Soviet Golden Bear winner.

In the past 38 years, Honorary Golden Bears were given out to people like James Stewart, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Stone, Sophia Loren, Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Kim Novak, Shirley MacLaine, Kirk Douglas, Robert Altman, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Lemmon, Meryl Streep, Michael Ballhaus, Wilem Dafoe and Charlotte Rampling, to name a few. No, the Americans have not been boycotted on this end.

Golden Bears Sent Across Iron Curtain

Some stunning motion pictures were awarded with regular Golden Bears for best film. ’12 Angry Men’, the mother of all courtroom dramas released in 1957, is on that list. So is Roman Polanski’s legendary ‘Cul-de-sac’. The Golden Bear is definitely political, at times. In the middle of the Cold War, the Berlinale jury in West Germany awarded the late Larisa Shepitko for her winter drama ‘The Ascent’.

Richard Pearce’s flick ‘Heartland’ got a Bear in 1980. Because of a tie in the jury’s vote, there was a second Golden Bear winner that year, namely ‘Palermo or Wolfsburg’ a German production about an Italian Gastarbeiter in West Germany. In 1985, an East German movie, ‘The Woman and the Stranger’ was awarded. So was ‘Rainman’ by Barry Levinson, in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall finally fell.

Both Kim Novak and James Stewart (picture from Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’) got Golden Bears for their lifetime achievements.

In the 1990s, twelve regular Golden Bears were distributed. ‘Central do Brasil’, also known as ‘Central Station’, a very colorful Brazilian drama by Fernanda Montenegro and Vinícius de Oliveira was awarded in 1998. That decade also saw Golden Bear winners like ‘The People vs. Larry Flynt’ by Miloš Forman and ‘A Thin Red Line’, Terrence Malick’s war drama based in the 1962 novel by James Jones.

Suspense Rising to Critical Level

Since this millennium commenced, the British-Irish drama ‘Bloody Sunday’ was among the Berlinale winners. So was ‘Grbavica’, a Bosnian drama by Jasmila Žbanić that tells the story of a Bosnian single mother after the Serbian war of conquest during which Bosnian women were systematically raped. Laura Benson created ‘Touch Me Not’ about prejudice related to intimacy. This Bulgarian, Romanian, French, Czech and German co-production got a Golden Bear.

Jeremy Irons will be heading the Berlinale jury this time around. With every minute, the suspense is rising, and it will not stop until we cannot take it anymore. The 70th Berlinale commences on February 20th, 2020. Hold on to your hats.

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