Oscars 2014 Category Breakdown: Best Foreign Language Film

This is a tradition for me. Every year, before the Oscars, I break down every single one of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with each category, how it works, what its history is, how it usually turns out, and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.

How these work is — I go over each category’s history, give you all the previous winners and nominees, then list the current year’s nominees. And then I’ll go over how each of the guilds (if there is a corresponding guild) have went, and how that corresponds to the Oscars (some guilds mean a lot to how a category will play out. Others mean nothing). It’s basically everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when you make your picks on Oscar night. And then I also rank the nominees at the end in terms of where I see them in terms of their likelihood to win.

Today is Best Foreign Language Film. (What’s the best way to emulate the sound of crickets in text form?)

Year Best Foreign Language Film Winners Other Nominees
1947 Shoe-Shine None. They just announced a winner.
1948 Monsieur Vincent None. They just announced a winner.
1949 The Bicycle Thief None. They just announced a winner.
1950 The Walls of Malpaga None. They just announced a winner.
1951 Rashomon None. They just announced a winner.
1952 Forbidden Games None. They just announced a winner.
1953 No Award Given. No Category.
1954 Gate of Hell None. They just announced a winner.
1955 Samurai, The Legend of Musashi None. They just announced a winner.
1956 La Strada The Captain of Köpernick

Gervaise

Harp of Burma

Qivitoq

1957 Nights of Cabiria The Devil Came at Night

Gates of Paris

Mother India

Nine Lives

1958 Mon Oncle Arms and the Man

La Venganza

The Road a Year Long

The Usual Unidentified Theives

1959 Black Orpheus The Bridge

The Great War

Paw

The Village on the River

1960 The Virgin Spring Kapo

Le Vérité

Macario

The Ninth Circle

1961 Through a Glass Darkly Harry and the Butler

Immortal Love

The Immortal Man

Placido

1962 Sundays and Cybele Electra

The Four Days of Naples

Keeper of Promises (The Given Word)

Tlayucan

1963 Knife in the Water

Los Tarantos

The Red Lanterns

Twin Sisters of Kyoto

1964 Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Raven’s End

Sallah

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Woman in the Dunes

1965 The Shop on Main Street Blood on the Land

Dear John

Kwaidan

Marriage Italian Style

1966 A Man and a Woman The Battle of Algiers

Loves of a Blonde

Pharaoh

Three

1967 Closely Watched Trains El Amor Brujo

I Even Met Happy Gypsies

Live for Life

Portrait of Chieko

1968 War and Peace The Boys of Paul Street

The Firemen’s Ball

The Girl with the Pistol

Stolen Kisses

1969 Z Adalen ‘31

The Battle of Neretva

The Brothers Karamazov

My Night with Maud

1970 Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion First Love

Hoa-Binh

Paix Sur Les Champs

Tristana

1971 The Garden of the Finzi Continis Dodes’ka-Den

The Emigrants

The Policeman

Tchaikovsky

1972 The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie The Dawns Here Are Quiet

I Love You Rosa

My Dearest Señorita

The New Land

1973 Day for Night The House on Chelouche Street

L’Invitation

The Pedestrian

Turkish Delight

1974 Amarcord Cats’ Play

The Deluge

Lacombe, Lucien

The Truce

1975 Dersu Uzala Letters from Marusia

The Promised Land

Sandakan No. 8

Scent of a Woman

1976 Black and White in Color Cousin, Cousine

Jacob, the Liar

Nights and Days

Seven Beauties

1977 Madame Rosa Iphigenia

Operation Thunderbolt

A Special Day

That Obscure Object of Desire

1978 Get Out Your Handkerchiefs The Glass Cell

Hungarians

Viva Italia!

White Bim Black Ear

1979 The Tin Drum The Maids of Wilko

Mama Turns a Hundred

A Simple Story

To Forget Venice

1980 Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears Confidence

Kagemusha

The Last Metro

The Nest

1981 Mephisto The Boat is Full

Man of Iron

Muddy Water

Three Brothers

1982 Vovler a Empezar (“To Begin Again”) Alsino and the Condor

Coup de Torchon (“Clean Slate”)

1983 Fanny and Alexander Carmen

Entre Nous

Job’s Revolt

Le Bal

1984 Dangerous Moves Beyond the Walls

Camila

Double Feature

Wartime Romance

1985 The Official Story Angry Harvest

Colonel Redl

Three Men and a Cradle

When Father Was Away on Business

1986 The Assault Betty Blue

The Deline of the American Empire

My Sweet Little Village

‘38’

1987 Babette’s Feast Au Revoir Les Enfants

Course Completed

The Family

Pathfinder

1988 Pelle the Conqueror Hanussen

The Music Teacher

Salaam Bombay!

Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

1989 Cinema Paradiso Camille Claudel

Jesus of Montreal

Waltzing Regitze

What Happened to Santiago

1990 Journey of Hope Cyrano de Bergerac

Ju Dou

The Nasty Girl

Open Doors

1991 Mediterraneo Children of Nature

The Elementary School

The Ox

Raise the Red Lantern

1992 Indochine Close to Eden

Daens

A Place in the World

Schtonk!

1993 Belle Époque Farewell My Concubine

Hedd Wyn

The Scent of Green Papaya

The Wedding Banquet

1994 Burnt by the Sun Before the Rain

Eat Drink Man Woman

Farinelli: Il Castrato

Strawberry and Chocolate

1995 Antonia’s Line All Things Fair

Dust of Life

O Quatrilho

The Star Maker

1996 Kolya A Chef in Love

The Other Side of Sunday

Prisoner of the Mountains

Ridicule

1997 Character Beyond Silence

Four Days in September

Secrets of the Heart

The Thief

1998 Life is Beautiful Central Station

Children of Heaven

The Grandfather

Tango

1999 All About My Mother Caravan

East-West

Solomon and Gaenor

Under the Sun

2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Amores Perros

Divided We Fall

Everybody Famous!

The Taste of Others

2001 No Man’s Land Amélie

Elling

Lagaan

Son of the Bride

2002 Nowhere in Africa The Crime of Father Amaro

Hero

The Man Without a Past

Zus & Zo

2003 The Barbarian Invasions Evil

The Twilight Samurai

Twin Sisters

Zelary

2004 The Sea Inside As It Is in Heaven

The Chorus

Downfall

Yesterday

2005 Tsotsi Don’t Tell

Joyeux Noël

Paradise Now

Sophie Scholl – The Final Days

2006 The Lives of Others After the Wedding

Days of Glory

Pan’s Labyrinth

Water

2007 The Counterfeiters 12

Beaufort

Katyn

Mongol

2008 Departures The Baader Meinhof Complex

The Class

Revanche

Waltz with Bashir

2009 The Secret in Their Eyes Ajami

The Milk of Sorrow

A Prophet

The White Ribbon

2010 In a Better World Biutiful

Dogtooth

Incendies

Outside the Law

2011 A Separation Bullhead

Footnote

In Darkness

Monsieur Lazhar

2012 Amour Kon Tiki

No

A Royal Affair

War Witch

2013 The Great Beauty The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Hunt

The Missing Picture

Omar

Remember yesterday when I had that whole thing about the Documentary branch being broken? Well, this branch… it’s not broken, but it ain’t totally right. Since every year, there are always like three films that get left off the shortlist that make everybody go, “What?” Now, the pre-nominations process is fine. I love that countries nominate one movie and that’s their movie. That’s actually pretty great. The one country, one player thing. Kind of like the Olympics, or Guts.

But after that, I don’t know how they get nominated. Who votes for them? How do they vote for them? There are usually about 70-something submissions. Do they have to watch them all? How do they watch them all? This seems like a mysterious process. Every year, it seems like the foreign language films people do recognize, a lot of them don’t make the shortlist.

And this year, the films that people saw and loved that were on the shortlist (like Force Majeure) weren’t nominated. Why is that? How is that? I have no idea.

So I think maybe some tweaking needs to happen in this category. Ultimately I don’t really care about it, but I feel if they made it more accessible to Oscar voters, and had more films that more people can enjoy, or recognize, the category would go over a lot better.

Anyway, let’s get into it:

Best Foreign Language Film

Ida

Leviathan

Tangerines

Timbuktu

Wild Tales

I’ve seen three of these.

I don’t have much to say about the category, because I don’t know how they go about voting for it. And barely ever see most of the nominees. So I can’t speak to how it turned out, and that sort of stuff, like I usually do. I can say that the three films I saw were good. So there’s that.

Rankings:

5. Timbuktu — Completely pulling these rankings out of my ass. Typically how this category works for me is… what I haven’t see, I put to the back of the pack. Because everyone can vote for these. So if I didn’t hear anything about them, or think to see them because they sound good… they’re probably not winning. Think of me like a slightly above average regular voter. I don’t care about this category or foreign films (I do a little, which is why slightly above average), so you need to get me to want to watch some of them. The way you do that is either through, “Oh, yeah, you gotta see this, it’s amazing,” or, “Damn, that sounds great.” The only reason I know what Timbuktu is happens to be because I have this blog, guess the nominations, and go over the shortlists. Otherwise, I’d have no idea. And this is open voting. So, sure, two-hundred people will watch all five nominees and vote informed. Everyone else is voting on the one or two movies they saw. This won’t be one of them.

4. Tangerines — By all accounts, this is actually a really powerful film. But I’m going by my method of… I don’t know what this is. I only know about it because of the blog. Most voters aren’t informed. And, this and Timbuktu are the only two we didn’t get screeners for. Which means there’s a very slim to no chance that even 30% of Oscar voters saw either of those movies. And now you’re asking a majority of voters who cast a vote for this category to pick the two movies that, in all likelihood, they haven’t seen. I don’t buy it. The other three in this category have more exposure. Maybe this can be third in the voting based on people who saw it, but I don’t buy that this wins out of nowhere without any word of mouth. (It was nominated for the Globe, though, which is a start. Still… hard time seeing this win.)

I’m gonna give you a stat, before we continue — the last four Oscar winners for Best Foreign Language Film also won the Golden Globe. The last four. Granted, two of them were Amour and A Separation, which were so big and broke through for nominations in other categories. So those were just moot points. The other two, though — The Great Beauty and In a Better World — there’s no way they didn’t carry over from the Globes exposure. You know how I know that? In a Better World beat a film that had a BEST ACTOR nominee in it! (And Dogtooth, which I’m pretty sure has held up better than both of those films. Oh, and the film that brought us the guy who directed Prisoners. Lot of stuff came out of that category.)

It’s hard to really gauge this stat, though, since they only started this open voting thing recently. And the open voting really only plays in the favor of the films that have exposure to the most people. People are allowed to cast a vote if they only saw one of these movies.

3. Wild Tales — This will never win. Tangerines is a more likely winner, content wise. But, we got a screener for this. Which means there’s more of a chance that the Academy at large saw this film and could vote for it. And that’s why I put it third. But it’s an insane film. The Academy would have a real fun, rebellious streak if they voted for this. And it would shock me that enough people saw it to vote for it. Honestly, this category is a two horse race, and I don’t think anyone is arguing otherwise. So, maybe a slim chance here, but this is either a third or a fourth nominee. This isn’t a major contender.

2. Ida — This movie is beautiful. If I had a vote, this would probably be it. It’s also actually a beautiful movie. It got nominated for Cinematography as well. (And I think everyone knows it got nominated for Cinematography, because this was the nominee before the infamous “Dick Poop” affair. Everyone’s seen it in the videos. You laugh, but that actually helps.) This movie stands a strong chance at actually winning. I don’t know if it’s not actually the favorite here. But these articles mean nothing. They’re only here to get you acquainted with the category and give you a general idea of who the major players are and which movies don’t stand a chance at all. (You’d be surprised how many people will look at a ballot and go, “Oh, The Hobbit. That should win for Sound, right?”) Either way, this movie is beautiful, this has a lot of fans, and it might even be my vote when all is said and done. It’s a two-horse race, and this is neck and neck with #1 right now.

1. Leviathan — I’m gonna say this before we start… watch this director’s first movie, The Return. It’s fucking incredible. I took a class on Russian cinema my junior year (so many stories to tell about that class), and I was bored out of my mind for a lot of the movies. (That is, the ones I hadn’t already seen.) And there were only about… five or six movies that we watched that really stuck with me. Ivan’s Childhood, Solaris, Stalker, The Ascent, a silent movie called By the Law, and that movie. The Return. That was the one where, I had to walk all the way across campus afterward. And normally it’s a ten minute walk at a normal pace. I think I did it in four, the way my heart was pounding after I left that theater. That movie just fucked me up. I don’t know what it is, but it hit all of my buttons in the best way possible. Great, great movie.

Now, this movie… really good. I probably should watch it again a little more closely, because I feel like it’s a movie that deserved more of my attention than I actually gave it upon initial viewing. However, I will say… I think this has to be considered your favorite. Simply because it won the Globe. Because people, when checking off their ballots, with the ability to vote for everything, will vote for everything. (Now, that doesn’t always hold true, since, as we learned last year, even with an open category, some ones will probably follow the same voting format, like Animated Short.) I just feel like people will go down the categories, look at this one, not know any of the movies, and go, “Oh, that’s the one that won the Golden Globe, right?” and check it off. Maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see. We’re only in year two of this open vote thing. There isn’t enough of a precedent in any direction to say. That’s how it works. Once is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a trend. Right now, we haven’t even gotten coincidence yet.

But, since this won the Globe, and is well-received, I think this could very easily win the Oscar. It’s between this and Ida. I think both would be fine winners, so I don’t really care which would win (though my preference is Ida). But I think based solely on the Globe win, you have to consider this the favorite right now.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow, we go over Best Animated Short, and things start to pick up around here and get a little more fun.

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One response

  1. BlueFox94

    Good analysis.

    Honestly, I’m somewhat troubled by the one film, one country thing.

    I’ll always bring up the case of Ingmar Bergman making both THE SEVENTH SEAL and WILD STRAWBERRIES in 1957 and the dilemma of what Sweden will elect. They picked STRAWBERRIES and didn’t even get nominated. (Of course, anything Berman that gets nominated afterwards always ended up winning). I think Bergman’s films are pretty boring, but their stature precedes them still.

    Also, Japan submitted PRINCESS MONONOKE (which, before TITANIC, became the highest grossing film ever in that country) in 1997 and that didn’t even make the shortlist. Who even remembers the nominees or winner (CHARACTER from the Netherlands) anymore? Fucking animation bias…

    Mind you, it’s fine to recognize films from smaller countries. But film industries that are clearly established and produce quality stuff on a consistent annual basis from a wide assortment of filmmakers [France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Japan, India (maybe not on quality, but quantity for sure. I mean, out of all those Indian musicals, there’s bound be a handful of great ones per year)] deserve to submit more than one film because they’ve worked and built up for it.

    Plus, to give countries the power to submit films that they consider to give a positive impression of themselves makes the process too political, especially if the government feels threatened or snubbed by the director. Japan and Kurosawa’s RAN in 1985, anyone?
    (Thank God, Sidney Lumet got Kurosawa a Best Director nom.)

    Can’t the Academy just nominate the best films with less than 10% of English, at least 45% of a non-English language, and the statuette goes to the directors and producers instead of the country itself? Y’know, like every other awards group?

    Likewise with the funding–less than 10% from American studio sources.

    The Foreign Language Film Committee isn’t broken, but it does have some flawed rules.

    January 31, 2015 at 3:05 pm

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