Oscar 2015 Category Breakdown: Best Foreign Language Film

Every year before the Oscars I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the 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. Because fuck yeah, subtitles!

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


Harp of Burma


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


The Village on the River

1960 The Virgin Spring Kapo

Le Vérité


The Ninth Circle

1961 Through a Glass Darkly Harry and the Butler

Immortal Love

The Immortal Man


1962 Sundays and Cybele Electra

The Four Days of Naples

Keeper of Promises (The Given Word)


1963 Knife in the Water

Los Tarantos

The Red Lanterns

Twin Sisters of Kyoto

1964 Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Raven’s End


The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Woman in the Dunes

1965 The Shop on Main Street Blood on the Land

Dear John


Marriage Italian Style

1966 A Man and a Woman The Battle of Algiers

Loves of a Blonde



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


Paix Sur Les Champs


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

The Emigrants

The Policeman


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


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


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


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


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


1987 Babette’s Feast Au Revoir Les Enfants

Course Completed

The Family


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


A Place in the World


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


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


1999 All About My Mother Caravan


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



Son of the Bride

2002 Nowhere in Africa The Crime of Father Amaro


The Man Without a Past

Zus & Zo

2003 The Barbarian Invasions Evil

The Twilight Samurai

Twin Sisters


2004 The Sea Inside As It Is in Heaven

The Chorus



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


2007 The Counterfeiters 12




2008 Departures The Baader Meinhof Complex

The Class


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



Outside the Law

2011 A Separation Bullhead


In Darkness

Monsieur Lazhar

2012 Amour Kon Tiki


A Royal Affair

War Witch

2013 The Great Beauty The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Hunt

The Missing Picture


2014 Ida Leviathan



Wild Tales

The interesting part of this category is in the nominations stage. It’s about what does and doesn’t make the shortlist and then what does and doesn’t get nominated. Usually once you have a nominees list, you can pick a winner. Most years, there’s a runaway winner. Like this one.

Best Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent


Son of Saul


A War

This wasn’t that difficult a category to guess. Most people should have went 4/5 here. And there’s such a clear winner that it doesn’t even require that much of an effort to talk about it.


5. Theeb — This category, once the nominees are in, is about what the movie is that the most people will watch and enjoy. This isn’t it. This is nice, but this has no chance of winning. Even the people who are going to vote for something other than the presumed winner (or the presumed second choice) will go for something much more exotic than this. At this point I’d be shocked if anything other than #1 won. For it to then go to something that’s not #2 would be unfathomable to me.

4. A War — It’s nice, but this also won’t get a lot of votes. This is one of the two that I haven’t seen, but even without seeing it, I can tell you that this has no chance. It won’t get enough votes to make an impact.

3. Embrace of the Serpent — The art film crowd who likes to pick obscure choices will favor this, but even that won’t be enough to overcome the other two, who have more support overall from people who saw them and heard about them over the course of the year. This hasn’t even been released yet, so people have to go out of their way to see this, and between those who do, and those who do and want to vote for it, I don’t see that as being enough to take down this category.

2. Mustang — If it’s not Son of Saul, it’s this. That seems obvious. It’s a really strong movie, and most years, would probably win. But it ran into a buzzsaw that can’t be stopped, and there’s nothing that can be done. Maybe if you think there will be some sort of backlash (I don’t see how), then you can take a flier on this, but I wouldn’t be against the house on this one. Sometimes it is just that easy.

1. Son of Saul — Did you see this? There’s no way this is losing. If this had more time to come out and get word of mouth, this could have made a play for Best Picture. There’s no way this is losing, and there’s no chance in hell anyone can or should consider this anything other than the frontrunner for the duration.

– – – – – – – – – – –

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


3 responses

  1. The moment the Academy released the final shortlist for this category, I just KNEW Embrace Of The Serpent and Theeb were going to get nominated.

    I mean, the snub of The Assassin was bad enough…but to have Serpent (Colombia) and Theeb (Jordan) be the only non-European entries to make the shortlist? NO WAY the Academy was going to bring more backlash onto themselves by nominating only European films, even if one of them (Son Of Saul) was already the presumed runaway winner.

    February 5, 2016 at 1:40 pm

  2. I already wanted to watch Embrace of the Serpent, Theeb and (specially) Son Of Saul as I didn’t watch any of the foreign film nominees this year. This also made me want to add Mustang, which I hadn’t really heard of until reading this post. Great job and thanks for posting!

    February 5, 2016 at 6:54 pm

  3. There was a time when it looked like Son of Saul was going to make a play for Picture. I don’t know if the studio just didn’t go for it or what, but I was disappointed when that never amounted to anything.

    I am pissed A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence didn’t make the lineup, but I imagine most people wouldn’t even get past the title.

    February 6, 2016 at 11:26 pm

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