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Oscars 2017 Category Breakdown: Best Foreign Language Film

Every year, as we lead up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category; what the trends are, how the guilds and stuff help (or don’t), etc. I also do it as a precursor to my giant Oscar ballot. I get most of the heavy lifting out of the way here, so that way when I get to the article, I’m just kind of riffing on how I think it’ll turn out and talking myself into all the bad decisions. It’s like college. And this is the pregame.

How these articles work is — I give you all the previous winners and nominees of each of the categories, then tell you how accurate each of the respective guilds and precursors are in what they vote for versus what wins the Oscar, tell you how each of them voted this year, then give you this year’s category, along with a quick rundown of how we ended up with that category (what was a surprise, etc). After that, I rank each of this year’s nominees in terms of how I see them right now in terms of their likelihood to win. Which is nothing more than my perception (notice that underline, even though you won’t) of how the category seems at the moment based on everything I know and have seen. Which will give you a general sense of the favorites.

Today is Best Foreign Language Film. I waited on this because I hadn’t seen two of the nominees out of laziness for a while. And because it’s just not overly fun to talk about this year.

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

2014 Ida Leviathan

Tangerines

Timbuktu

Wild Tales

2015 Son of Saul Embrace of the Serpent

Mustang

Theeb

A War

2016 The Salesman Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

Best Foreign Language Film

A Fantastic Woman

The Insult

Loveless

On Body and Soul

The Square

Rankings:

5. On Body and Soul — The Hungarian entry. The one no one’s heard of, that nobody got as a screener beforehand. All the others (except The Square, randomly) general Academy voters got to see beforehand. Never a good sign for visibility and vote snatching. It is on Netflix though, as of a few weeks ago, so there’s that. It’s a cute little romance, with a lot of blood (they’re slaughterhouse employees). I quite enjoyed the film, but I can’t see it as being anything other than a fifth choice. Even someone like me, who is deep into the Oscars, but not deep into foreign film… I knew what four of these were before the nominations. This, I had no clue about. The average voter won’t look at this for a vote. No way.

4. The Insult — It’s Asghar Farhadi-lite. It got sent out earlier, but it didn’t get the buzz that say, something like Foxtrot did. Which means I can’t consider it a major contender. People need to at least have an idea of what it is to vote for it without having seen it (which happens. A lot of voters go, “Isn’t that the (x) movie?” and vote for it. How do you think The Salesman won so easily last year?). Fourth choice, just because maybe more people have heard of it over On Body and Soul, but I think it’s the weakest film in the category and there are three way more known films than it.

3. Loveless — Andrey Zvyagintsev, who may not be a household name, but came close in this category in 2014 with Leviathan. Funnily enough, the same year that Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Ostlund, didn’t make it on the final list. This year, I think Ostlund stands a better chance at a win than Zvyagintsev. Loveless is a terrific film, but it’s unbearably bleak, and it doesn’t let up. There’s no nice resolution here, and it does not leave you feeling optimistic about the state of the world. You don’t even get the sense of “Man, that was a journey.” Like say, Son of Saul. There, you felt like you saw something profound. Here, you felt like someone showed you children starving to death and animals being tortured for two hours. Not like, in a way that turns you off, just more — “Holy shit, that made me want to kill myself.” I’d be surprised if they voted for this. It’s possible, but I would be surprised.

2. The Square — It has the most notoriety of the category. That’s for sure. I don’t think people care about the Ruben Ostlund, Force Majeure snub, just because no one knows enough about the films or the filmmakers to make that distinction. This could easily win. But it doesn’t feel like the favorite. I don’t know why. It felt like the easy choice, just because the most people knew what it was, but it never felt like it was gonna win. Like Lincoln. Remember Lincoln? Twelve nominations and it became a de facto favorite in a lot of categories, even something like Best Director. But then you were like, “Really? It doesn’t seem that way.” So I’m playing that hunch and calling this a second choice. Now, in Foreign Language, unless something truly is a lock (which we’ve had essentially for five out of the past six years), you can generally get three deep in contenders. So not being a favorite means nothing. But I still don’t consider it the most likely winner for whatever reason.

1. A Fantastic Woman — I think this is gonna win. It just feels like something that’s gonna win. I have no real evidence for that, since I follow none of the precursors and haven’t looked anywhere as to what people are saying online. It’s just pure instinct here. But the lead actress has been getting lots of praise for this, and I felt support for this even throughout the nominations process. I think now that you have a category with only three ‘known’ choices, one unbearably bleak and the other known but kind of offbeat… this might sneak right through and become the winner. So I’m calling it the favorite to keep people’s eyes on this as a likely winner and hopefully get people to not just take the easy choice of The Square because they’ve heard of it. I really feel like this movie’s gonna win this category, at the moment.

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