Oscars 2018 Category Breakdown: Best Foreign Language Film

So what we do here each year as a warm up for the Oscars is, I break down each of the 24 categories. The idea is to both familiarize everyone with the category and its history. I look at what the major trends are throughout the past bunch of years, how the precursors tend to go, whether they matter or not, that sort of stuff. I look at how the category came to be this year, and just anything else that seems totally pertinent about it. Then I rank each of the nominees and tell you what their likelihood (at this particular moment in time) of winning is.

This is all prelude to my giant Oscar ballot that I’m gonna give you. But I figure, if you have these as the warmup, it’s not as intimidating. You’ll have seen a lot of the pertinent trends here and we’ll all be able to reference these as a sort of cheat sheet. Plus it shows you where my head is at for how I think each of the categories are gonna go, and you can see me working my way up to all the bad decisions I usually make while guessing. Pretty much, with this, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the category is gonna turn out.

Today is Best Foreign Language Film, a category that’s either more locked than we’ve ever seen, or we’re just gonna get it all wrong, knowing exactly what’s gonna win instead.

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

2015 Son of Saul Embrace of the Serpent



A War

2016 The Salesman Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove


Toni Erdmann

2017 A Fantastic Woman The Insult


On Body and Soul

The Square

Nothing much to say here. Generally you just kinda know what’s gonna win when you look at it. Precursors are generally meaningless.

Best Foreign Language Film


Cold War

Never Look Away



So I expected four of these. Wasn’t sure they’d come in, but you pretty much knew Rom and Cold War were gonna come in. You knew they were gonna get other nominations. I figured Cold War would stop at Screenplay and wouldn’t extend to Director, but there we are. Of the rest of the shortlist, Capernaum was pushed pretty hard and felt like the kind of thing they’d like, so that wasn’t so difficult a guess. Shoplifters won Cannes, and seemed like the film they’d go for over Burning (I’m not sure why I felt only one East Asian film would make it on, but that was the feeling. Experience, I guess). The other two, Ayka and Birds of Passage, felt like one that were forced onto the shortlist by the committee. Sometimes those make it on, but this year I did not take into account the possible Cinematography nomination for Never Look Away. Not sure anyone did. And in the end, this category is 3/5 the same category as Best Cinematography. And right there, you can pretty much figure out how this one is gonna go.


5. Shoplifters — Fifth, fourth. Doesn’t matter. This doesn’t have a shot. It could have threaded its way to maybe third choice, but with the top dogs in this one I can’t see this having any kind of legs to make it all the way through to a win. Remember, this is an open vote. So the majority of the people voting in this category will have had to 1) seen all the nominees, and 2) decided this was the best film in the category. Tough call to make when three other films have multiple nominations and one of them is the favorite for Best Picture.

4. Capernaum — See everything I wrote for Capernaum? Just repeat that for this one. This one only has the benefit of having a screener be sent out earlier on in the race. So at least people are aware of it a bit more than Shoplifters. That’s the only reason it’s fourth. Otherwise, can’t really see this one being much of a factor in the race.

3. Never Look Away — From “didn’t even think it would be nominated” to third. Not bad. But a second nomination means even if people bothered to watch it before, some might now because, “Well, it’s on another category too, I might as well.” That’s still not gonna amount to much. Especially when there’s another film they’re already gonna be doing that for. And that has word of mouth and isn’t three hours long and about an artist. The fact that this is third shows you just how far the distance is between the top choices and the lesser choices in this category. This has no chance at this. (And yes, I say that knowing his other film won this category over a huge favorite that won in other categories. That one was at least very much an acclaimed movie, and not a three hour movie about an artist that most people were pretty “meh” on.)

2. Cold War — It’s nominated for Cinematography and Director and is still a second choice. Here’s the deal — we all know it’s the second choice, and we can’t vote for it here because this category seems so fucking obvious that it’s almost like throwing your vote away if you take this. It can still win. I will say that. But you can’t take it. And I’ll explain why now…

1. Roma — This movie is probably gonna WIN BEST PICTURE. The first time that’s ever happened in the history of the Oscars. It has ten nominations. It will win Best Director. Cold War is nominated for Director — this is gonna win Director. And it’ll probably win Cinematography too. Remember the years with A Separation and Amour? They got nominated in the big categories and Foreign Language Film was a given. What do you call this, then? This should be the absolute biggest lock of the night. And yet, there’s that weird thing where… this situation has never happened before. You’ve never had a Foreign Language Film up for Best Picture that actually won it before. Usually they just win this and that’s it. So now you have a situation where it could win both. Does that mean they might just vote for Cold War because they already gave Roma its award? Or is it just the best film and the best film gets the vote? Or are they going away for it in Picture and thinking this is the consolation prize? I have no goddamn clue. Either this is the biggest lock of the night, or it’s 50/50 and it could lose. We’ll figure out how the voting goes later (even though there’s really only one choice). For now, there’s no way you can make any argument that says this isn’t the top contender in this category.

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