Oscars 2019 Category Breakdown: Best International Feature

Here’s how this works: every day leading up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. The goal is to both familiarize everyone with the category itself (how it works, what its history is and how you go about figuring out what’s gonna win) while also making it easier to reference when I write my giant article with picks and everything. A lot of the leg work is already here. But really, the goal is to see if there’s anything to look for leading into Oscar night that could be a shortcut to me picking the category.

What we do is — I give you all the winners of the category throughout history, go over all the recent trends if there are any, discuss the precursors and whether or not they matter, and then we talk about this year’s category and how we got to it, and then just look at where we are and rank the nominees in terms of their likelihood of winning (at the current moment in time. Of course, things can and will change going into the ceremony). It’s all pretty simple. I’ve done this every year. Everyone should know the drill.

We begin with Best International Feature, which is the stupid new name for Best Foreign Language Film, a change they made to make it sound more inclusive and positive, rather than as the dismissive category for foreigners. Problem is — a name means jack shit unless you’re actually gonna work to make it feel like it means more. Plus also, the first time they have that name, we have the biggest lock of the night and a category that’s totally meaningless because we already know what’s gonna win.

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

2017 A Fantastic Woman The Insult

Loveless

On Body and Soul

The Square

2018 Roma Capernaum

Cold War

Never Look Away

Shoplifters

It’s Foreign Language Film. There’s no methodology here. They have a shortlist, they pick five, usually you can guess the winner just by looking at them or at least have a great idea of what the favorites are. It’s been a while since we didn’t have a clear favorite for the category. One year in recent memory there was a favorite but then the tide turned politically and the other choice became the clear winner. Most of the time you just know. And this year, you really know.

Best International Feature

Corpus Christi

Honeyland

Pain and Glory

Parasite

Put it this way — in the history of Best Picture, whenever a foreign language film has been nominated in that category and been nominated in this category in the same year, it’s won.

Here’s the list of foreign language films nominated for Best Picture:

  • Grand Illusion, 1938
  • Z, 1969
  • The Emigrants, 1972
  • Cries and Whispers, 1973
  • Il Postino, 1995
  • Life is Beautiful, 1998
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000
  • Letters from Iwo Jima, 2006
  • Amour, 2012
  • Roma, 2018
  • Parasite, 2019

Letters from Iwo Jima is American but in a foreign language, and this category didn’t exist when Grand Illusion was nominated. The Emigrants was nominated in this category in 1971 but was nominated for Best Picture in 1972, after it had lost, strangely. Cries and Whispers and Il Postino were not nominated in this category at all. Of the rest — Z, Life Is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Amour and Roma — all of them won this category. We didn’t need that statistic, but now you have it. In case you were thinking of trying some fuckery.

Rankings:

5. Corpus Christi — It’s the one that no one knows. They only sent it out to Academy members this past weekend (I guess they figured it would get nominated). Hard to see this as anything other than the fifth choice, especially when you see all the factors working for all the other nominees.

4. Honeyland — It’s nominated in Documentary Feature as well. Being nominated in two categories, clearly some people liked it. However, to the voting body at large… here’s a foreign film nominated in two categories. What reason does that give them to vote for it here and not there? And what’s to get people to eve see it as compared to the other three? Maybe you can make a case for this as third choice, but definitely not above that. I don’t see any reason to think this pulls enough votes in any one single category to be a serious contender for the win.

3. Les Misérables — You could say this is fourth, but it’s no lower than that and no higher than this. I think this has a higher profile than Honeyland to the general voting body. It’s out now, I’ve seen trailers for this in front of big movies, Amazon is putting it out. Amazon is advertising this all over their website. And the title is something you know, so you’re gonna be at least a little intrigued about what it is. I think this is the third choice. I think this will get votes. I don’t think it’ll get enough votes, but it’ll get some votes.

2. Pain and Glory — It’s got a Best Actor nomination and it’s Pedro Almodovar. Until something else wins a precursor, this is the de facto second choice. It’ll get more views, therefore it’s liable to get more votes. It can never be the #1 choice because it’s not nominated for five other awards including Best Picture. But it’s clearly the second choice.

1. Parasite — There is no way you’re not calling this the favorite until it loses. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Production Design. A film like this has never lost in this category. You’re taking this all the way to the end, and maybe precursors will change and maybe you wanna try to make that argument on the night. Which will be stupid, but maybe you’ll make it. But until that night, and even as you make it, you’re not gonna say that this isn’t the favorite and the most likely film to win.

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