2020 Oscar Category Breakdown: Best International Feature

We continue our category breakdowns with Best International Feature. They’ve been tweaking this one a bunch in recent years and all of the changes seem to be impacting this category for the better.

On top of changing the name of the category to be more inclusive, they increased the shortlist from 9 to 10 last year and this year increased it from 10 to 15. I’m not sure that change was meant to be permanent but I can’t see why it wouldn’t be. It eliminates all of the nonsense they had to implement about ‘executive committee saves’ and all that. Because, if you remember, after I believe 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days didn’t make the shortlist despite being one of the consensus best films of that year, they implemented a system whereby the top six vote-getters would automatically make the shortlist but reserved three spots for ‘saves’, which allowed the heads of the branch to basically pick three other movies to automatically make the shortlist no matter how many votes they got. Which kept a lot of higher profile films in competition and also seemingly allowed them to get a lot of newer countries into the fray, rather than having the category just be France, Germany, Italy and Russia every year. But now, making the shortlist 15 allows all those higher profile films to make the shortlist and allows for more countries to make it on.

This year, I think the only negative about the expanded shortlist was that there were about 3-4 spots that clearly were just people voting for directors they respected rather than simply quality of film. But other than that, it feels like this is as close to improvement this category’s seen in a long time (since people not watching more than a small handful of films is an Academy-wide problem. So you can’t expect this category to be the outlier).

Best International Feature

Another Round (Denmark)

Better Days (Hong Kong)

Collective (Romania)

The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)

Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

In all, not the most surprising category, which isn’t to say it’s bad, just that you kinda figured most of these would be in play. Another Round has been the darling of the year and was pretty much a gimme Quo Vadis, Aida got a BAFTA nomination for Best Director, so you figured that had to get on as well. Collective made the Doc Feature shortlist as well and was generally considered a great film. And, while you wondered whether it could make both categories, you knew it was firmly in contention. The Man Who Sold His Skin — I don’t know how to explain it, but it felt like a film that was gonna get on. It’s the only one I wasn’t able to see before nominations and, while this isn’t the most exact science, it feels like there’s always that one film no one can see from the country without much history in the category that you’re so quick to dismiss that makes it on. So it made sense to me even if it wasn’t one of the higher profile shortlist choices. Better Days is the only real surprise here. The film was quite good, but Hong Kong has only been nominated two or three times ever and not in almost 30 years. It didn’t seem like they’d go here based on their history, but apparently people actually watched all 15 films on the shortlist before voting. Who could’ve expected that?

The other films from the shortlist that were prominent throughout the season were Night of the Kings from Ivory Coast and La Llorona from Guatemala. La Llorona felt like a tall order for the category, as a ghost/horror-adjacent film, so I’m not surprised that didn’t make it, but Night of the Kings was slightly surprising as an omission. Otherwise, I think for the most part, aside from Better Days, most of these felt like obvious choices based on that shortlist.

As for how this is gonna go — like most years in this category, there’s a clear favorite. And while this might not be the slam dunk other recent years have been, this does feel very cut and dry. So we don’t really have a whole lot to worry about with this one.

5. Better Days — With this category, you never know how many voters are actually watching all the films. A lot of voters only catch 1, maybe 2 of the films throughout their watching and generally just vote for the one they know, which tends to be the high profile ones like Roma or Parasite or what have you. And then other times it comes down to which film is generally most out there. I think of 2016, when Toni Erdmann was on a collision course to win the category and then there was the whole political thing where they were denying Asgar Farhadi a travel visa to enter the country and that surged The Salesman into a clear winner. Not everyone actually watched that movie. They just voted for it because in their mind it was the winner. So when you look at this category — this movie doesn’t have a profile at all. Hong Kong doesn’t have a huge history in this category. The title doesn’t necessarily grab you either. So essentially all the votes this is gonna get are from the people who saw all five films and decided this one was the best. Which does not feel like it’s nearly enough to get this very far in the voting process at all.

4. The Man Who Sold His Skin — This is basically everything I said about Better Days, only I think the uniqueness of the title helps this maybe catch some stray votes and I think the overall message and themes of the film might resonate with some people. Still, can’t see this as anything more than a 4-5 flip with Better Days. Picking the nominees is difficult in this category, but gauging what’s gonna win is usually really easy and straightforward and you don’t really ever have to overthink it.

3. Collective — It’s nominated in two categories. Clearly people like it. Sure, some people might decide to only vote for it in one category, but who’s to say what that’s gonna be for each person? I feel it’s more a documentary than a feature, but that’s me. Other people might vote for it in both categories while others might see it as being the best film here. Can’t see it winning, but you have to take it seriously just because it’s in two categories and is generally something people have openly liked throughout the season. Doesn’t really matter in the end, though, since there is a clear favorite in the category.

2. Quo Vadis, Aida? — This got nominated for Best Director at BAFTA. Which means a contingency of voters saw this and liked it. That’s more overt support than we’ve seen for any other film so far in this category. Right now, if I’m picking anything other than Another Round here, this is the only one that makes sense.

1. Another Round — No matter how many mental gymnastics you’re gonna go through on Oscar night to try to rationalize something else winning this category, there’s no denying this is the absolute favorite to win. It has a BEST DIRECTOR nomination. It would be one of the biggest upsets in years if this doesn’t win this category. No one should be arguing this. This is easy. Let the easy ones be easy.

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