You’d be forgiven for thinking last year may be as good as it could get for foreign-language films at the Oscars. Alfonso Cuaron’s love letter to Mexico ‘Roma’ not only landed the title of best foreign-language film, but it also brought the director his second-best director statue, along with a win for Cinematography. And Cuaron’s intimate story wasn’t the only foreign language contender to spill out into other major categories, with ‘Cold War’ (Poland’s entry) Helmer Pawel Pawlekowski joining Cuaron on the best director list. And although ‘Roma’ failed to become the first film not in the English language to take home Best Picture, despite entering Oscar night as the favorite, it did mark an incredibly impressive year for international offerings.
Fast forward to the present, and the newly named Best International Feature Film category arguably looks healthier than it’s ever been, with films from the likes of Colombia, France, Spain, and South Korea all looking to make waves next February.
First up is “Snowpiercer’ director Bong Joon Ho and his Palme D’or winning thriller ‘Parasite’. Described in some corners as ‘A masterful dissection of social inequality’ (CineVue) and ‘furious and fiendish’ (IndieWire) Bong Joon Ho’s latest may very well follow on from last years couple in breaking out of the category and landing in the likes of Best Director and Best Picture. ‘Parasite’ will also no doubt give South Korea its first ever foreign film nomination. The undoubted foreign frontrunner at this stage.
Next up comes the Spanish entry, Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Pain and Glory’. The Oscar-winning screenwriter of ‘Hable Con Ella’ (2002) looks set to return to the Dolby theatre some 18 years after his last visit, with this powerful and personal story on an aging film director reflecting on his life choices. The film stars Antonio Banderas, who may very well benefit from the Academy’s ‘it’s their time’ rhetoric that rears its head every year. That being said he unquestionably delivers a career-best performance in a film that at the moment looks like the closest challenger to ‘Parasite’. The film also offers a strong performance from Oscar winner Penelope Cruz as Banderas’ character’s Mother (in flashbacks). With the most highly competitive directorial category for years, it seems unlikely that Almodovar will force his way in, but a nomination for Banderas in best actor is looking like a good bet.
Following these two huge hitters comes one of the reasons this category has become one of the most fiercely contested as we enter the final stages of 2019. That is because France have three films vying for their one submission slot, and between the films involved they could fill three of the five Oscar nomination slots on their own. First up is the most likely to grab the French nomination, ‘Girlhood’ (2014) director Celine Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’. Debuting to a huge reception at Cannes including Best Screenplay and Queer Palm wins, Sciamma looks to have a created a ravishingly sharp romantic drama that has taken the world by storm. In any other year, Sciamma’s film would already have a lock on not only a submission, but also a nomination, but as France bids to have a film make it into the Academy’s final five for the first time in three years, competition is fierce. Her film will be pushed all the way by ‘Proxima’ from Alice Winocour. A delicate space drama led by the ever-magnetic Eva Green, and ‘Les Misérables’ from known documentarian Ladj Ly.
Also looking to compete come 2020 is a film that actually had its debut way back in January of this year. Colombian entry ‘Monos’ from Alejandro Landes debuted to wide acclaim at this year’s Sundance Festival before also wowing critics in Berlin, with The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw describing it as a cross between ‘Apocalypse Now’ ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘Embrace of the Serpent’. The film (to simply it almost too much) follows a group of eight teenagers who (a top a mountain) watch over a hostage and a milk cow, but of course, chaos ensues, and a gripping drama unfolds. The film has also just been released in the US, placing it right back in the conversation with those above.
What also makes this category so interesting is that the ten film shortlist for the Academy’s nominations is actually announced in December, before being reduced to five when all the nominations are announced in January, so studios and directors alike will be hard on the campaign trail once they know they have made the top ten.
This is certainly a thread to keep an eye on, especially for a category that routinely gets undervalued.
‘Parasite’ will be released October 11th in
‘Pain and Glory’ will be released October 4th
‘Monos’ was released September 13th
‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ will debut in limited release December 6th
‘Proxima’ and ‘Les Misérables’ have yet to secure domestic releases.