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The Conversation: Best Foreign Language Oscar Contenders

The Conversation: Best Foreign Language Oscar Contenders

While we’ve yet to see what will take home the Golden Lion out of Venice this September, many of the contenders for what will pop up in conversations for the Best Foreign Language film in several months have already most likely been revealed. It’s an archaic selection process still, to be sure, but like all the other categories, buzz and topicality are usually pretty good indications for what might take home the distinction. Festival accolades don’t always translate into a sure thing—countries are only allowed to nominate one submission each year. So, while Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color would have seemed an early shoe-in back in 2013, its theatrical release in the US precluded it from being a possible nominee, for instance.

Last year’s crop of nominees all took home major awards out of Berlin, Cannes, and Venice, with Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman winning top honors. He competed against Golden Bear winner On Body and Soul and Palme d’Or winner The Square, which also is something of a novelty.

While two Berlin premieres popped up in the nominees, this year’s 2018 Berlinale competitors might not be as plentiful. The Bulgarian title Touch Me Not took home the Golden Bear, but it wasn’t received well by critics, causing the distributor to protect the title from further censure after it took home top honors (though to what lengths they’ll go to further protect the film until a theatrical release is uncertain—usually Golden Bear winners show up somewhere in the TIFF program, so a no-show in the Fall fest circuit would be strange). What Academy voters will most likely be warmer towards is the Uruguayan entry The Heiresses (review), which took home a Best Actress prize for newcomer Ana Brun.

Out of Cannes, Hirokazu Koreeda’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters (review) might be the Japanese auteur’s first film to receive an Oscar nod (a distinction of which he is deserving). But Academy voters tend to stray towards more audience friendly fare, so Nadine Labaki’s lauded Capernaum, which did take home the Jury Prize at Cannes (third place) might be more to their liking. Other feted titles from the fest, such as Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War (which won Best Director, while Pawlikowski’s last film Ida won the Best Foreign Language Oscar) is a strong possibility, while Italy might have trouble deciding between Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro (which took home a Best Screenplay award), and Matteo Garrone’s Dogman (the Best Actor winner), as either seem like Oscar friendly potentials.

On the other hand, Stephane Brize’s At War, which went home emptyhanded, seems the type of topical and doggedly dramatic title which might be a good chance for France, should they submit the title. Likewise, Kirill Serebrennikov’s Leto, which features several familiar 1980s punk and New Wave English language songs used to define its playful narrative format (along with its filmmaker’s ongoing house arrest in Moscow) seems poised to register with Academy members.

But the Foreign Language category remains difficult to predict, even when accounting for all the festival attributes come the year’s end—it’s a category which has seen titles from Estonia (Tangerines, 2014), Jordan (Theeb, 2015), and Australia (Tanna, 2016) receive nominations in recent years, all films which were by and large under the radar of other foreign language heavyweights during those years.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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