Best Foreign Language Film

More so than every other category at the Academy Awards, the winners of the Best Foreign Language category are rarely the actual best film. That’s due as much to the Academy’s voters as it is to the process that sees countries having to each choose a singular film to represent their entire annual output for the year. The process leaves brilliant and fantastic films out of the running each and every time.

This year’s nominees feature a rarity in that one of the films is also up for Best Picture. That’s only happened three times, and in all three cases (Algeria’s Z, Italy’s Life is Beautiful and Taiwan’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) the films won in the latter category. It seems obvious that they would simply by definition… if it’s the only one of the five up for Best Picture then isn’t it the Best Foreign Language by default?

But I digress.

The staggeringly problematic structure of the category aside, keep reading for a look at all five of this year’s nominees for Best Foreign Language Film along with my predicted winner in red

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Amour (Austria)

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Why It Was Nominated

Michael Haneke’s film is without a doubt the year’s most acclaimed foreign language film. From its big win at Cannes last May through its multiple accolades and awards from critics since, this simple but different love story is beloved by almost everyone.

Why It Might Win

The path seems clear to victory for a drama that finds the traditionally emotionless director tackling a powerful and lasting love between a husband and wife. Its five total Oscar nominations, four more than each of its competitors, are also a pretty good indicator.

Why It Might Not Win

As sure a thing as Amour‘s win is in this category there’s no such thing as a sure thing in this category. The possibility exists (however remote) that voters may want to reward a film that shows larger effort and scope as opposed to one set almost entirely in a single apartment. And maybe they’ll acknowledge that while this is Haneke’s most humane film it’s still a relatively cold and dry endeavor. It’s happened before… his highly acclaimed The White Ribbon lost the Oscar to (the superior) The Secret In Their Eyes. Plus, the average Academy voter is up in years and may not approve of what the film portends for their own lives.

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Kon-Tiki (Norway)

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Why It Was Nominated

The co-directors of the excellent Max Manus: Man of War return with another historical adventure, and the Academy has always been a fan of real life epics. This is reportedly Norway’s most expensive film, and the money is all onscreen as much of it is set at sea and features some stellar effects work.

Why It Might Win

Most of the films nominated in this category this year are based on true events, and this by far is the most exciting one. There’s nothing dry about this story. (You’re welcome.) And not for nothing, but The Weinstein Company has a pretty good record when it comes to pushing their films to victory whether its deserved or not… yeah, I’m looking at you Shakespeare In Love winning over Saving Private Ryan.

Why It Might Not Win

If you ask Academy members to name last year’s raft-at-sea movie the odds are the only one they’ll remember is Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. Also, Amour!

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No (Chile)

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Why It Was Nominated

This is Chile’s first nomination for Best Foreign Film, and while some may see its lack of awards elsewhere meaning this is a bit of Academy charity the movie’s critical acclaim and historical lineage have earned the spot.

Why It Might Win

The rise of democracy is always worth celebrating, and this riveting tale of Augusto Pinochet’s ouster in 1988 offers a lot to cheer for with Gael García Bernal making for a sympathetic everyman standing up to the dangerous establishment. Americans love seeing other countries fight for democracy as it confirms that we’ve been doing it right all along.

Why It Might Not Win

See above where I mention the lack of awards or even nominations elsewhere. It’s gotten some love from smaller film festivals, but there’s no real push behind this one. Also, Amour!

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A Royal Affair (Denmark)

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Why It Was Nominated

The presence of three “based on a true story” period pieces on this short list shows the Academy’s love of history, and of the trio this is the more traditionally beloved costume drama.

Why It Might Win

The true story behind the film is filled with drama, romance and suspense, and the film captures it all with lavish beauty and affecting performances. Mads Mikkelsen is a particular standout, but it’s the sumptuous nature of the romance and the royal courts that hold the attention. It also has the most award nominations, outside of the Oscars, second only to Haneke’s seizure-filled juggernaut.

Why It Might Not Win

Costume dramas aren’t quite the rage they used to be. In fact, it’s been twelve years since one won (and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had the benefit of martial arts awesomeness). Also, Amour!

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War Witch (Canada)

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Why It Was Nominated

One of only two contemporary films on this list, Canada’s entry is a harsh and often tragic character study of a young woman’s path to adulthood living in the hell on earth that is Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why It Might Win

The film’s focus is the loss of childhood innocence in an atypical war zone as a pregnant child soldier tells the story of her abduction and military training to her unborn baby. There’s love and hope amidst the terror, and it all comes through with a powerful and heartrending lead performance by Rachel Mwanza.

Why It Might Not Win

The film can be a hard watch thanks to its cruel and vicious setting as well as its naturalistic style, and while Mwanza’s performance is being lauded there are no recognizable names or faces here. It’s also possible that the film may confuse (the very old!) Academy voters with its clear African setting but Canadian country of origin. Also, Amour!

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What Should Win: South Korea’s Nameless Gangster, Hong Kong’s A Simple Life, Switzerland’s Sister and Italy’s We Have a Pope are all better films than Amour.

But if we’re sticking with the five that are nominated I’d go with Kon-Tiki. It’s a big, exciting adventure that finds the human beats between set pieces, finds a fine balance between natural and CGI elements and explores the idea that heroes aren’t always good.

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Read more about The Oscars


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