OSCARS: In The Best Year For Foreign Cinema, Can ‘Roma’ Win Best Picture?

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This year marks a banner year for foreign cinema at the Oscars. From Mexico, Roma made headlines when it garnered ten nominations. This tied it with “The Favourite” for the most nominations of the entire crop of Oscar contenders. Many are talking “Roma” up as a frontrunner for Best Picture. This would be a historic moment, making it the first ever foreign language film to win Best Picture. One point in “Roma’s” corner is that its a banner year for foreign language films. Plenty of foreign films outside of “Roma” were able to break into other categories besides Best Foreign Language Film. With so much recognition going to foreign films across different branches, does that mean this year might be the year the Oscars is willing to reward a Foreign Language film with the top prize?

What Got Nominated This Year?

Overall six foreign film titles showed up outside Foreign Language Feature. This amounts to a total of 15 nominations in addition to the 5 Foreign Language Feature slots. As previously mentioned “Roma” reaped ten nominations – Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Feature, Cinematography, Production Design, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. That means “Roma” got strong support across at least seven branches as well as the foreign film committee. With such broad guild support, “Roma” looks to be a strong contender.

Elsewhere above the line was a surprise nomination for “Cold War” in Best Director for Pawel Pawlikowski. This was one of three nominations for the Polish drama. In addition to Director, the film is also nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature and Best Cinematography. The Pawilkowski nomination speaks volumes to the passion for the film, even if it didn’t make it into Best Picture. Only one other film has pulled off this feat since the expanded Best Picture lineup. That was “Foxcatcher,” which got Bennett Miller into the Best Director race.

Speaking of the Cinematography branch, Caleb Deschanel surprised with a nomination for “Never Look Away” from Germany. This was the first time three foreign language films were nominated in Best Cinematography since 2004, which nominated “House of Flying Daggers,” “The Passion of the Christ” and “A Very Long Engagement.” However, “The Passion of the Christ” was a U.S. produced film from Mel Gibson. If we remove “The Passion of the Christ,” this year stands as the only year three foreign films received Cinematography nominations. The remaining foreign films outside of foreign language feature were “Mirai” from Japan (Animated Feature), “Of Fathers and Sons” from Germany and Syria (Documentary Feature) and “Border” from Sweden (Makeup).

Is This Year The Strongest For Foreign Language Films?

This year breaks records for the amount of recognition for foreign language features. The closest year to compare it to would be 1966, which saw 14 nominations for foreign films outside of the foreign language category.  Among the foreign films in 1966, see below for the seven films that managed to break through with additional nominations:

  • “A Man and a Woman” (France) – Director (Claude Lelouch), Actress (Anouk Aimée), Original Screenplay (WINNER)
  • “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” (Italy) – Art Direction (Black and White), Costume Design (Black and White), Scoring of Music (Adapted or Treatment)
  • “Is Paris Burning?” (France) – Art Direction (Black and White), Cinematography (Black and White)
  • “Juliet of the Spirits” (Italy/France) – Art Direction (Color), Costume Design (Color)
  • “The Shop on Main Street” (Czechoslovak) – Actress (Ida Kaminska)
  • “Le Volcan Interdit” (France) – Documentary Feature
  • “Helicopter Canada” (Canada) – Documentary Feature
  • “Mandragola” (France/Italy) – Costume Design (Black and White)

This illustrates a few key differences between now and 1966. First, all but two films cited in 1966 came from a country other than France or Italy. This speaks more towards the 60s obsession with the French and Italian auteurs of the time than a wide interest in foreign cinema. Second, only four nominations came from above the line categories. Compare that to six above the line nominations this year, and you see much more high profile support. Lastly, eight of the 14 nominations came in additional categories we don’t have today. This includes splits between black and white films and color films in Art Direction, Cinematography and Costume Design. Additionally, we no longer have a category for Scoring of Music (Adapted or Treatment).

Does “Roma” Have The Most Nominations for a Foreign Language Film?

The next closest years are two that have 12 additional nominations for foreign language films – 1961 and 2000. The makeup of 1961 looks quite similar to 1966, as outlined above. However, 2000 proves to be a much more exciting counterpoint. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” also reaped ten nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Ang Lee) and Adapted Screenplay. This provides an interesting parallel with “Roma,” which managed more above the line awards. Also receiving nominations outside foreign language feature was “Before Night Falls” in Actor for Javier Bardem and “Malena” for Cinematography and Original Score. This year sees more overall nominations, above the line nominations and a greater number of foreign films that got nominated. That makes a compelling case that the narrative towards foreign film support could help “Roma” make history.

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where the Foreign Language Features rank among the contenders!

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