Foreign Language Oscar Breakdown – Which Country Comes Out on Top?

Image from "The Great Beauty"

GreatBeauty_imageThese announcements from the Academy Awards, the ones that narrow down their categories, is offering up some interesting surprises along the way.  Today the Foreign Language Oscar list was brought down to nine films and some big contenders were omitted from the lineup.  First and foremost was the exclusion of Asghar Farhadi‘s The Past, which was submitted by Iran.  After kicking off to a very strong start back in May at the Cannes Film Festival, where the film won Best Actress for star Berenice Bejo, it looked seemingly unstoppable heading into the awards season.  It kicked off the precursor season winning Best Foreign Language Film from the National Board of Review and yet, here we are.  The film’s out of the running and we have to look to a new frontrunner for clarification.

If it wasn’t Farhadi’s film, most of us were looking in the direction of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Wadjda as a potential spoiler.  Also being cited by NBR, where it won the Freedom of Expression award, the film was holding steady throughout the awards circuit, winning in Boston and being nominated for Best First Feature by the Independent Spirit Awards.  Other strong films missed out on mentions including Chile’s Gloria, which played at the New York Film Festival, Israel’s Bethlehem, which screened at AFI, and Australia’s The Rocket, which won the audience award at both AFI and Tribeca Film Festival.

Well there’s no need crying over spilled milk.  We have nine contenders and some of them are very strong selections made by the branch.  Some of them I haven’t caught up with but fully intend to before nominations are announced.  I think it’s safe to say that The Great Beauty from Italy is at the top of the pack at the moment. Director Paolo Sorrentino’s film is currently nominated for a Golden Globe award and picked up huge wins at the European Film Awards including Best Film.  The Italian picture was also runner-up with the critics’ awards from New York and Los Angeles.  The stars may be aligning in its favor.  Italy has won the most Oscars in this category any country, resulting in 13 wins, and is second in terms of the nominations behind France (which coincidentally isn’t in the running this year).  France has 34 nominations, Italy has 27.

large_the_broken_circle_breakdown_2Closely behind is The Broken Circle Breakdown from Belgium, which I saw back at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Planning on revisiting this weekend, this beautiful love story has all the makings of a Foreign Language winner.  The country has been nominated 6 times for the Oscar but has yet to win.  This would be a commendable representation for the country.  Not to mention, there is an Oscar-worthy performance in Lead Actress Veerle Baetens which is as far-fetched as they come but definitely worth noting.

The top two films may be based on quality but Harvey Weinstein will convince many that their winner is in Hong Kong’s The Grandmaster which stars Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang.  Painted with gorgeous visuals, and a real threat to sneak into the Best Cinematography lineup for Phillippe Le Sourd, the Wong Kar Wai directed film would only be the third film to be nominated for the Oscar from Hong Kong.  They’re still owed one after losing hugely for Farewell My Concubine back in 1993.  Magnolia Pictures will attempt to resurrect the buzz for Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt starring 2012 Cannes winner for Best Actor Mads Mikkelsen.  Picking up a few wins here and there so far, the film should be able to stay alive notwithstanding a shocking inclusion.

Rounding out the official Foreign Language predictions is Palestine’s Omar, which carried some buzz coming into the precursor season and is being campaigned very strongly.  The other four contenders: Cambodia’s The Missing Picture (played at AFI), Germany’s Two Lives (closing night film at Stony Brook), Hungary’s The Notebook (winner at Haifa International Film Festival), and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (which won the Jury Grand Prix at Berlin) are still very much in the hunt.  We’ll just see how some of the other critics awards tip over the next few weeks but this is a category almost impossible to predict because of the surprises it offers each and every year.

Look at the updated Foreign Language Oscar Predictions page for the newest rankings and thoughts.  Include your thoughts and predictions in the comment section.