2016 Foreign Oscar Guide: Academy Faves Take Center Stage

Welcome to The Awards Circuit’s 2016 Foreign Oscar Guide. This weekly series will shine a spotlight on this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, looking at all 85 submitted films and their interesting trends and regional perspectives.

Last year, the big story out of the Foreign Language Oscar category was the success of the debut filmmakers. Indeed, an impressive three of the five nominees were first features, with László Nemes’ staggering Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” eventually prevailing. For the 2016 Foreign Oscar race however, the stage seems set for a number of the category’s veterans to make a return with their latest films. Here’s a look at the nine former nominees who will be among this year’s strongest contenders.

Leading the way are four films that premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Firstly, there’s the latest outing from our most recent returning champ Asghar Farhadi of Iran. After winning for “A Separation” in 2011, he hopes to replicate that success with “The Salesman,” a loose adaptation of the classic play “Death of a Salesman.” The film was a hit with the Cannes jury, achieving the rare feat of double wins – claiming the prizes for Best Screenplay and Best Actor.

Pedro Almodóvar
Pedro Almodóvar

Also generating buzz from the Croisette were Pedro Almodóvar’s “Julieta” and “Elle,” the latest provocation from Paul Verhoeven. Almodóvar’s typically women-centric “Julieta” marks his sixth selection for Spain, a record that includes one win, one nomination and one appearance on the shortlist. Likewise, Verhoeven puts a woman front and center in the French submission “Elle,” which stars the overdue Isabelle Huppert in a performance garnering significant Oscar buzz. Distributor Sony Classics will certainly be counting on Best Actress heat to push this divisive film about rape and revenge. Also counting on indirect coattails will be Pablo Larrain with his Chilean entry “Neruda.” The director is having a breakout year with “Jackie” on course for major nominations, which should bring added attention to this other acclaimed biopic about the poet Pablo Neruda.

Outside of Cannes, another diverse trio of films seem like dark horses to watch. From Bosnia, Danis Tanovic hopes to bring home another Oscar – his film “No Man’s Land” won in 2001 – with his social satire “Death in Sarajevo.” Premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival, it won the Jury Grand Prix as well as the FIPRESCI Prize. The Netherlands’ Paula van der Oest also hopes to extend her strong track record (one nomination and one shortlist) with “Tonio,” a tearjerker about a couple dealing with the loss of their only child. “Tonio” has already appeared in several pundits’ predictions, with many citing its strong emotional pull. And from “Palestine,” you can never count out Hany Abu-Assad, who reaped nominations for both of his previously submitted films. This time he aims for another nod with a true story called “The Idol,” about an aspiring young musician from Gaza.

Rounding out this group of films is a pair of under the radar submissions. Japan has once again selected Yoji Yamada (his fifth submission), who garnered a nod for his 2003 film “The Twilight Samurai.” This year, his submission is “Nagasaki: Memories of My Son,” a post-war drama about a woman who is visited by an apparition which forces her to confront her past. And finally, a rare posthumous nomination could be in store for Poland’s entry “Afterimage,” directed by the late Andrzej Wajda. The film was appropriately screened in the Masters section at TIFF and if nominated, would be a fitting final salute to one of the Academy’s most beloved foreign directors (he has directed four previous nominees).

Contenders to watch:
“The Salesman,” “Elle,” “Julieta,” “Neruda,” “Death in Sarajevo” and “The Idol”

Which of these former nominees are you rooting for? Let us know in the comments below.