In years gone by, the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film would have been one of the easiest categories to predict. But the race for this year’s winner has thrown more than a few curveballs along the way. Most notably, Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade” seemed destined to be a strong contender for the big prize after making the 9-film shortlist and winning the Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards. Germany’s hopes were dashed, however, as the gripping thriller fell short at the final hurdle. Instead, the Academy settled on an eclectic and equally acclaimed quintet of films that could make this one of the closest Oscar votes in history.
This year’s nominees are:
“A Fantastic Woman” (Germany)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“On Body and Soul” (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)
Sparking some of the earliest Oscar talk back in February 2017, Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” has to be considered one of the heavy favorites to win. This heartbreaking drama earned rave notices when it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, especially for the impressive performance from its transgender star Daniela Vega. Since then, the film has maintained a strong campaign around Vega, with distributor Sony Pictures Classics eager to get back to their winning ways in a category they’ve dominated over the past decade. If it were to win, it would be be the first Chilean winner. And with its LGBT themes it would be a noteworthy symbol of the Academy’s efforts at greater inclusivity.
“A Fantastic Woman” will likely have to fend off a strong challenge from Ziad Douieri’s “The Insult” however. This Lebanese nominee has all the makings of a traditional Oscar winner with its socially conscious themes (Middle East relations), strong performances (Kamel El Basha won the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival) and entertaining storyline. Indeed, early reports from the initial Academy screenings indicated that this gripping courtroom drama was popular among voters and its nomination has confirmed that. But now that voting has opened up to a wider group, will it remain a favorite?
That question of likability is even more important for the next nominee. In typical Andrei Zvyagintsev fashion “Loveless” is a bleak examination of the Russian psyche, following a desperate search for a missing child who runs away from amid his parents’ bitter divorce. On the one hand, its miserablism may be too off-putting to garner enough support to clinch the Oscar. But the film’s consistent presence throughout the season (including significant awards from the Cannes and London Film Festival juries) suggest that the film has many champions. Furthermore, Zvyagintsev is the only director among these finalists who has been nominated before, so the Academy is obviously a fan of his austere style of filmmaking.
Speaking of austere filmmaking, the most surprising nominee this year is undoubtedly Ildikó Enyedi’s “On Body and Soul“. This strange and mysterious romantic drama tells the story of a man and woman who mysteriously meet in their dreams in the form of deer. With the subtlety of its emotions and esoteric premise, it’s hard to see this one beating out its more accessible competitors. However, it does stand out as the only nominee with a female director, which is nothing to sneeze at in our current sociopolitical climate.
The final nominee is perhaps the most high profile of them all. Featuring familiar faces like Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West, Sweden’s Palme d’Or winner “The Square” showcases the distinct vision of director Ruben Östlund. With its audacious blend of black comedy and social commentary, it will surely have passionate supporters. And unlike its fellow nominees, its distributor Magnolia gave the film an early release (October 2017), allowing it to build buzz which paid off in Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations. In addition, Östlund has been a likable personality throughout the awards circuit too, giving the film an extra rooting factor.
Will Win: “A Fantastic Woman”
Should Win: “The Square”
Could Win: “The Insult”
Should have been nominated: “In the Fade”
Should have made the shortlist: “BPM (Beats per Minute)