2020 OSCAR PREDICTIONS: The now titled Best International Feature award (formerly Best Foreign Language Film) has assembled one of the strongest lineups in years. A diverse and eclectic slate of nominees that includes features and a documentary, this also remains one of the most sewn up races headed into Oscar night. But indulge a look at the category with a bit of history:

The Academy Awards have not always had the distinction of handing out a prize for a foreign language film. From 1947 to 1955, the Academy just presented Special/Honorary statuettes to foreign films. However, they were not always handed out consistently. It wasn’t until the 1955 film year; the Academy created the “Best Foreign Language Film” competitive category for non-English speaking films.

Italy has garnered the most wins for a country with 14, with France close behind with 12. Japan and Spain are a distant third with four apiece. In terms of nominations, France is the leading country with 40 nominations with Italy next with 31 and Spain with 20.

With that, we look at this year’s nominees for BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE:

Corpus Christi” (Boże Ciało) from Poland
dir. Jan Komasa

STUDIO: Film Movement
LANGUAGE: Polish

OSCAR SCENE: “You know what we’re good at? Giving up on people. Pointing the finger at them.”

This Polish drama, written by Mateusz Pacewicz, premiered at the 2019 Venice Film Festival under the “Venice Days” selection. It followed with a bow at the Toronto International Film Festival under the “Contemporary World Cinema” section. At the former festival, it won the Europa Cinemas Label Award and the Edipo Re Inclusion Award.

Inspired by real events, “Corpus Christi” tells the story of Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), who has a spiritual awakening while serving his sentence in a youth detention center for second-degree murder. Once released, Daniel is prevented from becoming a priest due to his criminal background. Shortly after leaving the youth detention center, he is mistakenly taken as a priest, consequently pretending to be one in a small parish, where he begins to provide sacramental ministry.

During this season awards run, the film cleaned up at the Gdynia Film Festival, taking home ten awards, including Best Director and the Audience Award. For his performance as Daniel, Bielenia won the Best Actor prize at the Chicago and Stockholm International Film Festivals.

Poland’s history in the category was once just as a bridesmaid. This was before 2014’s “Ida” from Pawel Pawlikowski won the prize for the country, the first time following a total of nine nominations that came before it. Since then, “Cold War” in 2018, which was also nominated for Cinematography and Director (Pawlikowski) have made the country one to watch on the circuit continuously.

While the film generates plenty of passion from those who have seen it, it’s an entry into the category that was a welcomed surprise, leapfrogging films like “Atlantics,” that seemed more assured. Its nomination appears to be its reward.

Honeyland” (Медена земја) from North Macedonia
dir. Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov

STUDIO: NEON
LANGUAGE: Turkish, Macedonian, Bosnian

OSCAR SCENE: “Haditze scolds Sam.”

The most awarded film at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, the journey for this documentary, has been long and prosperous. Winning three categories at Sundance, including Grand Jury Prize, the Special Jury Award for Impact for Change, and the Special Jury Award for Cinematography, it cleaned up in its World Cinema Documentary Competition category.

The film tells the story of Hatidze Muratova, a Macedonian beekeeper of Turkish descent who lives in the village of Bekirlija. With no access to electricity or running water, she is one of the last wild beekeepers in the country and the continent. The documentary shows the process of beekeeping by Haditze and her way of living, including the handling of the apiaries where the bees are kept and cutting honeycombs.

Shot over three years, with 400 hours of footage collected, Kotevska and Stefanov make their stunning debut. With 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics have lavished in the film’s stunning camera work and excellent storytelling abilities. At the Critics Choice Documentary Awards, the duo took home the Best First Documentary Feature award, edging out films like “Making Waves” and “Love, Antosha.”

You can’t admire its year-long run without acknowledging that the film is the very first documentary ever to be nominated in Best International Feature. It also marks the second nomination for Macedonia, 26 years following “Before the Rain.”

Its nomination will much to future documentary films that will follow as its double nomination will surely pave the way for more significant citations for documentaries outside its respective category.

If there was a road for a major upset in the category a la “Pan’s Labyrinth” losing to “The Lives of Others” in 2006, “Honeyland” would look like the candidate.

Les Misérables” from France
dir. Ladj Ly

STUDIO: Amazon Studios/Le Pacte
LANGUAGE: French, English

OSCAR SCENE: “Smells like hash” (at the bus stop)

Getting its official bow at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, it wasn’t long before Amazon Studios bought the U.S. distribution rights to the film and brought it to TIFF. This was following its Jury Prize win at the prestigious international film festival.

“Les Misérables,” tells the story of a cop who moves to France to join the Anti-Crime Brigade of Montfermeil, later discovering an underworld where the tensions between the different groups mark the rhythm of the city. It’s based upon the short film of the same name, which was also directed by Ladj Ly.

Along the way, this unwieldy story garnered praise and support from critics and audiences alike. Amazon made stops for the film at TIFF, Middleburg, and Palm Springs Film Festivals. Ly was awarded “Directors to Watch” at the latter.

While the Golden Globes and Critics Choice nominations supported its nearly assured citation from the Academy, it was hard for the country and distributor to make the case that this is an alternative to the frontrunner in the category.

While the film is well-liked, many were disappointed that France chose Ly’s film as its selection for the country and not Céline Sciamma’s invigorating “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which may have put its back against the wall leading into this final phase.

Pain and Glory” (Dolor y Gloria) from Spain
dir. Pedro Almodóvar

STUDIO: Sony Pictures Classics
LANGUAGE: Spanish

OSCAR SCENE: “Your new family. Do they know anything else?”

“Pain and Glory,” tells the story of Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), a film director in his physical decline who recounts a series of experiences from his childhood in the 60s and navigating through desire, prosperity, love, heartbreak, and his discovery of cinema.

If there was an “establishment” within the International Feature category-leading into the awards season, Pedro Almodóvar was surely it, delivering varying genres and stories that have been heavily embraced by critics and the Academy.

Beginning in 1988, Almodóvar broke out onto the Oscar scene with “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” which was nominated for Foreign Language Film losing to Denmark’s “Pelle the Conqueror.” It would be 11 years before he would return in 1999 with the acclaimed “All About My Mother,” winning the third Oscar for the country of Spain.

Controversy circled 2002 when his beloved film “Talk to Her,” which went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, was not selected by Spain instead, submitting “Mondays in the Sun,” which would fail to garner a nomination. It wouldn’t be the end as “Bad Education,” one of the director’s most beloved pictures, was passed over to represent the country. Spain submitted “The Sea Inside,” coincidentally another film starring Javier Bardem, resulting in the country’s fourth and last win for the category.

As Almodóvar’s legendary career cemented itself, films like “Volver” (garnering a Best Actress nomination for Penélope Cruz), “Broken Embraces,” “The Skin I Live In,” and “Julieta” have all garnered its fair share of acclaim, citations, and snubs from the film community and industry professionals. 

This all leads to the love that would ensue for his newest film, once again partnering with Antonio Banderas, who is nominated in Best Actor. Along the way, major critics like LAFCA and the National Board of Review named the film the best, if not, one of the best foreign films of the year. Beloved by many, the film had garnered much momentum leading into nominations, resulting in a few pundits predicting another lone director nomination for Almodóvar and/or a surprise inclusion for Original Screenplay.

As Banderas plowed through the season with many high profile citations including Best Actor prizes at Cannes and New York Film Critics Circle, it was highly believed that he might be the eventual coronation on the awards season. It was until he missed out on a coveted SAG nomination that those dreams were dashed, as no actor as won the Oscar without a corresponding SAG nomination since its inception in 1994.

As distributor SPC maneuvers through the Phase 2 portion of the season, it hopes that the votes that are not going to Banderas in the Best Actor race (because of frontrunner Joaquin Phoenix eating them up), that those may translate to sympathy votes in the international race. A pipe dream, but this category has offered many upsets over the years (i.e., “The Secret in Their Eyes” over “The White Ribbon or “Departures” over “The Class”), and we can never count out one more to bookend the decade of film.

Parasite” (Gisaengchung, 기생충) from South Korea
dir. Bong Joon-ho

STUDIO: NEON
LANGUAGE: Korean

South Korea has submitted 31 feature films since 1962. Omission after omission, the country has failed to be recognized by the Academy. It wasn’t until 2018 that “Burning” from director Lee Chang-dong made the shortlist before ultimately being omitted from the final nomination selection. This year, “Parasite” from Bong Joon-ho ventures off to make history in more ways than the one already achieved, being the first South Korean feature nominated, and very likely, to win Best International Feature.

Asian cinema within the Academy hasn’t had the best track record in various categories. In International Feature, Japan’s “Departures” in 2008 and Taiwan’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2000 are the last two Asian country winners since 1955.

“Parasite” goes into Oscar night with more than 170 citations through the awards season, not just in Foreign or International categories but in major categories such as Best Picture and Director, which the film sits firmly in the hunt to win on Oscar night.

Telling the story of a low-income family that infiltrates a rich one, this comedic-thriller takes twists and turns before landing in one of the most satisfying places that any film has over the last decade.

In one of the easiest to call categories of the night, the question will be if the film will become the very first foreign film to win Best Picture, achieving what last year’s “Roma” from Alfonso Cuaron failed to do at the bottom of the ninth. With a SAG Ensemble trophy, the actors sit solidly behind the feature. At the same time, distributor NEON is putting all the cards on the table, just about daring any voter to not vote for such a historic and utterly long-overdue cinematic achievement.

If you’re throwing your money behind any category on Oscar night, this one is probably it.

WILL WIN: “Parasite”
SHOULD WIN: “Parasite”
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: “Atlantics”

OFFICIAL RANKING FROM THE CIRCUIT HUB:

  1. Parasite” (South Korea)
  2. Pain and Glory” (Spain)
  3. Honeyland” (North Macedonia)
  4. Corpus Christi” (Poland)
  5. Les Miserables” (France)

Share your thoughts on the BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE race in the comments below!