Oscar Circuit: Could ‘Son of Saul’ Become the First Foreign Best Picture Winner?


Son of Saul CannesEach Oscar season reflects a narrative of the collection of films in contention.  Last year portrayed a passionate underdog against expert filmmaking techniques in films like “Boyhood” and the eventual winner “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”  The year before, it was about history and spectacle as winner “12 Years a Slave” took on juggernauts like “Gravity” and “American Hustle.”  This season has not exactly revealed itself as of yet.  I’m certain passion hasn’t shown its head yet for any single film but you can make arguments for Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” and George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.”  Without a single film that seems like it can steamroll the competition, this looks to be one of the most wide-open races in some time, and not just in Best Picture, but in every major category.

Open Road Films looks to be in the same position that IFC Films found itself last year, as the standout film that many will be looking to get behind.  Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” emerged from Telluride a big hit before moving on to Toronto and being the second runner-up to Abrahamson’s “Room.”  Positioned as a surprise hit, and what looks to be a great type of consensus film, McCarthy’s drama looks to be the one to beat right now.  It’s not going to be easy for it though.  It’ll be doing battle with studios with deeper pockets, and a few more friends in the industry.

katewinslet_stevejobsUniversal Pictures has had a year to remember, with box-office landing one after the next.  Their main focus will be Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” which premiered its “finished version” at the New York Film Festival this past weekend.  What this weekend really solidifed for it is the serious threat that stars Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet are in their respective categories.  Winslet will have the uphill climb of winning before, but she looks to be a staple in a seemingly vacant Supporting Actress that already looks good to go for four names (at the moment).  Universal will also be playing with the possibility for F. Gary Gray’s “Straight Outta Compton” in categories like Picture, Director, and Supporting Actor Jason Mitchell.  Realizing the Academy’s treatment towards black cinema, my (and the rest of lovers of the film) reservations remain in check.  AMPAS screened the film over the summer, to a rumored 400+ crowd, who were all about it.  Perhaps it is a threat for some love.  This feeling is also obviously amplified by the lack of films with people of color in contention this year.

DreamWorks and Walt Disney revealed Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” at the World Premiere at NYFF.  The film seems to be well-liked though there seems to be limited overtly passionate reviews for it.  It looks to be a standard although very solid Spielberg film which film should perform moderately well during the season.  Mark Rylance emerged the real conversation as a definite contender for the Supporting Actor prize.

The Weinstein Company has a classic, decent push in the wings for Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” and Todd Haynes’ “Carol.”  The former will have the buzz surrounding the fact that Tarantino is still without a Director statue.  I’m sure that will carry some weight if the film lives up to the hype, as its rumored to have.  “Carol” will have a different battle on its hand.  One of which will be the muted buzz that the film has seemed to catch recently after playing during TIFF, Telluride, and NYFF.  People like it, but don’t know how much that will translate into a serious awards conversation.  The other fact is Todd Haynes’ films don’t usually get embraced by AMPAS besides acting and techs.  That bodes well for Rooney Mara will likely cake walk to a Supporting Actress.

There’s obviously more with Focus Features gearing up for a push for “The Danish Girl” and “Suffragette” along with Paramount Pictures with “Anomalisa” and “The Big Short” in hand.  20th Century Fox has substantial faith in its lineup this year with Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” having a huge weekend, and with the likes of David O. Russell’s “Joy” and Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “The Revenant” getting ready to drop.  Rumors have flared up that Will Smith is a standout in Peter Landesman’s upcoming football drama “Concussion,” which should add more movie-star to the Lead Actor race that looks to be Johnny Depp and possible Leonardo DiCaprio vying for their first Oscars.  Lionsgate also had a strong weekend with “Sicario” and it should bode well for not just Roger Deakins’ near sure-fire Cinematography but for Benicio del Toro and perhaps some more major categories like Screenplay and Director.

truth_4Special attention should be paid to Sony Pictures Classics who will be handling James Vanderbilt’s “Truth” in a bid for Cate Blanchett and “The Lady in the Van” in a bid for Maggie Smith; both are substantial threats for the Academy Award according to industry insiders and voters.  I want to talk about László Nemes’ “Son of Saul,” which is a real contender for not just Foreign Language film, but for Picture, Director, and Best Actor.  An astonishing performance by Géza Röhrig pulls us through the ringer, and while people will always use the phrase, “too brutal for the Academy,” the SPC distributed film may benefit from a subpar year and I believe is a threat, to be the first foreign language Best Picture winner.  Before you scoff at the idea, let’s look at what’s in its corner:

  1. It’s never happened.  The Academy loves to make history and find itself in the headlines.  Imagine, “Oscars Reward First Foreign Language Film from Hungary!”  They’ll eat it up.
  2. It’s about World War II and the Holocaust.  It should be known by now that they love World War II films and movies that show the Holocaust.  “Schindler’s List” won Best Picture in 1993 and Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” nearly beat out “Chicago” when it won Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor, all considered upsets on the night.  This is going to hit home for many.
  3. It’s a fresh, new perspective on the Holocaust.  It’s an outlook that we haven’t seen too many times in film, shot in a way we certainly have not seen before.  The film isn’t just a threat in the top categories; you can also stake claims for Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Original Score, which would show considerable strength.

There’s an uphill battle for sure, but its something that we need to start looking at.  I thoroughly believe in my lifetime, we’ll see a foreign Best Picture winner.  They’re just waiting for “the one” to do it.  “Son of Saul” can be that film.

Oscar Predictions have been updated, as you can see on the sidebar, including the first official predictions for Best Original Song, Best Documentary Feature, and Best Foreign Language Film.  You can check them out by clicking on any of the links below.