2019 Oscars Look: Best Foreign Language Film

foreign language film

Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Look 2018. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the Nominees are:cleardot

  • “Capernaum” – Lebanon
  • “Cold War” – Poland
  • “Never Look Away” – Germany
  • “Roma” – Mexico
  • “Shoplifters” – Japan

In an outstanding year for non-English cinema, the Best Foreign Language Film category will surely be a highlight of this year’s Oscars. Indeed, voters showed rare enthusiasm for this year’s fine crop of nominees, as three of them secured additional nominations in categories such as Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography. Although the lineup is led by one juggernaut contender, each nominee boasts outstanding filmmaking which could result in a potential upset. Let’s take a closer look at this year’s foreign language Oscar hopefuls.

“Capernaum,” Lebanoncapernaum

Director: Nadine Labaki
US Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

After notching up a first ever nomination last year, Lebanon has quickly followed up that milestone with their second nomination for Nadine Labaki’sCapernaum.” This drama about an impoverished young boy who sues his parents for having him, was a breakout at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Jury Prize prior to a successful award run that included nominations. Described by critics as emotionally charged, its touching and powerful performances make a proven crowdpleaser. Indeed, the film has amassed an impressive haul of Audience Awards from film festivals all over the world. However, one suspects that Lebanon will have to wait a little longer for its first win, as a nomination will likely be as far as this film will go.

“Cold War,” Poland

coldwar image

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
US Distributor: Amazon Studios

If there’s any challenger to the heavy favorite “Roma,” it is likely “Cold War” by Pawel Pawlikowski, whose previous film “Ida” won this category four years ago. Exceeding expectations with an impressive three nominations, this exquisitely shot Polish drama will also face off against “Roma” in Best Director and Best Cinematography, indicating widespread support across the Academy’s branches. The film has been surging of late, with a notable upset victory at the recent ASC awards. And as “Roma” heads towards a potential Best Picture, it is possible that voters may want to spread the wealth and award “Cold War” here (a compromise that has already been made by both the New York Film Critics Circle and London Film Critics’ Circle).

“Never Look Away,” Germanynever look away

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
US Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Like its European counterpart “Cold War,” the German nominee “Never Look Away” comes from another Academy favorite in the form of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (director of the Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others”). Ahead of an admittedly muted reception at its Venice Film Festival premiere, the film was nevertheless acquired by the savvy distributor Sony Classics. And it’s easy to understand why they hedged their bets on this three-hour historical drama, as its classic storytelling and elegant craft (earning a surprising Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography) recall the traditional prestige films that the Academy has been known to love. It may not have enough buzz to topple the more critically acclaimed competition in this category, but you can never discount a WWII drama for Best Foreign Language Film.

“Roma,” Mexico 

Roma movie

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
US Distributor: Netflix

Leading all films with a whopping ten Oscar nominations, there is no doubt that Alfonso Cuarón’sRoma” is the overwhelming favorite to win Best Foreign Language Film. Ever since its announcement and subsequent release, this deeply personal epic inspired by Cuarón’s own childhood has maintained a firm place in the headlines for its stunning black and white cinematography, its controversial Netflix distribution and its constant flurry of awards recognition. Indeed, it has won virtually every major award for Best Foreign Language Film and in a rare feat for a non-English contender, has dominated the critics’ prizes for Best Film. As aforementioned, its potential win in the top category could persuade voters to look elsewhere and give this “lesser” prize to another nominee like “Cold War.” But with the film’s obvious popularity among voters and the added narrative of a first-ever win for Mexico in this category, “Roma” seems impossible to deny.

“Shoplifters,” JapanShoplifters Foreign Language Japan

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
US Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Ever since it won the coveted Palme d’Or, Hirokazu Kore-eda’sShoplifters” has been one to watch in the Foreign Language Oscar race. Telling the story of a makeshift Japanese family who regularly shoplifts to make ends meet, it has steadily gained fans ever since its premiere at Cannes. A constant presence alongside “Roma” along the awards circuit, this deeply touching film currently leads the field in terms of box office, earning $2.9 million and counting in North America so far. And if “Shoplifters” replicates that success with an Oscar victory, it would be the first Asian winner (excluding Iran) since another Japanese winner, “Departures,” ten years ago. As the Academy’s foreign branch has been criticized for largely ignoring Asian cinema in recent times, this factor could make “Shoplifters” a serious dark horse in the race.

WILL WIN: “Roma”

COULD WIN: “Cold War”

SHOULD WIN: “Cold War”


Which film do you think will win Best Foreign Language Film? Share your predictions in the comments below.


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Written by Shane Slater

Shane is a passionate cinephile and Tomatometer-approved film critic residing in Kingston, Jamaica. When he's not watching or writing about film, he spends much of his time wishing he lived in a big city. Shane is an avid world traveler and loves attending film festivals. He is a member of the African-American Film Critics Association.


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I think it’s more of a Shoplifters v Cold War race than Roma v Cold War. I think Roma’s going for BP and if it indeed wins BP, then either of those two films could definitely win this over Roma. Either way, for me Shoplifter’s the best film in the category.


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