Michael Haneke's powerful love story Amour caused a bit of a stir when the 85th Academy Award nominations were announced on January 10. The drama earned five nominations including Best Foreign Film, for Emmanuelle Riva's acting, and for Haneke's directing & writing. Yet the fifth nod was the most crucial of all - Best Picture.
Amour joins a rare exclusive club of foreign language films to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, becoming the ninth movie to accomplish this feat. Despite having some prominent directors behind some of those titles (Renoir and Bergman among them), a non-English language film has yet to win the top statuette.
The first foreign entry to the Best Picture list was Jean Renoir's 1938 WWI drama Grand Illusion, which received its nomination a decade after the first Oscar ceremony took place. Grand Illusion would lose to the 1938 Frank Capra dramedy You Can't Take It With You, and there would not be a non-English entry in that category for more than three decades. In 1969, the French political thriller Z (directed by the enigmatic Costa-Gavras) broke through and earned its place in the Best Picture canon. Despite its loss in the category to Midnight Cowboy, Z would earn a consolation prize in the form of Best Foreign Film.
Sweden would pull off a rare feat in Best Picture history for foreign countries by achieving back-to-back nominations in that category. In 1972, Jan Troell's traveling drama The Emigrants (starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann) broke through - but was ultimately defeated by The Godfather. Legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman only had one nominee for Best Picture throughout his distinguished career, with the 1973 Ullmann-starrer Cries and Whispers. It would lose to the Paul Newman-Robert Redford vehicle The Sting for the top prize, but Bergman's film would earn legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist an Oscar for his camerawork.
After the Swedes' two-year sojourn in the Best Picture category, a foreign language entry would not return to the race for another 22 years. In 1995, British director Michael Radford released Il Postino, about an Italian postman who forms a friendship with legendary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and uses his words to woo the girl of his dreams. It was the first Italian entry to get into the Best Picture race, but would lose to Mel Gibson's Braveheart.
Italian comic Roberto Benigni pulled off a Best Picture slot with his 1998 Holocaust dramedy Life is Beautiful, about a Jewish Italian who uses the activities of his imprisonment as a game to keep his son from being exposed to the true horrors of the experience. Benigni found itself competing against Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) & the Bard (Shakespeare in Love), and it would lose to the latter film for the top prize. Despite the loss, Benigni would earn two Oscars for his landmark project - including a rare Best Actor prize for a foreign-language performance.
With the 21st century, two foreign entries would launch into the Best Picture race. Director Ang Lee's epic action drama Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would become the first Mandarin entry in the Best Picture category, though Lee was of Taiwanese descent. Like the previous entries before it, Crouching Tiger wouldn't score the ultimate victory - but took home four Oscars, including Best Foreign Film. Before Amour, the most recent foreign nominee was the 2006 Japanese war drama Letters from Iwo Jima. Even though this epic retelling of the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor was in that language, there were American factors behind it: Clint Eastwood directed, Steven Spielberg was one of the co-producers, and Oscar winner Paul Haggis co-wrote the script. The film lost to Martin Scorsese's Boston gangster epic The Departed.
With the 85th Academy Award nominations out, Amour is now the ninth foreign film to take a shot at taking home the most significant prize of Hollywood's biggest night. Even with other notable nominations, Haneke's drama has an uphill battle - taking on top-notch projects (Argo, Les Miserables and the ceremony-leading Lincoln among them) to pull off the upset. Even if its falls short, Amour has taken its place as one of the most successful non-English entries in Oscar history - with a bid for the Best Picture prize backing it up.