A lottery, you’d think is the way the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences way to select five nominees from all the countries submissions, but there is actually a method to this madness, which doesn’t mean a little luck can also help.
First of all, the film should have been distributed and shown in the US, and then it has to be selected by their country of origin as their submission among all their production. Then there are the merits: Was the film well reviewed? Well received by the audience? Are the people involved recognized filmmakers? Do they have other awards or previous nominations?
Sometimes this award is given to a film that is indisputably recognized as a work of international art, with previous wins at Cannes or Venice and a Director globaly recognized, like 1956’s ‘La Strada’ by Fellini, or ‘Z’ by Costa-Gavras or 1979’s ‘The Tim Drum’ by Schlondorf or 1983’s ‘Fanny and Alexander” by Bergman. Others, the Academy goes for the surprising effects, moving the spotlight from a favorite film to reward an underdog, like 1983 when Spain’s submission ‘Volver a Empezar’ won the Oscar from favorite ‘Coup de Torchon’ from France, or in 1987 when Denmark’s ‘Babette’s Feast’ took it from France’s ‘Au Revoir Les Enfants’ or even the recent case of Argentina’s ‘El Secreto de sus Ojos” kicking out Germany’s Cannes winner ‘The White Ribbon’ in 2009.
This year there are some favorites and some less known films in this category that gathers work from Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Cambodia and Palestine, with two well known international filmmakers (Sorrentino and Vinberberg), one previously nominated one (Hanny Abu-Assad, whose ‘Paradise Now’ was nominated in 2005) and two relatively new filmmakers to the American audiences and awards (Van Groeningen and Panh).
Here’s the list of five nominees for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film and a little bit about them.
The Broken Circle Breakdown
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, whose previous films include ‘The Misfortunates’ (2009), Dangen Zonder Lief (2007) and Steve+Sky (2004)
The film has won Best Foreign Language film by the Washington D.C. Film Critics Association, as well as Best Actress and Screenplay at Tribeca, Best European Actress at the European Film Awards and has been nominated for a Cesar Award in France.
Johan Heldenbergh wrote the play it is based on and is the leading actor in the film, along with Mieke Dobbels. Set in Ghent, Belgium, it traces the love, passion and tragedy of a couple who live for bluegrass music. It might be a runner up for the award if momentum takes it away from favorite ‘La Grande Bellezza’.
La Grande Belleza
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, whose previous films include 2008’s ‘Il Divo’ and 2011’s ‘This Must Be The Place’ which features starring roles for Sean Pean and Frances McDormand.
The film was in competition at Cannes and has garnered awards at the Golden Globes, the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards and the British Academy Film Awards among others.
It stars Toni Servillo who plays a writer who retires to a life of comfort and “dolce vita” which leads to a feeling of unfulfillment. With a Golden Globe, it is the favorite film to take the Oscar, but this category is usually left for one of the few surprises of the evening.
One of Paolo Sorrentino's well known films, it centers on the charismatic and mysterious figure of former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. It won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 and it was nominated for Best Makeup at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, one of the creators of Dogma95 along with Lars Von Trier. His most famous film is ‘Festen’ (The Celebration) which made an indelible impression worldwide.
The Hunt offers the 2012’s Cannes award winning performance by international star Mads Mikkelsen as a small town school teacher who is wrongly accused of molesting a little girl and is the target of mass hysteria. It is an extraordinary film that is also very current to the US. I would give the award to ‘The Hunt’ because it slowly builds its story with unflinching cruelty while the acting gives audiences a path to understand ill-fated innocence.
For a full review of 'The Hunt', click on the following link:
Festen, produced at the hight of Dogma 95 movement which stated that films should be done with almost no intrusion from technical devices that provoke unnatural images. The film was received well around the Globe and won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1998.
The Missing Picture
Directed by Rithy Panh, whose career goes back to 1989 and a long list of documentaries focusing on the effects of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.
L’image Manquante won the top prize at Cannes in its section Un Certain Regard as well as winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Cinemanila International Film Festival.
It uses clay figures and archival footage to recreate the atrocities he had depicted in his many documentaries about the Khmer Rouge.
This is possibly the least known of the 5 nominees.
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad, whose ‘Paradise Now’ was nominated in 2006 and has been making films since 1990 as a director and producer.
‘Omar’ won the Jury Prize at Cannes in its section Un Certain Regard as well as the Best Feature Film at the Asian Pacific Screen Awards. It is said the director wrote the structure of the story in four hours and the full script in four days. It tells the story of a Palestinian freedom fighter that accepts to work as an informant after having been forced to admit his association in the killing of an Israeli soldier.
Hany Abu-Assad was nominated to an Academy Award in 2006 for this story of two men who are preparing for a suicide attack in Israel, delving in their relationship and their personal lives.