Sunday, December 22, 2013

The 2013 Foreign Language Oscar Shortlist

The Academy released it's annual list of the semifinalists for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar on Friday. The foreign film category is always one of my favorites; I don't usually include it in my predictions because until the final submissions are tallied it's a tough category to predict (and even then, it usually comes down to the semifinalists). Of these nine films, only five of them will be nominated, but all are worth seeking out, at least as much as possible. Sadly, too often these film's chances at US distribution depend on whether or not they're nominated, but foreign films deserve better chances to be seen, Oscar or not. Audiences aren't necessarily as subtitle-phobic as distributors imagine.

Here are the nine films in contention:

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)


This film is already in theaters here in the States, and has received generally great reviews. It's about a pair of musicians who's relationship is strained by their daughter's medical woes. Belgium's last nomination came in 2011 for Bullhead.

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (Bosnia & Herzegovina)


Director Danis Tanvoic also directed Bosnia & Herzegovina's only previous nominee and winner, 2001's No Man's Land. This film, which follows the trials of a gypsy family, was a hit on the festival circuit, taking the Jury Grand Prix and Best Actor prizes at this year's Berlin International Film Festival.

The Missing Picture (Cambodia)


After it failed to make the semifinalist list for Best Documentary Feature, Rithy Panh's unique film - in which he uses a mix of archival footage and handmade clay figurines to recreate the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s - has another shot at a nomination this year. If it does make the final nominees, it would be the first documentary to ever make this category, as well as Cambodia's first nomination.

The Hunt (Denmark)


An interesting example of the Academy's odd eligibility rules, this film took home Best Actor at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Mads Mikkelsen stars as a man who's accused of pedophilia, resulting in the entire town turning against him. Director Thomas Vinterberg also directed The Celebration, which in 1996 was considered a masterpiece and an egregious snub by the Academy. Denmark's most recent nomination came last year for A Royal Affair.

Two Lives (Germany)


Over the past decade, Germany has scored a number of nominations in this category, including wins in 2002 and 2006. This film, which stars the great Liv Ullmann, is about a woman in post-Iron Curtain Germany coming to terms with her German and Norwegian heritage. Germany's last nomination was in  2009, for The White Ribbon.

The Grandmaster (Hong Kong)


This film, Wong Kar-Wai's biopic about Ip Man (Bruce Lee's mentor), was an international hit, though reception in the US was a bit cooler. Hong Kong only has two previous nominations, but both of them are masterpieces: 1991's Raise the Red Lantern and 1993's Farewell My Concubine.

The Notebook (Hungary)


In recent years, Hungary has submitted more avant-garde films for this category, rather than traditional Oscar bait. This film, a moving story about a pair of children surviving WWII, falls more in line with the latter category. Hungary's currently holding a long nomination-less streak, with their last nod coming in 1988 for Hanussen.

The Great Beauty (Italy)


Though it didn't take home any awards, Paolo Sorrentino's ode to the Italian New Wave and the city of Rome received an ecstatic reception at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Despite owning the record for most wins in this category (with 10), Italy hasn't had much luck in recent years, with their most recent nominee being 2005's Don't Tell.

Omar (Palestine)


Director Hany-Abu Assad also made Palestine's only previous nominee, 2005's stellar Paradise Now. This film, which competed in the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes this year (that competition, coincidentally, was won by The Missing Picture), concerns a man caught in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

And just for fun, I'd predict that the category will turn out like this:

The Great Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark)
Two Lives (Germany)
The Grandmaster (Hong Kong)
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)

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