When the Academy announced the shortlist of nine films eligible for a Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination next month, plenty of gasps were heard and read when France’s Elle and Chile’s Neruda were not on the list. But what about the films that are on it?
A few things are clear; one, it might be time to pay closer attention to Cannes and Venice film festival winners and favorites as so many on the shortlist did very well there this summer. Second, three of the nine films selected are World War II or Holocaust-specific, proving this era is still ripe for examination and awards. Third, this shortlist yet again represents how very Europe-centric the Foreign Language Film committees are. Five of the nine finalists are from Europe. Three of the four that aren’t European represent countries with previous nominations and wins. Only Australia’s Tanna sits as an outlier here as the only country that has never been nominated.
Here is a quick look at the films that made it, what they’re about, their Oscar history and trailers.
Australia – Tanna
Tanna is set on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific, depicting the true story of a couple who decided to marry for love, rather than obey their parents’ wishes. In some ways similar to Romeo and Juliet, the movie is based on an actual marriage dispute. The film won the Audience Award Pietro Barzisa at this year’s Venice International Film Festival during International Film Critics’ Week. The film received a limited release in the US on September 16, 2016.
Australia’s Oscar history
Canada – It’s Only the End of the World
This Canadian-French drama film, which was written, edited and directed by Xavier Dolan, is about Louis, a terminally ill writer, returns home after 12 years of absence to announce his impending death to his family. A reunion filled with doubts and tensions ensues. The film is based on the play “Juste la fin du monde” by Jean-Luc Lagarce and stars Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel. It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Grand Prix and the Ecumenical Jury Prize despite being the worst-reviewed film of Dolan’s career (44% on Rotten Tomatoes). No official US release date. As with most Dolan films, the US can probably expect it in about two or three years.
Canada’s Oscar history
Wins: 1 (The Barbarian Invasions, 2003)
Denmark – Land of Mine
This 2016 Toronto International Film Festival selection follows a group of young German prisoners of war, in the days following the surrender of Germany in May 1945, who were handed over to the Danish authorities where they were ordered to remove the more than two million mines that the Germans had placed in the sand along the coast. It has won numerous awards, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Danish Film at the Bodil Awards. The film will receive a limited release in the US on February 17th, 2017 – nine days before the Oscars.
Denmark’s Oscar history
Wins: 3 (Babette’s Feast, 1987; Pelle the Conqueror, 1988; In a Better World, 2010)
Germany – Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann has been one of the winningest films with critics this season in the foreign language film category. It competed at Cannes this summer but despite not winning anything there, this subversive father-daughter dramedy could be the film that takes it all the way to the Dolby. It won five awards at the 29th European Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenwriter, Best Actor, and Best Actress, and it was the first time a film directed by a woman that won the top award. The film is set for release in the US on Christmas Day.
Germany’s Oscar history
Wins: 2 (Nowhere in Africa, 2002 ; The Lives of Others, 2006)
Iran – The Salesman
This double Cannes winner this year (Best Actor and Best Screenplay) tells the story of a young couple Emad and Rana who play the lead roles in a local rendition of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Meanwhile, their personal relationship takes a hit after moving into a house that was previously inhabited by a woman who allegedly pursued a career in prostitution. The film, which currently sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, has won several film festival accolades since Cannes. Iran won the Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2011 for A Separation, also from director Asghar Farhadi. The film will be released in the US on January 27th, 2017 – three days after Oscar nominations are announced.
Iran’s Oscar history
Wins: 1 (A Separation, 2011)
Norway – The King’s Choice
The film details the decision of King Haakon VII’s to support a continuation of fighting the German invasion forces or support going along with German demands and surrender Norway to Nazi Germany and the Norwegian collaborator Vidkun Quisling. The consequences of the government’s no to surrender, and the king’s support of that, was continued hostilities, that the Norwegian royal family underwent a dramatic escape and that World War II involved Norway on the Allied side. No official US release date.
Norway’s Oscar history
Russia – Paradise
This Holocaust drama follows three people whose paths cross during a terrible time of war: Olga, a Russian aristocratic emigrant and member of the French Resistance; Jules, a French collaborator; and Helmut, a high-ranking German SS officer. The film was in competition at this year’s Venice International Film Festival where director Andrei Konchalovsky won the Silver Lion for Best Director. No official US release date.
Russia’s Oscar history
Wins: 1 (Burnt by the Sun, 1994)
Sweden – A Man Called Ove
59-year-old Ove (Rolf Lassgård), is the townhouse neighborhood’s sullen and suicidal prefect. One day, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and her family move into the house across the street. When they later knock down Ove’s mailbox with their car, this becomes the prelude to an unexpected friendship and a turnaround in the world-weary man’s life. was nominated in 7 categories at the 51st Guldbagge Awards, including Best film, Best Director and Best Screenplay, and won in three (Best Actor, Makeup, Cinema Audience award). The film received a limited release in the US on September 30, 2016.
Sweden’s Oscar history
Wins: 3 (The Virgin Spring, 1960; Through a Glass Darkly, 1961; Fanny & Alexander, 1983 – all from Ingmar Bergman)
Switzerland – My Life as a Zucchini
My Life as a Zucchini was the first official submission for the Foreign Language Film Oscar this year and could be the first animated film to be nominated since 2008’s Waltz with Bashir. The film has also qualified for the Animated Feature Oscar and was nominated for three Annie Awards. It was screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. No official US release date.
Switzerland’s Oscar history
Wins: 2 (Dangerous Moves, 1984; Journey of Hope, 1990)