The BFI London Film Festival kicked off a few days ago and we’re watching over 35 films including 20+ Foreign Language Oscar submissions from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. Brimming with ideas, viewpoints and excellent filmmaking, these films offer a fresh look at countries and stories rarely told on screen – and they all deserve to be seen and celebrated.
In this first of a series of Foreign Language Film articles, we analyze the Oscar potential of 7 contenders from Asia, Europe and Africa.
From Israel: FOXTROT (Trailer)
1) The Story: A father receives news that his son, who is in the military, has passed away after a deadly mission.
(2) Quick Review: One of the best films of the year – Foreign Language or not – this is bravura filmmaking. A wonderful reflection on life, father-son relationships, fate and religion, this is a fantastic film that is able to reflect on so many ideas and weave them in an impeccably told story.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? This is probably the only sure-thing in a race that is quite unpredictable. It is a shoo-in for a nomination and has a very strong chance at a win.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Israel has been nominated 10 times without winning, more than any other country in Oscar history. This could be their first win.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. Its chances are making the shortlist and getting the nomination are probably 90% (or more). It is buzzed, timely and very well reviewed. And with Sony Pictures Classics handling it, this is a no-brainer.
From Russia: LOVELESS (Trailer)
1) The Story: The son of a separated couple goes missing after life had become unbearable to him.
(2) Quick Review: Like Foxtrot, this is a grim, insightful film with tremendous performance and stellar direction. It was one of the best films in Cannes and deserves a nomination or maybe even a win. In terms of quality, it’s a notch below Foxtrot due to very slight pacing issues, but this is a very strong film that smartly uses symbolism to reflect on present day Russia.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? The story has wide appeal as it tackles themes that will highly appeal to AMPAS. It is a film of universal appeal and has explosive scenes of dialogue and meaningful silence. Should have a very strong chance at a nom.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Russia earned 6 noms and 1 win before – don’t discount this from a win if Foxtrot falters (although unlikely). Russia’s last nom was also from the same LOVELESS filmmaker: Andrey Zvyagintsev.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. Coming after Foxtrot, we expect this to be the second-best bet for a nod. We would give it around a 85% chance.
From Belgium: RACER AND THE JAILBIRD (Trailer)
1) The Story: A love story between a racer and a mysterious man who has several secrets to hide.
(2) Quick Review: The film is an over-the-top melodrama with strange twists and questionable plot points. It is well made and competent but suffers in the screenplay department.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? AMPAS frequently nominates European cinema but they likely won’t respond to the strange story choices here.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Belgium earned 7 nods with 0 wins. This won’t buck the trend.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. 15%.
1) The Story: A multi-narrative film with 5 stories weaved together to reflect on modern day Morocco.
(2) Quick Review: An interesting but uneven and unfocused film, this is a well-shot but ultimately not completely satisfying film that could have been miles better if it had focused on its first story and abandoned the much less interesting other 4 stories that don’t break much ground.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? Unlikely because of its scattershot pacing and lack of an intriguing narrative throughout.
(4) Historic precedents/stats This probably won’t bring Morocoo’s first nod in the category.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. 10%
1) The Story: A man goes on a road trip with his elephant, abandoning his job and wife.
(2) Quick Review: An interesting anti-capitalism take, this is a sweet, cute and touching film that loses its momentum in the third act but impresses in its first two thirds. Overall, a fresh story that balances light-hearted and dramatic moments.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? It’s possible but not so likely – films from Asia typically don’t get noticed and this needed to be a knockout to be considered.
(4) Historic precedents/stats This probably won’t bring Singapore’s first nod in the category – but there’s a slim chance if voters like the light-hearted story.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. 25%
1) The Story: A portrait of a rich French family in Calais.
(2) Quick Review: This is a divisive film that is nothing like Haneke’s previous film Amour. Cold, distant and uncompromising, there’s a good film in there but somehow gets lost in the shuffle. The best parts are the grandfather-granddaughter scenes but nothing much else is in there.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? Haneke is a big name so the film will surely be seen and considered. But it lacks any emotional hook or knockout impact to make a running at a nod.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Haneke won for 2012’s Amour and was nominated for The White Ribbon. He’s respected by the Academy but this film may disappoint many.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. 35%
From Chile: A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Trailer)
1) The Story: A trans woman, Marina, find herself in a difficult spot when her wealthy boyfriend dies, leaving her at odds with his family.
(2) Quick Review: A beautiful film with a stunning lead performance by Daniela Vega, this is a timely, important and touching film that the world needs today. A film of great sensitivity and nuance.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? It can definitely appeal to AMPAS voters who appreciate nuanced films that tackle stories without over-the-top, sappy melodrama. LGBT films don’t have a great track record in this category though but this can buck the trend.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Chile has only 1 nod in this category (2012’s No) but with Sony Pictures Classics handling it and the good buzz for Bega, this can definitely make it.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. 70%