Thu. Jun 4th, 2020

2019 Oscars: A Look at Latin American Films in This Year’s Foreign Language Oscar Race

Our weekly Foreign Language Film Oscar race analysis pieces are back! For the next eight weeks, we will be taking a close look at this exceptionally competitive race and the multiple contenders trying to take a spot on the FLF shortlist which will be announced on December 17th.

For the first 4 weeks, we will be analyzing the top contenders by continent. Kicking this off today is Latin America, a region known for its colorful, dramatic and showy works that have been constantly overlooked by the FLF committee in previous years. With a win for Latin America last year (Chile’s A FANTASTIC WOMAN), things may be improving though slowly – and it will be interesting to see how the change in the FLF committee leadership will impact the representation of Latin American cinema on this year’s shortlist.

In every piece, we will be highlighting the contenders with the likeliest chances to make the shortlist, weighing the pros and cons of each.

Let’s take a look at the Latin American films with the best chances this year:

  • From Mexico – ROMA

Logline: A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

Pros: Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA snatched the Mexican submission spot from another masterful film which would have still made it in the shortlist quite comfortably (MUSEO, Best Screenplay, Berlinale 2018). The film was rapturously received at Tribeca, TIFF, NYFF and Venice where it won the Golden Lion. It has inspired a lot of passion and appreciation for Cuaron’s intimate style of storytelling. It’s a very personal story, told with compassion and anchored by a wonderful under-stated lead performance.

Cons: Critically the film, which is being handled by Netflix, has been unanimously received with great notices for its narrative and technical aspects. But there is a small faction (of probably casual moviegoers) who may feel this is too slow, meditative and contemplative. While this probably won’t affect its chances ultimately, it may dissuade some average committee voters who have the same reservations from placing it at #1 in their FLF scorecard.

Committee save or popular vote? Popular vote. This is essentially the IDA of this year’s FLF season – nostalgia, intimacy, quiet storytelling at its best – it has enough passion to be a popular vote within the committee and not a save.

  • From Colombia – BIRDS OF PASSAGE

Logline: During the marijuana bonanza, a violent decade that saw the origins of drug trafficking in Colombia, Rapayet and his indigenous family get involved in a war to control the business that ends up destroying their lives and their culture.

Pros:  Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s masterful film premiered to rave notices at this year’s Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight. The film impressed critics and audiences alike for its epic tale of national identity, shifting values and a totally fresh look at drug wars. It manages to be both reflective and entertaining, simple and yet complex, artful yet accessible. It’s surely one of the most fascinating contenders in this race – a family saga that astonishes at every turn. PASSAGE also carries that ‘exotic/discovery’ element that has helped many films here. Just like TANNA, TIMBUKTU and THEEB, it focuses on a world unseen. It also helps that Guerra is also a previous nominee (for THE EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT, a film not many were expecting to make the eventual five).

Cons: Some voters may feel like films about drug wars are a bit ‘been there, done that’. Even though the film is much more than a story of wealth, family ties and drug wars, it may take some investment from voters to really appreciate the true essence of the film. It probably plays better on a big screen than a screener (which in this case doesn’t hurt because FLF members see the contenders in screenings and not DVD screeners) for voters to really appreciate its scope and epic nature. The film’s buzz has maintained well throughout fall season – so there probably be won’t be visibility issues. If it doesn’t make the shortlist, it will probably be because voters felt it’s not as urgent as other films in the race.

Committee save or popular vote? This is tricky – but we’re going to argue that if this film makes it in the end, it will have to be a committee save. While entertaining and accessible, we feel the artsy, edgy nature of the film will strike best with the committee than FLF voters at large. It will fit their previous choices of films like TIMBUKTU, TANNA and THEEB.

  • From Uruguay: A TWELVE-YEAR NIGHT

Logline: 1973. Uruguay is governed by a military dictatorship. One autumn night, three Tupamaro prisoners are taken from their jail cells in a secret military operation. The order is precise: “As we can’t kill them, let’s drive them mad.” The three men will remain in solitary confinement for twelve years. Among them is Pepe Mujica – later to become president of Uruguay.

Pros:  While we have not seen this film at the time of prepping this piece, it does sound like AMPAS catnip – a tale of forgiveness, survival and clutching to life when there’s no reason to fight for survival but one’s determination and inner strength. The film is based on a true story and is said to be a very powerful depiction of these three men’s stories. Just as they were locked up to live for years in complete isolation, their determination to maintain their humanity and hold on hope is both admirable and fascinating. AMPAS loves these true stories of survival and perseverance.

Cons:  Unlike ROMA and BIRDS OF PASSAGE, the film lacks some visibility. It showed at Venice’s Horizons section (where eventual FLF Oscar nominee THEEB also played) but it didn’t have a strong North American festival run, so voters will not be watching it with high expectations. This could both benefit and hurt the film – in terms of low expectations but also low awareness. The fact that Latin American films have never scored more than twice on the 9-film shortlist is also a concern. Will they really go for 3 Latin American films this year? Probably not. Which means it will have to get in instead of BIRDS OF PASSAGE. And that’s entirely possible in one case only which is…

Committee save or popular vote?  Popular vote! This will have to be a popular vote to make it in. And it absolutely can – it all depends on whether it really strikes a chord with voters. It has the heft, themes and the true story angle – will it all be enough to appeal?



  1. ROMA – Mexico (Netflix)
  2. Birds of Passage – Colombia (The Orchard)


  • A Twelve Year Night – Uruguay

       LONG SHOT:

  • El Angel – Argentina (The Orchard)

2019 Oscar Predictions: FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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