Tue. Jun 2nd, 2020

2019 Oscars: The Foreign Language Film Shortlist Predictions

The 9-film shortlist for the Foreign Language Film Oscar will be revealed on December 17th

It’s that time of the year again! After enjoying so many wonderful Foreign Language Oscar contenders in Cannes, Venice, TIFF and Berlin, the Academy’s Foreign Language committee will finally weigh in on Monday December 17 with their shortlist of 9 FLF contenders vying for the final 5 slots which will be announced in January.

This has been one of the toughest races to call, not only because of the strength of the overall crop of contenders, but also due to the change in the committee heads, which may or may not bring in some unexpected surprises especially in terms of the committee saves. Will they finally go for South Korea’s BURNING? Does Egypt stand a shot with YOMEDDINE? Will they go for 3 Latin American and 3 Asian films for the first time? Will Africa be represented in anyway?

Here are our final predictions for the FLF shortlist ahead of its announcement on December 17.


From Mexico: ROMA

Why it’s in: Raves all around, strong precursor run, Golden Globe and BFCA nominations, beloved film by both the industry and critics. It’s also a big player in the Best Picture and Director categories which will boost its visibility. Its Golden Lion win also bodes well for it – last year’s shortlist included all Cannes, Berlin and Venice top prize winners.

Why it can be snubbed: In a very unlikely scenario it gets snubbed, it could be due to it failing to get a popular vote and the committee opting for another underrated film to save, knowing that Roma’s chances in the big categories will still be pretty strong. We don’t think it will happen though.

Verdict: In with a 90% chance of making the final 9.

From Lebanon: CAPHARNAUM

Why it’s in: Along with ROMA, this is the only FLF contender that has hit both the Globes and the BFCA (Critics Choice). This is usually a good combo for making the shortlist. The fact it’s also a major Cannes prize winner (Jury Prize) and a strong North American festival player means it’s been highly visible to voters and won’t suffer from typical issues that Middle Eastern cinema typically suffers from. It’s going to be a popular vote, much like Lebanon’s THE INSULT last year.

Why it can be snubbed: Nadine Labaki’s previous two films did not make the cut here – despite the fact that one of them (Where Do We Go Now) actually won the TIFF People’s Choice award. Capharnaum is higher profile and a more emotional experience – plus the fact that Sony Classics is pushing it as their #1 FLF pony bodes very well for it. If it misses the shortlist, this would mean it missed the popular vote as the committee will probably opt for less accessible fare here to offer them one of the three saves.

Verdict: In with a 85% chance of making the final 9.


Why it’s in: With a Palme d’or win at Cannes, a strong critics awards run, a Globe and BFCA nomination combo (which is pretty huge for it especially that the Globes typically avoid Asian films), this is a no brainer for the shortlist. It’s beloved, emotional and both accessible and artsy at the same time. In fact, it’s probably the only contender that, if snubbed by popular vote, will be saved by the committee.

Why it can be snubbed: The only downside is the fact that the Academy has very poorly responded to Asian films in previous years. Japan hasn’t made the shortlist in years, and South Korea never even earned a nomination here despite worthy films. Can it buck the trend? We’re betting on a yes.

Verdict: In with a 85% chance of making the final 9.

From Denmark: THE GUILTY

Why it’s in: It’s the most entertaining film perhaps in the overall projected shortlist. Breathtaking in its intensity, edge-of-your-seat moments and bravura direction that never leaves a single location throughout the entire film, yet keeps you highly engaged. Denmark also has a stellar track record in this category – they are among the best countries when it comes to selecting films that are in the Academy’s wheelhouse. The film was able to maintain its buzz after its Sundance premiere back in January. It’s tailormade for a popular vote.

Why it can be snubbed: If it misses, it will probably because it missed the popular vote. The committee is unlikely to save it, because it may be seen as slightly populist compared to other artsy options.  

Verdict: In with a 75% chance of making the final 9.

From Poland: COLD WAR

Why it’s in: Winner of the Cannes Best Director Prize and a BFCA FLF nominee, Cold War is one of the most beloved FLF contenders on the circuit. Despite some not being totally enamored by it, the film elicits passion which is very important for a nomination here. We think it is less accessible than people may be giving it credit for, but ultimately it will probably place 5th or 6th on the list of popular votes. It’s not a slam dunk in our view, but it’s highly likely if the response to the film in Cannes and on the North American festival circuit is anything to go by, it’s very likely going to make the cut.

Why it can be snubbed: It’s very unlikely, but there’s a slim possibility that it strikes some voters as, well, cold and a bit detached which if it does, may cause them to look elsewhere for other passion picks. Its surprising snub at the Golden Globes could be very telling.

Verdict: In with a 70% chance of making the final 9.


Why it’s in: Germany has a stellar record in picking films that appeal to voters. Their films are typically populist and we suspect Never Look Away will continue this trend. It’s certainly not the type of film that the committee would opt to save, so its only chance at making the shortlist is to receive a popular vote. But we think it will indeed get that popular vote (if its Golden Globe nomination is anything to go by). It also helps that Sony Classics is handling its campaign. They are typically very good at landing their films on the shortlist year after year (perhaps with the exception of France’s ELLE a few years ago).

Why it can be snubbed: It could well be snubbed, if the popular vote goes to another film in addition to the above 5. Which is why we have it in sixth (and last) place for a popular vote. But the contingent of older voters in the Academy will probably help it eek out a slot.

Verdict: In with a 65% chance of making the final 9.



From South Korea: BURNING

Why it’s in: It’s one of the most critically beloved FLF films in the race, possibly on par or slightly below ROMA. But it’s also less accessible and slightly overlong, which is why we don’t think it’s going to be a popular vote. If it makes the cut, it will be due to a committee save. Typically, the Academy has rejected South Korean films, but we think BURNING will earn the country its historic, first-ever shortlist mention. Its buzz is just too loud, and we feel there is a strong possibility it appeals to the high-brow tastes of the smaller FLF committee. It’s artsy enough to be beloved there.

Why it can be snubbed: It could be snubbed if the committee feels it’s overpraised, or if they don’t fully connect with its symbolism. Its thriller nature could also turn some off, as we’ve seen time and time again that thrillers do not go well with FLF voters here. Its snub at Cannes could be telling – but we think it’s just the perfect candidate for a committee save.

Verdict: In with a 60% chance of making the final 9.

From Paraguay: THE HEIRESSES

Why it’s in: It’s been flying under the radar ever since its triple win at the Berlinale (landing Best Actress, FIPRESCI and Alfred Bauer Prizes) but it did elicit a lot of passion among high brows at the festival. We think it could be a good sign, and the fact that Paraguay never made the cut could actually be another good sign (the FLF shortlist usually includes a newcomer country every year). It’s also the best LGBTQ film with a chance to make the cut this year, as well as being a women-led film. This is a plus.

Why it can be snubbed: It’s a subtle, subdued film that won’t have a chance to be a popular vote but could appeal to highbrows. If it’s snubbed, it would be because the committee had more passion for other artsy films in the race – and they have an embarrassment of riches this year to pick from.

Verdict: In with a 55% chance of making the final 9.

From the United Kingdom: I AM NOT A WITCH

Why it’s in: Remember TIMBUKTU, THEEB, TANNA and THE WOUND? All these films had one important thing in common: exotic. They all covered worlds unknown, characters rarely seen on film and fascinating worlds where culture collides with reality. We feel I Am Not A Witch fits the bill this year. It’s coming off high acclaim and it’s been beloved by highbrows. It also won the BAFTA last year for Outstanding Debut.  We have a good feeling about this one.

Why it can be snubbed: Its visibility hasn’t been that great, and it could easily be lost in the shuffle. Will the committee gravitate towards it? The UK’s track record has been very spotty this decade – but the film is interesting, exotic and accessible. It could go either way. We just think its pros outweigh its cons.

Verdict: In with a 55% chance of making the final 9.


Stay tuned as we analyze the FLF race once the December 17 shortlist is announced.

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