The Best International Feature Film shortlist has just been released, bringing about several surprises and some unexpected omissions. Films that were widely expected to make the cut, including Brazil’s Invisible Life and Columbia’s Monos, didn’t – while several underdogs such as Hungary’s Those Who Remained and Estonia’s Truth and Justice made the cut.
But what makes this year’s list particularly interesting is that it also includes films that went completely under the radar, which makes it a particularly unexpected set of films overall. In this sense, one could argue that this is a list that, while makes it clear that the general committee still very much has a European taste, also calls for discovery of underseen and underrated gems. At AwardsWatch, we’re proud to have highlighted some of these underdogs at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, at a time where much attention went to more buzzed contenders.
Here are some of our observations on this year’s shortlist:
The Painted Bird Makes The Cut Despite Walkouts
At this year’s TIFF, we reviewed this masterful film, calling it a mesmerizing masterpiece that’s not for the faint hearted. Indeed, the film had massive walkouts and is surely not an easy watch. Reports about over 100 people walking out from the film were very true – AwardsWatch was at that screening – which made few people expect it to go all the way and score well with the general committee.
We think it’s a committee save that helped it make the cut, and while the film clocks in at almost three hours and features several graphic scenes, it remains one of the best and most deserving films on this list. Viewers willing to go beyond its uncompromising violence will surely be rewarded with a truly stunningly shot and meticulously crafted story of one boy’s loss of innocence at times of war.
It’s one of our favorite foreign language shortlist surprises in years – and we hope the film finds a bigger audience in the coming days and weeks.
We are also especially proud to have been one of the few publications to highlight and champion this film at TIFF. Read our TIFF review here.
Poland’s Underdog Surprises
Another underseen foreign masterpiece was Poland’s Corpus Christi, an astounding film that was in our top 3 most favorite films at TIFF this year. Coming in right after Parasite, this year’s frontrunner, this delicately made and superbly acted film was our second favorite foreign film of the year.
Calling it an Oscar contender in our September review, we truly believed in this film’s Oscar chances as long as it was seen and not lost in the shuffle. Despite a small distributor (Film Movement) and almost no coverage at TIFF from pundits and main outlets, the film’s powerful narrative truly propelled it to the shortlist with no campaign mounted for it at all.
Reminiscent of Russia’s Loveless, the film is a dry, piercing and honest social drama that offers a sharp critique of Polish society and a fresh look at religious beliefs intertwined with personal tragedies. A masterwork from a young filmmaker with a bright future ahead.
Above all, Corpus Christi remains a wonderful case of a deeply deserving film making the cut based solely on merit and not campaigns, FYC ads and hosted screenings – a bright spot of hope for many foreign contenders who may think all hope is lost when they don’t have the necessary resources to push their small films to the spotlight.
Read our TIFF review here.
Frontrunners Show Up – Except from Latin America
No one expected Parasite and Pain and Glory to miss here – and they didn’t. But Senegal’s Atlantics and France’s Les Misérables were not the slam dunks these two films were. We had no doubt they will be making the cut, but Mati Diop’s film was seen by some as an artsy, understated film that could alienate some voters. Thankfully all these 4 gems made it – and we expect them to go far in this race.
Latin American films, on the other hand, had a bad day with both Monos (Columbia) and Brazi’s Invisible Life not making the cut. It just goes to show how Eurocentric this list is, unlike last years’.
After having six films on last year’s 9-film shortlist, Cannes continues to show how it’s the undisputed prime launch pad for foreign language contenders. 5 of the 10 shortlisted films came from Cannes this year along with the shortlisted doc For Sama (on the Docs shortlist). And with Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood and Parasite expected to be big in this year’s Best Picture Oscar race, it’s been an exceptional year for Cannes on all fronts.
The Oscar nominations will be announced live on January 13, 2020. Stay tuned for our final predictions in all categories.