They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
Early Look at Foreign Language Film Race
By J. Don Birnam
November 1, 2017
Every year, more and more countries make a submission to be considered for a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Just last year, at the 89th Academy Awards, a record number, over 80, put in movies for evaluation, many for the first time ever. And at this year’s landmark 90th, already the record has been broken (the deadline was the end of September). This time, they got 92 countries, with six countries, including Haiti, Honduras, and surprisingly, Syria, making submissions for the first time.
And just as more and more countries make submissions, more and more rules changes and obscurities make this a frustratingly confounding category at the Oscars. Already the committee made some noise a few years back when, in the face of increasingly embarrassing omissions from the nominees list year in year out, a new method arose by which a special committee would “save” three films to form the list of nine finalists. Now, with the new president of the Academy, John Bailey, at the helm, it was only a matter of time before new changes came (Bailey is a longtime member of that branch). Essentially, the idea is to make it easier to watch the list of 92, by dividing it up into four lists and assigning volunteer members across all branches to watch them in special screenings set up throughout Los Angeles. The “committee saves three” method is still in place.
This year I’ve gotten a head start on this category by seeing almost a dozen of the submissions at various festivals. TIFF in particular always showcases a broad swath of foreign movies in their large library, and one could see over 12 of the eventual submissions in Toronto alone.
One thing you can immediately surmise if you watch the Oscars long enough is that there is a strong and persistent European bias in this category. It’s not just that Italy, France, and Germany have essentially combined to win more Oscars here than all other countries together, it’s that the nominations themselves reflect the “bias” of Academy members. I don’t mean bias in a negative way, but simply to remind us that they reflect the reality of their own experiences. Older white males are probably going to identify more something within the stories told by other such directors. Thus, most years three of the five nominees at least go to European countries, and I do not see a change in this trend coming soon.
In any case, here is a small recap of the movies I have seen (in alphabetical order by country) with a 1-10 rating of its chances of an appearance in the final five at this point. My one big hole right now is Israel’s Foxtrot, which I hear is a shoo-in. Right now I can neither confirm nor deny.
Austria: Haneke and Huppert Are Back With “Happy End”
Michael Haneke won his country an Oscar for the devastating Amour, and he is back with a slightly less dark and a bit more comedic light sequel called Happy End, which features last year’s dark horse Best Actress nominee Isabelle Huppert. In the movie, a well-to-do French family has to deal with an aging, suicidal patriarch, a ball-busting business leader mother (Huppert) and the business's problems, as well as the family’s younger members and their various shenanigans. These are all pretty snobby, dislikable, but funny people, elitists who are out of touch but think themselves with liberal. The movie does not have “gravitas” or “weight” (although it is an amusing and critical analysis of today’s well-to-do upper class folk. Still, given the combination of star power, the lighthearted nature of the serious subject, and the fact that no doubt many Academy members will identify with some of the characters (though perhaps will resent the unkind portrayal) it would be silly to dismiss the chances of this movie altogether.
Nomination Chances: 6