The most complicated category at the Oscars is also one of the categories that receives the most attention from Awards watchers. With seemingly endless rule changes and hundreds of films that are eligible every year it is a fun category to scrutinize. Each year a country’s selection reflects their political climate, artistic tastes, and cinematic progress. It almost seems ridiculous that the Oscars only dedicate one category to recognizing the groundbreaking work of international filmmakers. Even though all of these films are technically eligible for most of the other categories, the weird rules in this branch usually disqualify many of them (they have to be released in their home countries before September 30th).
It is incredibly difficult to make predictions for Best Foreign Film this early in the season mainly because most countries have not announced their selections yet. While some countries only release a few films per year there are countries like France, India, or Italy have large film industries with over a hundred eligible films. It would be too time consuming to break down every country (and the Foreign Films blog does it better than I ever could) so I prefer to wait until the selections are announced. Only Greece and Poland have announced their 2012 selections thus far. Greece selected the experimental film Attenberg which hopes to bank on the success of last year’s Dogtooth. Poland has gone more Oscar-friendly with the film In Darkness, a Holocaust drama based on a true story. Based on my hunch, however, neither of those are likely contenders.
When it comes to predicting the Oscars this early in the year the first place to look is the Cannes Film Festival. Last year and the year before 3 of the 5 Oscar nominees premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The year before that 2 of the 5 opened in France before going on to Oscar glory (curiously, Cannes films almost never win). The Best Foreign Film category and the Cannes Film Festival have always been closely linked so that is a good place to start. The problem is that many of this year’s strongest films from Cannes are English-language pictures. Movies like Drive, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Melancholia and Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life dominated a lot of the buzz this year. The most likely films to emerge from Cannes as contenders are Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, or Markus Schleinzer’s Michael. Each of those films were well-received by critics and Le Havre and Anatolia have both already been picked up for U.S. distribution.
Keeping the Cannes selections in mind one has to look at the countries that are most consistent in this category. France has been nominated 6 out of the last 10 years and they have the most nominations in this category’s history. It is unclear which film they will select this year as they have so many to choose from, but it could be Cannes Film Festival selection Polisse from director Maïwenn Le Besco. The police and journalism drama wasn’t unanimously well-received, but it did have some fans and might be the type of film that Oscar voters can latch onto. The other country to keep an eye out for is Italy who will be trying to get out of their major slump. Despite have more wins in this category than any other country, Italy has had only one film nominated since 2000. The Cannes film Habemus Papam is light-hearted and has historical context which Oscar voters often find fascinating, so it could turn out to be Italy’s selection.
Some would argue that the country turning out the best films these days is Korea (technically South Korea). They have never been nominated, but are definitely overdue with recent films like Mother, Secret Sunshine, and Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall…and Spring being criminally ignored. This year they might try to break that trend by sending the action movie The Yellow Sea. Another country that is having an excellent year is Norway with several of their films getting American releases and their equivalent of the Oscars, the Amandas, showing the best the country has to offer. The documentary Tears of Gaza seems like it is right up this branch’s alley. Other possibilities include Tom Tykwer’s latest film Three, which is a German release, the family drama I Wish from Japan, or past nominee Jan Hrebejk’s Innocence from the Czech Republic.
This category is likely to change more than any other over the next several months, but here is how I see the race right now:
1) Le Havre – FINLAND
2) The Yellow Sea – KOREA
3) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – TURKEY
4) Tears of Gaza – NORWAY
5) Michael – AUSTRIA
View the predictions page for more potential nominees. What movies or countries do you think we need to look out for at this year’s Oscars?