×

Oscar Foreign-Language Candidates in a Healthy Competition

On an Oscar nomination morning that brought more than its usual share of controversial omissions, foreign-language film was — for a change — left out of the fracas. Few could argue with this year’s strong, healthily diverse field of critical and festival favorites; the Academy’s conscientious fine-tuning of this once-maligned category is paying off.

Critics and audiences alike could be satisfied if the perceived frontrunner, Polish-British director Pawel Pawlikowski’s delicate post-Holocaust fable “Ida,” takes the gold. Among the year’s best-reviewed releases in any language, with New York and Los Angeles critics’ awards among its many trophies, the film proved an unlikely arthouse smash, with a U.S. gross of $3.7 million. That’s no small feat for a quiet, black-and-white meditation on faith from boutique distributor Music Box, proving the extent of its emotional reach. Furthermore, it’s the only nominee to score in any other Oscar category, with a well-deserved cinematography nom.

For all that, “Ida” lost the Golden Globe to “Leviathan,” Andrey Zvyagintsev’s muscular allegorical study of family tragedy and political corruption in contemporary Russia — a film many thought wouldn’t make it past the usually conservative Russian selection committee. Having stoked a reputation as a hot-button satire since its celebrated debut at Cannes (where it won for screenplay), “Leviathan” will win votes from members who like to reward serious statement pictures, but prefer them heftier than “Ida.”

One more Cannes-premiered protest film, Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,” employs visual lyricism and rhetorical fury in its wrenching depiction of the 2012 jihadist occupation of northern Mali. Mauritania’s first-ever entry in the Oscar race, it may be the most stylistically challenging of the nominees — but with Isis still dominating news headlines, voters may be surprised by its resonance. In a fact largely unnoted in the #OscarsSoWhite storm, only three African-born filmmakers have been nominated in this category; of those, Sissako is the first black one.

Another country scoring its maiden nomination in the race is Estonia, represented by Zaza Urushadze’s modestly scaled drama “Tangerines.” This tale of an elderly carpenter caught between Chechen and Georgian factions in the 1992 Abkhazia conflict wasn’t on most awards-watchers’ radars until its scored a Golden Globe nod, but it’s not surprising that its gentle humanism and anti-war message struck a chord with more traditionalist voters. The film’s chances are hindered, however, by the lack of a U.S. distributor to drive its phase-two campaign.

Finally, if voters find themselves unable to decide among — or simply too dejected by — this solemn quartet, Argentina’s “Wild Tales” is shaping up as the fizzy spoiler in the race. Damian Szifron’s riotous collection of six darkly comic shorts, each one serving vengeance at a different temperature, has proved a crowdpleaser at one festival after another since its Cannes unveiling — and boasts two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar as a producer for added credibility. Though it’s less profound than its rivals, don’t be surprised if the fun factor wins out.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Film Republic Adds Further Sales for

    Film Republic Inks Further Deals for 'God of the Piano' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sales agent Film Republic has closed further territory sales on “God of the Piano.” Film Movement previously picked up North American rights to the film, as reported exclusively by Variety. Mont Blanc Cinema has taken the rights for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Limelight Distribution is looking after the Australian and New Zealand releases, Hualu [...]

  • ‘Bears Famous Invasion’s Lorenzo Mattotti Brings

    Lorenzo Mattotti on MIA Title ‘Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily’

    Illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti is no stranger to film festivals. The artist – a long-time New Yorker cover artist and onetime Lou Reed and Michelangelo Antonioni collaborator – has designed posters for past editions of Venice and Cannes, and has contributed to films that played in Toronto and Rome. This year, however, he experienced the festival [...]

  • Dreamworks Abominable

    'Abominable' Release in Malaysia Abandoned

    Plans to release the increasingly controversial Chinese-U.S. co-produced animation film “Abominable” in Malaysia have been dropped after the distributor said that it would not be cut to cater to political sensitivities. The film includes a scene which depicts a map showing the South China Sea and the so called “nine-dash line” that China uses to [...]

  • Hui He

    RAI Com Takes World Sales on Italy/China Doc About Star Soprano Hui He (EXCLUSIVE)

    Italy’s RAI Com has taken world sales on high-profile documentary “Hui He, the Soprano From the Silk Road,” which is about the personal and artistic journey of one of the world’s leading sopranos and also marks a milestone Italian-Chinese co-production. Hui He was born and trained as a singer in the Chinese city of Xi’an, [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen arrives for the New

    Bruce Springsteen Returns to NJ Hometown for Surprise 'Western Stars' Introduction

    Bruce Springsteen returned to his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey to offer a surprise introduction to the first public multiplex viewing of his concert/documentary film, “Western Stars.” Dressed simply in a brown jacket, Springsteen took a moment to say a few words at the AMC Freehold 14 movie theater on Saturday night. “We knew we [...]

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content