×

After the Palme d’Or, the Golden Globes and a slew of critics’ gongs, it is highly likely that helmer-writer Bong Joon Ho’s masterful, multilevel black comedy “Parasite” will achieve the triple crown of prestige kudos by nabbing the international feature Oscar. Surprisingly, it is the first South Korean film to be nominated in this category, although last year’s “Burning,” helmed by Lee Chang-dong, made the December shortlist.

More uncertain is whether “Parasite” will score in the five other categories in which it is nominated: best motion picture of the year, directing, editing (by Yang Jinmo), achievement in production design (by Lee Ha Jun, with set decoration by Cho Won Woo) and original screenplay (by Bong and Han Jin Wong, from a story by Bong). These additional nominations mark a tidy haul of commendations for a non-English language title.

The film has been a hit for distributor Neon in the U.S., and is the highest-grossing foreign-language title ever released, grossing more than $25 million so far. Indeed, it has been on screen since its November opening and more theaters continue to be added.

Critics, oddsmakers and industry alike seem to agree that the entertaining “Parasite” is the front-runner and deservedly so. It remains to be seen if Hollywood will attempt a remake or try to otherwise bottle Bong’s acerbic blend of humor and social critique.

Antonio Banderas Pain and Glory

The deeply personal “Pain and Glory” marks the third nomination in the category formerly known as foreign-language film for prolific Spanish director-writer Pedro Almodóvar. It was here that he went all the way to Oscar glory with “All About My Mother” (1999), was nominated for “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988) and short-listed for “Volver” (2006).

“Pain and Glory” is widely considered a return to form after several less-compelling titles. It’s a metafiction about an ailing and creatively blocked filmmaker, which beautifully incorporates the helmer’s signature touches such as bold colors, passionate embraces and sly references to his cinematic inspirations.

One strand of this film about memory and reflection involves the director’s reunion with the leading actor of one of his first films, from whom he has been long estranged. Thus, the casting of Antonio Banderas as the weary, pain-ridden filmmaker achieves an extra frisson, given that he was a fixture of Almodóvar’s early work before their falling out and eventual rapprochement.

Banderas’ moving performance, a career best duly prized at the 2019 Cannes fest, is nominated in the leading actor category and seems more likely to be rewarded than the film.

Sony Pictures Classics launched the film in October, but it didn’t match the grosses of earlier, more upbeat Almodóvar titles. Nevertheless, the nominations have spurred a rerelease in select cities, beginning Jan. 17.

“I am very happy with these nominations,” Almodóvar says. “This is the happiest end to the film’s career. Antonio has been a part of my films and my life for over 30 years. It makes me very proud that he’s received his first nomination for this film.”

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Another personal film, “Les Misérables” marks the edgy, impressive fiction feature debut by the Mali-born, France-based Ladj Ly, recently named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch. Evolving from Ly’s years of shooting short documentaries on life in Montfermeil, a housing estate on the outskirts of Paris, it has a rare authenticity.

Following the film’s premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival where it scored a jury prize, it traveled widely, collecting additional kudos, including a Golden Globe nomination. Amazon Studios opened the film in select cities Jan. 10 and the nomination is the icing on the cake of its already planned expansion. Moreover, in another year of #OscarsSoWhite, “Les Misérables” is one of the few nominees featuring a director and leading characters of color.

“I think of myself as a world citizen — and I can bring my camera nearly everywhere,” Ly says. “I am doing movies to bring emotions and of course messages to the big screen. I hope to shift boundaries not only in France and I hope to open other cinema schools.”

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy of New Europe Film Sales

Unlike the other four nominees, intense Polish drama “Corpus Christi,” helmed by Jan Komasa, has yet to be released in the U.S., but potential audiences do not have much longer to wait.

Distributor Film Movement plans to launch it at the Film Forum in NYC on Feb. 19. Although it is something of an unknown quantity stateside, the film enters the Oscar race with plenty of buzz.

After world preeming in the Venice Days section of the 2019 Venice Film Festival where it nabbed several kudos including the Label Europa Cinemas award from distributors, it went on to numerous other festivals where it has been collecting best film, director and audience awards as well as a stack of golden statuettes for riveting theater thesp Bartosz Bielenia in his first leading role.

Inspired by Poland’s surprisingly common phenomenon of fake priests, the screenplay by Mateusz Pacewicz centers on a 20-year-old violent offender on work release who, following a spiritual awakening in his juvenile detention center, passes himself off as a priest in a small parish still reeling from tragedy. The universal themes of forgiveness and second chances are powerfully delivered and mark Komasa and his team as talents to watch.

Honeyland Documentary

Only the second North Macedonian film to be nominated in this category — Milcho Manchevski’s 1994 “Before the Rain” was the first — and the second nonfiction feature to score a nom (the first was Rithy Panh’s 2013 “The Missing Picture”) the creative documentary “Honeyland,” helmed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, also received a nomination for feature documentary achievement. The striking verité portrait of a wild beekeeper living in harmony with nature in a harsh corner of the Balkans first struck a chord with American audiences at the 2019 Sundance fest where it nabbed the world cinema documentary grand prize as well as a cinematography award. It proved a savvy pickup for Neon, which organized a successful arthouse rollout this past summer.