The “Cinderella” story for “Drive My Car” has been one of the award season’s most enlightening. The Japanese submission captured a nom for best international feature, best picture, director and adapted screenplay. It became the eighth film in Oscars history to be nominated for both picture and international categories.
The others are “Z” (1969), “The Emigrants” (1971/72), “Life is Beautiful” (1998), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), “Amour” (2012), “Roma” (2018) and “Parasite” (2019). “Emigrants” is the only one to have lost the international category. However, that’s due to it receiving nominations in different years. It represented Sweden at the 1972 awards before getting a U.S. release and qualifying for the following ceremony, picking up four noms for picture, directing, actress and adapted screenplay.
With a robust runtime of 179 minutes, “Drive My Car” has gotten over the hurdle of getting enough Academy attention to secure its noms. But, with over 9,400 eligible members able to vote in every category, are enough of the voters giving it the required time to get it over the finish line? Could there be a historic upset brewing just ahead of the final voting opening on March 17?
Read more: Variety’s Awards Circuit Predictions Hub
Two of Japan’s main competitors also landed noms outside of the category — Norway’s “The Worst Person in the World” and Denmark’s “Flee,” both from Neon — which indicates strong pockets of support in other branches that could lead to a surprise victor. Even with Bhutan’s “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” from debut filmmaker Pawo Choyning Dorji, a first-time entrant for the country making the lineup over Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero,” could pull in votes for the feel-good flick.
The Oscars have (mostly) demonstrated the tendency to “fall in line” when selecting a winner in many categories. Still, the “Worst Person” curveball popping up in best original screenplay for co-scribes Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt has offered a realistic alternative to “Drive My Car” that many could be underestimating. Trier, who also directs the film, plays with tones and crafted a more accessible and modern feature that could appeal to younger voters. The Norwegian film has been getting praised by the likes of Judd Apatow, Dakota Johnson and even Trier’s own competitor, Paul Thomas Anderson of “Licorice Pizza.”
The Academy membership has changed considerably over the last few years, with a large influx coming from the international community. This new wave has made their presence known in the previous three years, with Thomas Vinterberg snagging a director nom for “Another Round” (2020) and, of course, “Parasite” (2019) winning best picture. Hamaguchi, also nominated for directing, represents the fourth consecutive year that a film nominated in the international feature category also received a nom for director.
There are a few similar ceremonies that could offer clues to potential upsets. For example, Mexico’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) from Guillermo del Toro, nominated for six Academy Awards and winning three (production design, cinematography and makeup, the second most of the night for any film) didn’t walk away with the international race it seemed “locked” to win. Instead, Germany’s “The Lives of Others” from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck took home the prize that year, despite “Pan” also having a nom in the original screenplay.
The other would be France’s “Amélie” from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, which walked into the evening with an impressive five Oscar noms, the most of any film that didn’t have a nomination for best picture. And still, Jeunet’s romantic comedy lost out to Bosnia & Herzegovina’s war film “No Man’s Land” from Danis Tanović.
It’s essential to look at both of those past ceremonies in context, as the best picture field was still only recognizing five films. With recognition in the screenplay categories, you can safely assume that both “Amélie” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” would have made a lineup of 10, which changes the film’s reception in the eyes of voters, and campaign strategies significantly. Also, the entire Academy membership wasn’t voting on the category at the time, like it is now.
Another factor is looking at Oscars history. Out of the 68 previous awards, 57 have gone to European films. However, four of the last five have not with “The Salesman” (Iran, 2016), “A Fantastic Woman” (2017, Chile), “Roma” (2018, Mexico) and “Parasite” (2019, South Korea).
Denmark’s “Flee” from Jonas Poher Rasmussen is the first film nominated in the animated, documentary and international feature categories. “Flee” has a shot at winning the category again for Denmark, who walked away with it last year for “Another Round.” Interestingly, the last time any country won the category back-to-back was when Denmark won for “Babette’s Feast” (1987) and “Pelle the Conqueror” (1988).
Distributed by Janus Films and Sideshow, if Hamaguchi’s film won international feature, it would be the second-longest film ever to win the category at 179 minutes, behind “War and Peace” (1965) at 7 hours and 2 minutes, and 19 minutes longer than the third-place holder, “Indochine” (1992). Hamaguchi’s film is also competitive in adapted screenplay with co-writer Takamasa Oe, against frontrunner Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog” and Sian Heder’s “CODA.” The runtime could serve as its most significant test if the membership-at-large is willing to give it the required time and still ultimately vote for it.
Also helpful is that his lead star Renate Reinsve was nominated at the BAFTA Awards for lead actress, where no other Oscar-nominated women are in the lineup. With a journey that began with the film winning best actress at the Cannes Film Festival, she stands an excellent chance of winning against Lady Gaga (“House of Gucci”), Alana Haim (“Licorice Pizza”) and Emilia Jones (“CODA”). So even if the film were to lose best film, not in the English language, a win for Reinsve is added wind for its Oscar sails.
Let’s see what happens at Critics Choice and BAFTA this weekend.