Filmmaker Bong Joon Ho said it perfectly: “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
His golden quote had somewhat of a ripple effect on how major voting bodies approach films in awards contention that are not in the English language. These films reach across boundaries both physical and psychological, touching hearts and minds.
Looking at last year’s Academy Awards alone, we saw some Best International Feature nominees also secure nods in other categories – such as “Flee” (best animation, best documentary), “The Worst Person in the World” (best original screenplay), and “Drive My Car” (best adapted screenplay, best director, best picture). This year, with all of its incredible international releases marketed to mainstream domestic audiences, has been gearing up for a potential repeat of cross-category nominees.
Germany’s submission, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” sports impeccable craftsmanship, from the magnificent debut of lead actor Felix Kammerer to its explosive sound design. Volker Bertelmann’s gutting score delivers horror-infused compositions complementary to director/ co-writer Edward Berger’s uncompromising vision and adapting co-writers Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell’s timeless anti-war commentary. All of them could easily slip into their respective trade categories. Winning best picture would certainly make for an amazing bookend for Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, since the 1930 English-language iteration took home that trophy.
“Decision To Leave,” South Korea’s hopeful, has major crossover appeal, particularly when it comes to the compelling, soul-searing performances by leads Park Hae-il and Tang Wei. The romantic thriller’s vibrant, emotional pull and aesthetic prowess might also earn a nod for Park Chan-wook’s savvy direction, along with his work writing the original screenplay with Jeong Seo-kyeong.
Alejandro González Iñárritu already has a handful of Oscars – making it likely his film “Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” will vie for the titles of best picture and best director. Penning the screenplay for this poignant, artistically bold rumination on life and death with co-writer Nicolás Giacobone may also earn acclaim. And co-writing the score with the National’s Bryce Dessner could nab him yet another nod. Plus, production designer Eugenio Caballero’s tactile, practical work wows.
Other international titles competing for kudos are also gaining momentum. Poland’s “EO” delivers standout cinematography and sound design, immersing audiences in a loveable donkey’s POV. Cambodia’s “Return to Seoul” houses a powerful, bracing performance from first-timer Park Ji-Min, who deserves best actress consideration.
Austria’s “Corsage” sports eye-catching looks for best costume and best hair and make-up on star Vicky Krieps, who bequeaths her prim Empress’ historically fictionalized struggles with a playfully rebellious edge.
Though filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli’s “RRR” isn’t India’s official Oscar selection, the crowd-pleasing actioner’s widespread popularity has given it the potential to be shortlisted in 14 of the 23 categories, including best picture, best director, best actor (possibly for both charismatic superstars N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan Teja), and best original song for the infectious dance banger “Naatu Naatu.”