By Sean Boelman
In recent years, foreign language categories at awards shows have come under intense scrutiny, and for good reason. Intended to highlight the finest in cinema from other countries, these honors have become problematic because of convoluted guidelines and selections processes.
The Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film is especially troublesome. Calls have been made for the category to follow AMPAS in changing the category to one recognizing international films rather than “foreign language films”, as current guidelines restrict American films made in another language (such as this year’s Minari) to this category.
Regardless, awards such as this do offer an amazing opportunity for us to discuss some films from across the world that might not have otherwise gotten onto audiences’ radars. We at disappointment media have gotten the opportunity to screen all of the films nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best International Feature. Here are some of our thoughts on the best international films of 2020! Our full personal ranking of all of the International Feature submissions we have seen (shortlisted or not) can be found here.
Our least favorite of the films nominated for the Golden Globe is the Sophia Loren vehicle The Life Ahead. Although Loren is great in her first feature film performance in over a decade, this is otherwise a very straightforward drama. Italy didn’t even submit this one for Academy Award consideration, instead opting to submit documentary Notturno, which didn’t make the shortlist.
Next up is the French submission for the Academy Award (and one that made the shortlist), Filippo Meneghetti’s lesbian romance Two of Us. It’s a really lovely film, even if it doesn’t offer much in terms of a surprise. Excellent chemistry between lead actresses Barbara Sukowka and Martine Chevallier is what sets this apart and likely earned its place in the race.
The definitively American film Minari got a nomination in the Golden Globes category because its dialogue is almost all in Korean, but this isn’t even a factor in the Oscars race since it isn’t an international film. As great as it is as a portrait of the American Dream, it would be a shame to see this set a disturbing precedent of having a U.S.-produced film win in this category.
Jayro Bustamante’s supernatural horror/political thriller La Llorona is probably the most daring of the nominees. It was a pleasant surprise to see Guatemala’s entry get both a Globes nomination and a spot on the Oscar shortlist despite its genre roots, but it’s just that damn good and offers a powerful political message.
Currently the frontrunner is the Danish film Another Round, the newest from director Thomas Vinterberg (whose 2012 film The Hunt got nominated in the same categories for both the Globes and the Oscars). A party movie on its surface, but containing a much deeper message about alcoholism, this treads the line between crowd-pleasing and hard-hitting extremely well. It will likely take home the Golden Globe and almost certainly earn a nomination in the Oscars.
However, with two of the films nominated for the Golden Globes not in the running for the Oscar, there are at least two spots left, and that’s assuming the three others all get a double nomination (which is far from a guarantee). What does that leave to round out the remainder of the batch?
Last year, distributor NEON took Parasite to a win, not only in the International Feature category but also for Best Picture. Although they will be sitting out the main race this year, they do have two films on the International Feature shortlist: Ivory Coast’s Night of the Kings and Russia’s Dear Comrades. The former, a poetic ode to the power of storytelling, feels like the more likely nominee, but don’t count out the latter because of its highly political nature.
The winner from the 91st Oscars, Netflix, hopes to reclaim dominance in the category, now having two players in the game. Taiwan’s entry A Sun has gained a lot of late-season heat from the critic community, but it feels a bit too off-kilter to be a serious player. Mexico’s entry I’m No Longer Here seems like a much safer play, a moving coming-of-age tale and brilliant exploration of a different culture.
Two documentaries made the cut for the shortlist this year. Chile’s entry The Mole Agent is an endearing and surprisingly funny watch, but it lacks the show-stopping quality that one generally associates with this category. And despite its flaws, Romania’s Collective, a strongly-crafted investigative documentary, seems like it has a better shot but still feels unlikely to show up outside of the main nonfiction competition.
The single worst film on this year’s shortlist is Iran’s contender Sun Children. Although it’s understandable why this found some fans, it has some distractingly ineffective child acting that makes it feel like a failed attempt at a grittier version of The Goonies. Quite frankly, it’s annoying, and there are much better films that deserved its spot.
Tunisia’s entry The Man Who Sold His Skin is a film that is more effective on paper than it is in execution. Kaouther Ben Hania’s commentary on the commoditization of human life is insanely timely, but the narrative that surrounds it isn’t quite as compelling as one would hope. Still, voters may jump on the film for the political value of its content alone.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry Quo Vadis, Aida? has gained a lot of support from the film community, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it slip into the five. There are some really harrowing moments in the film, but for the most part, it’s watching a bunch of people talk about protocol. Still, the ending is so powerful that this will stick in viewers’ minds more than most.
Prolific filmmaker Agnieszka Holland’s newest film Charlatan is representing the Czech Republic on the shortlist, and it is arguably the best film of the bunch. A wonderful and unorthodox biopic about a natural healer who was accused of lying about his abilities, this is the most captivating of any of the films, but might struggle to prove its relevance.
There are two more films on the shortlist that are both very good but don’t seem to have much of a chance to make a splash. Norway’s film Hope is a moving cancer drama with stellar performances from Andrea Bræin Hovig and Stellan Skarsgård, but is probably too low-key to get enough votes. Hong Kong’s Better Days is superb, but its melodramatic leanings mean it was shocking to see it even end up in the fifteen picks for the shortlist.
Of course, we also want to highlight some of the excellent films that didn’t make the cut for the shortlist, but are still worthy of a mention. Poland’s Never Gonna Snow Again is beautiful and poetic, and thankfully will make its way to audiences in the U.S. soon despite not having gotten the recognition it deserves. Ukraine’s representative, Atlantis, is one of the most compelling dystopian pictures in recent memory. And Serbia’s Dara of Jasenovac is an absolutely harrowing Holocaust drama.
Although there are so many great films in the lineup, it’s the unfortunate truth that only five will be able to get an actual nomination. That said, the International Feature category is particularly volatile in terms of predictions, as there is almost always at least one big surprise. This is how we think the votes are going to fall after all is said and done:
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The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.