By Sean Boelman
Whereas the race for Best International Film in previous years has been one of the most unpredictable in terms of nominations, this year’s batch seems to be pretty cut-and-dry, with only six serious contenders because those top players are so widely acclaimed. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some exciting other contenders.
The head of the pack right now seems to be the Iranian A Hero, from director Asghar Farhadi, whose films have won in this category twice before. Like much of the filmmaker’s other work, this is a biting and intense social thriller that will undoubtedly connect with Academy voters, especially given Farhadi’s prestige.
However, the win is far from a lock, as there is another film that has also been gaining a lot of steam in other awards ceremonies: the Japanese entry Drive My Car. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s film has been hailed by many (this critic included) as the finest of the year, and there has even been some talk of Hamaguchi being a long-shot contender for Best Director and Best Screenplay. Could that be enough to push it into the top spot?
In what seems to be a distant third, but not so much so that it couldn’t come from behind with a strong campaign, is the Norwegian film The Worst Person in the World. This insightful romantic comedy has just as much love, but isn’t as weighty as the two frontrunners, and as such, may not be taken as seriously.
To round out the final five, it will likely be the Italian entry The Hand of God and the Finnish selection Compartment No. 6. The former is the latest work from director Paolo Sorrentino, and while it is much more conventional than his past work, the love for the filmmaker will at least get him a nod. The latter is also a rather slight film, but it’s gotten a generally positive reception.
The dark horse for the five is the Danish entry Flee, an animated documentary following a gay Middle Eastern refugee. Although the film has gotten more attention and praise than some of the other films that may be in the running, its medium is a challenge. Not an insurmountable one, by any means, but something that must be considered.
Beyond those top six films, there aren’t really any more on the shortlist that have a serious chance. Germany’s I’m Your Man is a very good film, and may get some support for having an A-lister as its lead, but it’s not substantial enough to make a splash. Spain’s The Good Boss is in a similar situation (had they picked Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, it would have been in the five).
Also from Europe are Lamb from Iceland, Hive from Kosovo, Playground from Belgium, and Great Freedom from Austria. However, most of those have been met with a pretty divisive reception, apart from Great Freedom. In any other year, that should be a shoo-in, but it seems like it will end up forgotten in favor of a more auteur-driven lineup.
There are two Latin American entries — Prayers for the Stolen (Mexico) and Plaza Catedral (Panama) — and while both are great, neither seems to have been seen by enough people to make the cut. Also from a first-time nominee, the Asian country of Bhutan, is Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, a pretty yet trite film that doesn’t leave much of a lasting impact.
All in all, it seems like there aren’t going to be any real surprises in the Best International Feature race, with very few potential upsets. At this point, all that we really need to be rooting for is for Flee to make it into the final five.
The Snake Hole
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