By Sean Boelman
Although last year’s Best International Feature race seemed pretty cut-and-dry, nominations morning provided one significant upset: Iran’s entry, A Hero was left off of the final list of nominees. This year, it seems less likely that there will be a major omission, but it’s impossible to tell until that fateful morning when the nominees are announced.
Right now, the presumed frontrunner of the pack is Germany’s contender: Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The film is the first German adaptation of Erich Remarque’s iconic anti-war novel, which was once adapted into a Best Picture-winning film in 1930. Although one might think that this would be disadvantaged due to a feeling of “been there, done that,” Berger’s harrowingly amazing execution will cement it as an important film.
After passing him up in 2016, South Korea has now selected The Handmaiden director’s newest film, Decision to Leave, as their entry, and it’s likely to give All Quiet on the Western Front a run for its money. Some are even floating Park as a potential Best Director contender, and the approachable, entertaining nature of the thriller compared to the heaviness of the war film might prove an important factor.
Lukas Dhont’s Belgian drama Close seems like a pretty safe pick for the five, considering it is backed by A24 and is an enormously emotional tear-jerker. Santiago Mitre’s Argentina, 1985 picked up the Golden Globe and seems on its way to a nod by Oscar. The film is a crowd-pleasing courtroom drama about the unlikely trial against some of the leaders of Argentina’s brutalist military dictatorship. That said, it feels rather generic — and maybe voters will pass over it in favor of something more unorthodox.
The final spot seems to be a race between three films. Personally, I’m rooting for Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO, a surreal film shot from the perspective of a donkey a la Au Hasard Balthazar. It might be a bit too weird for the Academy’s taste, but its strong environmental message is likely to resonate.
If you had told me at the beginning of last year that Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s newest film — Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths — wasn’t a lock for this category, I’d have laughed at you. Back in September, some declared this dead on arrival, but a recut by Iñárritu has been received much more warmly. It might not be enough to overcome those initial bad reviews, though.
Danish-Iranian thriller Holy Spider (submitted by Denmark, not Iran) has earned a great deal of acclaim even though it’s not very good — and filmmaker Ali Abbasi’s last film, Border, picked up a nom in this category a few years back. It currently seems the most likely candidate to upset EO — or with any good fortune, Argentina, 1985. (I can’t believe I’m rooting against the Latino film. That’s not very much like me.)
The much better courtroom drama is France’s Saint Omer, directed by documentarian Alice Diop in her narrative debut. However, the unorthodox storytelling style of the film might cause some voters to tune out. The anachronistic Austrian biopic Corsage is likely to suffer a similar fate due to its quirks, but Vicky Krieps’s performance may be enough to set it ahead.
India chose to submit the wrong film. They went with the sentimental ode to cinema Last Film Show rather than Tollywood action epic RRR. Although Last Film Show certainly isn’t bad, had the country’s board gone with the more populist choice, they would absolutely be running the headlines in this category. That said, RRR still has some other categories — like Best Original Song — to make a showing.
In terms of likely non-contenders there are Ireland’s The Quiet Girl, Morocco’s The Blue Caftan, Pakistan’s Joyland, and Sweden’s Cairo Conspiracy. Of them, the only one that is great is Joyland, but the common characteristic between them all is that they seem far too low-key to be noticed by voters.
While determining the winner may be a two-horse race, it’s exciting to see that Best International Film again being one of the more contentious races in the Academy Awards. Apart from two slots that seem absolutely locked in place, the race is pretty wide-open, with five films to realistically fill those last two spots — and plenty of underdogs for the surprise upset.
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