We continue our annual series of Oscar Handicaps with the race for Best Foreign Language Film.
I’ve been lucky enough in my career as a movie theatre manager and as a writer about movies to have played and discovered a number of great movies that originated outside of America. Although I have been voraciously intaking cinema since my youngest days, before the mass acceptance of cable television and VCRs made movie watching disturbingly simple, I really didn’t get in to non-English language movies until my freshman year of college in the fall of 1985, when my first film appreciation class brought me the wonders of Fellini and Kurosawa. (Just as I didn’t really discover Hunter S. Thompson until I had to read “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” for my freshman PoliSci class, even though I had been a faithful subscriber to Rolling Stone for several years during my young life.) As my teens turned to my twenties, I’d seek out anything from anywhere as long as it sounded interesting. In to my life came German expressionism, Italian neo-realism, all the various expressions of the beauty of Japan, the crazy works of Pedro Almodovar, and the great Three Dragons films from Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. During this timeframe, I started working at a movie theatre, where one of the few benefits we had in a college town like Santa Cruz was that we could call in passes to the local arthouse theatre, the Nickelodeon (as they could call in passes to our theatre). At the Nickelodeon, I discovered one of the greatest movie I will ever see, which still haunts me thirty plus years later, Man Facing Southeast (which finally was released on home video at the end of 2016).
As my twenties became my thirties, soaking up all the Andy Lau and Luc Besson I could, I was fortunate to marry a wonderful woman who loved movies as much as I do, and was willing to be dragged to theatres like the Film Forum in New York City to see revival showings of the greatest masters of world cinema. (It was one of those Film Forum excursions with my New York City film writer friends like Edward Douglas, talking about some obscure Asian filmmaker, that caused Mrs. Havens to dive head first in to full-on cinemania, part of which resulted in her excellent Ultimate Film List series I hope you’ve had time to check out.)
Suffice to say, you cannot be a fan of cinema if you haven’t given movies from the other 192 nations of the world a chance.
But enough of my yapping, let’s get to the numbers…
1) As long as your film wasn’t the shortest of the five nominees, you’ve won 34 of the last 39 years (87.2%). Advantage: The Insult, Loveless, On Body and Soul, The Square
2) If your film won at least one major award from Cannes, WorldFest Houston, London, Palm Springs, Seattle, Toronto or Venice Film Festivals, you’ve won here 29 of 39 (74.4%). Advantage: On Body and Soul, The Square
3) If your film was recognized as a Best Picture nominee in your home country’s major film academy awards, you’ve won here 29 of 39 (74.4%). Advantage: The Square
4) If your film was released theatrically in the United States before the nomination announcements, you’ve won here 26 of 39 (66.7%). Advantage: The Insult, Loveless, The Square
5) If your movie is from a country that has had previous wins in the Best Foreign Language Film category, you’ve won here 26 of 39 (66.7%). Advantage: Loveless, On Body and Soul, The Square
6) If your film is from a country is West Europe, you’ve won here 24 of 39 (61.5%). Advantage: The Square
7) If your film won one of the Foreign Film awards from one of the major film critics’ groups (Los Angeles Film Critics, London Film Critics, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics), you’ve won here 24 of 39 (61.5%). Advantage: none of the nominees. It’s kinda shocking, actually. Doesn’t happen all that often.
8) The winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film has come from a film that was also nominated for the same award at the Critics Choice Awards 12 of the 22 years the Broadcast Film Critics Association has also been handing out awards (54.5%). Advantage: A Fantastic Woman, The Square
By the Numbers…
Sweden has the best chance to take home its first Foreign Language Oscar in 34 years, with Ruben Östlund likely to become the first Swedish director not named Ingmar Bergman to win this top honor. (And it doesn’t hurt that the film also has a top talent like Elizabeth Moss in a supporting role.)
A Fantastic Woman (Chile): -1, -2, -3, -4, -5, -6, -7, +8 (93 of 295, 31.53%)
The Insult (Lebanon): +1, -2, -3, +4, -5, -6, -7, -8 (133 of 295, 45.08%)
Loveless (Russia): +1, -2, -3, +4, +5, -6, -7, -8 (146 of 295, 49.49%)
On Body and Soul (Hungary): +1, +2, -3, -4, +5, -6, -7, -8 (152 of 295, 51.53%)
The Square (Sweden): +1, +2, +3, +4, +5, +6, -7, +8 (195 of 295, 66.10%)
Thank you for taking the time to check us out.
All articles in this series:
Best Picture of the Year
Best Actor and Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress
Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Animated Feature
Best Production Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Costume Design
Best Sound Effects and Best Sound Mixing
Best Documentary Feature
Best Visual Effects