Those Oscar Missed: Best Foreign Language Film

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CONTRIBUTED BY JAKE THOMPSON

Best Foreign Language Film has always been a little odd to me.  It isn’t the quality of work that gets nominated that worries me, but it’s the politics that can sometimes prevent a certain film from being submitted by its native country in the first place.  It’s hard to complain because so many exemplary foreign language films have been nominated over the years.  I really wish that the director would also be a recipient for this category in addition to the submitting country, but I’ll just have to settle for hoping that this happens someday.  There have been some surprising omissions in this category, and now I will translate into English those major snubs.

One major snub is 1957’s Wild Strawberries.  Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, this film features Victor Sjostrom as a 78 year-old widowed physician who, while traveling from Stockholm to Lund to receive the degree of Doctor Jubilaris, begins to re-evaluate his life after experiencing nightmares and daydreams brought on by hitchhikers he meets along the way.  This terrific film also features Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand, and Max Von Sydow.  It’s such a shame that Bergman’s film wasn’t nominated here, but interestingly it did get an Original Screenplay nod at the 32nd Academy Awards.

The actual nominees at the 30th Academy Awards were:
Nights of Cabiria– Italy (*Winner)
Mother India– India
The Devil Came at Night– Germany (West)
Nine Lives– Norway
The Gates of Paris– France

Another major snub is 1981’s Das Boot.  Written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, this adaptation of the Lothar-Gunther Buchheim novel tells the fictional World War II-set story of the German submarine U-96 and the ordinary individuals that comprise its crew.  It is told from the viewpoint of Lt. Werner, a war correspondent newly-assigned to U-96 in October 1941, and follows the experiences he and the crew share.  Of particular note is that the veterans of the crew, including the captain (Jurgen Prochnow), are embittered and cynical about the war.  It’s too bad Petersen’s film wasn’t nominated here (West Germany had foolishly decided to submit a different film as its entry), but it did manage to get nominated for six Academy Awards (for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Film Editing, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay, and Director) at the 55th Academy Awards.

The actual nominees at the 54th Academy Awards were:
Mephisto – Hungary (*Winner)
The Boat Is Full – Switzerland
Man of Iron – Poland
Muddy River – Japan
Three Brothers – Italy

One major snub that definitely comes to mind is 1985’s Ran.  Co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, his final epic film centers on an aging warlord who decides to abdicate as ruler in favor of his three sons (Shakespeare’s “King Lear” was one of the film’s inspirations, as well as the legends of daimyo Mori Motonari).  Tatsuya Nakadai portrays the aging warlord in his final collaboration with Kurosawa.  It’s a shame that the Academy didn’t nominate Kurosawa’s film here (Kurosawa had angered the Japanese film industry for skipping the film’s Japanese premiere, so Japan submitted a different film as its entry), but it did manage to get four Oscar nods (3 nods for Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Director, 1 win for Best Costume Design).

The actual nominees at the 58th Academy Awards were:
The Official Story – Argentina (*Winner)
Angry Harvest – Germany (West)
Colonel Redl – Hungary
Three Men and a Cradle – France
When Father Was Away On Business – Yugoslavia

Another major snub would be 2000’s In the Mood For Love.  Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, this film centers on a man and a woman who move in to neighboring Hong Kong apartments.  They slowly start to form a bond when they begin to suspect that their spouses might be cheating on them.  The cast includes Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung, and the film forms the second part of an informal trilogy (starting with 1990’s Days of Being Wild and ending with 2004’s 2046).  It’s a shame that Kar-Wai’s film wasn’t nominated here (China submitted Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as its official entry).

The actual nominees at the 73rd Academy Awards were:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – China (*Winner)
Amores Perros – Mexico
Divided We Fall – Czech Republic
Everybody Famous! – Belgium
The Taste of Others – France

One final major snub would be 2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.  Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, this film centers on two young women in 1987 Communist Romania.  Otilia and Gabita are college friends who arrange a meeting with a man in a hotel so that he could he could perform an illegal abortion (Gabita is the one seeking an abortion).  Things become complicated when they have to find another hotel and the man discovers how long Gabita has actually been pregnant, prompting him to demand more than the money that was agreed to.  It’s too bad the Academy didn’t nominate Mungiu’s film here.

The actual nominees at the 80th Academy Awards were:
The Counterfeiters – Austria (*Winner)
12 – Russia
Beaufort – Israel
Katyn – Poland
Mongol – Kazakhstan

Other films that were considered include 1965’s Pierrot Le Fou, 1978’s The Green Room, and 2008’s Gomorrah.

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3 Responses to Those Oscar Missed: Best Foreign Language Film

  1. Not that I watch many foreign films, but it’s funny that two of my favorite foreign films, “Das Boot” and “Ran” were both snubbed, while I have no memory of any of the winners, let alone the nominees.

    • It continues to astound me that a significant number of the most memorable foreign language films are ones that did not win any awards or even get any award nominations (at least here in the U.S.).

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