Saturday, January 11, 2020

Oscar Predictions: Best International Feature

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Monday, January 13th. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories.

Last year’s nominees: Capernaum (Lebanon), Cold War (Poland), Never Look Away (Germany), Roma (Mexico), Shoplifters (Japan)

My choices: Coming next week!

This year’s locks: Parasite (South Korea)

Very likely: Les Misérables (France)

Possible: Corpus Christi (Poland), Pain and Glory (Spain), Truth and Justice (Estonia), Atlantics (Senegal), Beanpole (Russia)

Unlikely: The Painted Bird (Czech Republic), Honeyland (North Macedonia), Those Who Remained (Hungary)

The rundown: I’ve seen all ten of the finalists announced in mid-December, and feel like I have a pretty good idea of how this race will go. I’ll run through each and the country statistics below. It’s worth noting that “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” has been nominated broadly by many groups but wasn’t submitted by France, and that “The Farewell,” a Golden Globe nominee, is also ineligible because it’s an American film. The name change to Best International Feature reflects no rule changes.

Like “Roma” last year, Parasite (South Korea), a stunning examination of class and humanity, is the surest thing and guaranteed to win here. Director Boon Joon Ho will be nominated for his seventh film, and the film will contend for Best Picture and likely many other prizes. It’s still a hurdle for South Korea, which made the shortlist last year with “Burning” for the first time after twenty-nine previous submissions.

Next likeliest is Les Misérables (France), a story of police brutality and culture clashes in modern-day Paris suburb, which earned bids at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. The country has achieved an astounding thirty-nine nominations in this race, with nine wins. The most recent victory was back in 1992 for “Indochine,” and “Mustang” was the last film nominated in 2015. This is director Ladj Ly’s feature directorial debut.

Corpus Christi (Poland) features a pious ex-convict who pretends to be a priest upon his release from prison. It hasn’t actually earned many domestic nominations, but it’s been very popular at European festivals and it’s really a terrific film. Poland was nominated last year, its eleventh overall bid. The country has won once, in 2015, for “Ida.” This is director Jan Komasa’s third feature film.

Pain and Glory (Spain) follows an aging director and a last opportunity to recapture part of what he once had. Itt should probably be ranked higher up given that it comes from renowned director Pedro Almodovar and it earned bids from the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, and many other groups. It also has a strong acting contender in star Antonio Banderas. But one of his most popular films, “Volver,” which earned a Best Actress nomination for Penelope Cruz, was shockingly snubbed in this category back in 2006. Spain has been nominated nineteen times, with four wins. Its most recent bid was in 2004 for winner “The Sea Inside.” Almodovar directed two previous nominees, “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” in 1988 and winner “All About My Mother” in 1999. He was also nominated in 2002 for Best Director for “Talk to Her” and won the Best Original Screenplay prize. This is his twenty-first film.

Truth and Justice (Estonia) is an epic tale of two neighbors finding for the right to work the land in the 1800s. It broke box office records as a nationally-revered adaptation of a definitive work of literature. Estonia has been nominated once before, for 2014’s terrific “Tangerines.” This is the feature film debut from director Tanel Toom, who was nominated for his live action short “The Confession” in 2010.

Atlantics (Senegal) is a science fiction story of a young woman betrothed to another whose dead love may not actually have perished in a boat accident at sea. The film is a Critics Choice nominee and has been cited by a number of other awards bodies. Director Mati Drop is a Directors Guild of America nominee for debut director. It’s also available to watch on Netflix. Senegal has only ever submitted one film for this race before, which was “Félicité” in 2017, which made the shortlist and was ultimately not nominated.

Beanpole (Russia) is a bleak tale set at the end of World War II about two nurses and the child they both care for. It took home major prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. Since 1992, Russia has been nominated seven times, winning in 1994 for “Burnt by the Sun.” Its last bid was for “Loveless” in 2017. This is director Kantemir Balagov’s third film.

The Painted Bird (Czech Republic) is a brutal look at the cruelty of man, seen through the eyes of a wandering Jewish boy during World War II. The film won a prize at the Venice Film Festival. Since 1994, the Czech Republic has earned three bids, winning in 1996 for “Kolya.” The country hasn’t been nominated since 2003. This is director Václav Marhoul’s third film.

Honeyland (North Macedonia) is a documentary about a beekeeper in the mountains struggling to maintain her ways. It’s also a finalist for Best Documentary, where I expect it to be nominated. It has earned a number of critics and festival prizes, including at Sundance, but most have been in the documentary field. It’s very rare to see a documentary nominated in this race, though both “The Missing Picture” and “Waltz with Bashir” were. North Macedonia was nominated only once before, on its first submission in 1994. This is the feature film debut for both Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov.

Those Who Remained (Hungary) spotlights two people who form an unusual relationship after surviving the Holocaust. It has been nominated for a few festival prizes and was the surprise inclusion on this list. Hungary has won both its prizes in this race for Holocaust films – “Mephisto” in 1981 and “Son of Saul” in 2015. The country has received eight additional nominations, most recently in 2017 for “On Body and Soul.” This is director Barnabás Tóth’s second feature film. His film “Chuchotage” made the Oscar shortlist for Best Live Action Short last year.

Forecasted winner: There’s no way this goes to anything but Parasite.

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