Foreign Film Oscar Shortlist: Where Are the Best Foreign Films of 2013?
by Joey Magidson
December 20, 2013
Whenever the Academy releases a shortlist of titles in contention for one of their technical Oscar categories, mouths are always left agape to some small degree over what hasn't made the cut. Whether it's any number of special effects laden blockbusters not making to the next stage in Best Visual Effects or something like that, there's always some kind of surprise. That being said, the Best Foreign Language Feature shortlist has just been revealed, and voters certainly opted to exclude a lot of worthy titles, and we're not just talking the ineligible Blue is the Warmest Color from Abdellatif Kechiche. There's always a complaint or two about the films competing in this category, but rarely has there been borderline outrage like I've seen today.
First of all, what made the cut? Well, the nine films shortlisted to fight it out for the five nomination spots are Belgium's The Broken Circle Breakdown, Bosnia and Herzegovina's An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Cambodia's The Missing Picture, Denmark's The Hunt, Germany's Two Lives, Hong Kong's The Grandmaster, Hungary's The Notebook, Italy's The Great Beauty, and Palestine's Omar. There are certainly worthy contenders here, so it's not especially about these films getting in, but more about what was left out.
Besides Kechiche's French film, the really big omissions were Asghar Farhadi's The Past from Iran, along with other presumed big time contenders like Bethlehem from Israel, Gloria from Chile, and Wadjda from Saudi Arabia. Other longer shots like Child's Pose from Romania, Metro Manila from the United Kingdom, Neighboring Sounds from Brazil, Renoir from France, and The Rocket from Australia missed the cut too. To a large degree, you could probably construct a more satisfying final five from the excluded titles list than from the ones still in play for a nomination.
Before we get into the hows and whys of the shortlist, we can address why Blue is the Warmest Color never even had a shot, since that's the contender that most of us are the fondest of. The film wasn't eligible due to missing the Sept. 30 cut-off date for eligibility this year in the category. The movie needed to have gotten a release in France by that date, but instead was released in October, negating the Palme d'Or winner's chances at competing fore Best Foreign Language Feature. The flick is still a long shot contender for Best Picture, Best Actress for Adèle Exarchopoulos, Best Supporting Actress for Lea Seydoux, and Best Adapted Screenplay, but Best Foreign Language Feature was a nonstarter.
Something interesting to note is that the nine films were chosen by a process different than any other for Oscar. Basically, a few hundred Academy members based in Los Angeles screen the original 76 submitted films and then narrow their choices down to a half dozen. From there, the group's top six choices are combined in with three additional ones that the Academy's special Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee vote on. That's what ends up constituting the shortlist, six essentially "preferred" choices plus three other, more eclectic ones thrown back into the mix for final voting purposes.
So why did this all happen? As mentioned above, Blue is the Warmest Color wasn't even eligible to start, so no committee member was ever going to be able to give it a chance. That eliminated that one, leaving those other 76 films to go through the whole process. In the cases of the high profile misses like Gloria, The Past, and Wadjda, my best guess is that they were next in line and just closely missed during voting. If there was a dozen film shortlist instead of just nine, those would likely be the other ones on it.
As for the other flicks, it's as simple as those particular contenders not appealing to the Academy voters in a significant enough way. They opted to go another route, hard as that may be to swallow. The snubs definitely show a lack of originality (and at least to some degree a disinterest in some of the female-centric contenders), but that's the Academy for you. This isn't the first time that members of the Academy have submitted a less than ideal shortlist for Oscar consideration, and it won't be the last time either.
Finally, what will the final five ultimately look like? Well, by my estimation three slots are sure to be filled by The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Great Beauty, and The Hunt. That leaves a half dozen films fighting it out for the final two places at the table. The Grandmaster wasn't particularly well received, but it's the most well known of the lot, which could definitely work in its favor, leading me to think that it'll likely get in. That final spot is anyone's guess, though I think that Omar will be the one to make it in. Watch out for The Missing Picture though, as it could very well sneak in instead.
In regards to a winner, those aforementioned three of The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Great Beauty, and The Hunt are the probably trio duking it out to be the victor. I'd give the slight edge to The Broken Circle Breakdown, but that's as much a shot in the dark as anything. This is a wide open race, albeit a notably diluted one, so anything can happen still.
Ultimately, this is just another unpopular move by a voting body that often just does what they want, reactions be damned. You can't force Oscar members to choose movies that they don't care for, so that's the simple truth here. Many of us may have loved The Past, but that ones who choose the nominees didn't, so that ends its candidacy. This takes nothing away from its quality (the film is actually now in limited release, so you can go see it and find out for yourself too), but it does take it out of the Oscar race.