Oscar Potential for Best Foreign Language Film 2011

Scene from "A Separation" from Iran.
When the Oscar nominations are announced on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, the category about which people won't care will likely be Best Foreign Language Film. The category probably exists only to satisfy the Oscar viewers who watch from around the world. The Academy Awards is broadcast in tons of foreign countries, and the category probably gives people in those nations something to root for.

Every year in October, the Academy invites countries to submit one film for consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Sixty countries participated in 2011, and, from those sixty films, five nominees will be determined. Those nominees will get a significant amount of press and publicity in the United States, but what about the dozens that won't?

The list of all the submitted films vying to be one of the nominees was posted online on October 7th, 2011. Of the movie bloggers who posted this list, like Brad Brevet from the website RopeOfSilicon.com, he admitted not having seen any of the titles on the list.

Some years back, Roger Ebert admitted not having seen the foreign films that were eventually nominated. Unless you're a person who attends every single, major film festival, which includes Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and Toronto, and unless you're a person who sees every single foreign film that plays in those places, it's unlikely that you'll even have heard of half the movies on the list.

Therefore, these dozens of films will simply fade into oblivion. It could be argued that some of them should. Some foreign films are best appreciated in their countries or cultures of origin. That being said, I can't help but wonder what great or interesting filmmaking is lost to me or to Americans in general every year.

I'll never be able to see all sixty movies that are potential Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, but, of the ones that are in the running, I've created a kind of wish list. Based on what little I've been able to gather of these movies from various lands, I've narrowed them down from 60 to 12. These 12 I feel might also be the crème de la crème, or at least the most fascinating.

  1. A SEPARATION [Iran] - This is the film that was the top winner at this year's Berlin Film Festival. It won five awards there, including the Golden Bear and the Silver Bear for its main actors. It's about a couple going through a divorce in modern-day Tehran. Sony Pictures Classics is pushing it for Oscar consideration in other categories, including Best Writing, and right now it stands at 100 % on Rotten Tomatoes.
  2. OMAR M'A TUER [Morocco] - This film hasn't been getting a lot of buzz, probably because outside of France it's only played at the Toronto Film Festival a month ago. I'm still curious to see it because it stars Sami Bouajila, the French actor of Tunisian descent who has starred in two Oscar nominated films, Days of Glory and Outside the Law. He also made a name for himself for starring in two films that dealt with AIDS and HIV, The Adventures of Felix and The Witnesses. Bouajila is a brilliant actor and this performance, which is about a man falsely accused of murder, is another in a long list of great ones.
  3. THE FLOWERS OF WAR [China] - Speaking of a long list of great performances, Christian Bale stars in this adaptation of Geling Yan's novel about the Nanking massacre of 1937, which resulted in the rape of murder of thousands at the hands of the Japanese. This film is directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero and House of Flying Daggers).
  4. PINA [Germany] - Renown filmmaker Wim Wenders directs a 3-D musical documentary about the German choreographer Pina Bausch who died during the making of this movie. Bausch's work will be staged for the 2012 Olympics and this film is a bold and creative tribute to her.
  5. FOOTNOTE [Israel] - This film also features an actor who is an International star, Lior Ashkenazi (Late Marriage and Walk on Water) who plays Uriel Shkolnik, a Jewish professor who is at odds with his father who is also a Jewish professor. The two face off when Uriel's father is in line to receive a coveted prize. This film was given 11 awards by the Israeli Film Academy. It also won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival.
  6. DECLARATION OF WAR [France] - I haven't heard much about this film. I listed it only because I was so impressed with the trailer, which just looked amazing. The story is about a couple whose child has cancer. Check out the trailer. http://youtu.be/d0UN5DW6KB0
  7. BEAUTY [South Africa] - According to indieWIRE, this film was bought by TLA Releasing, the movie distributor based in my hometown of Philadelphia. TLA picked up the film after it won the unofficial Queer Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival.
  8. BULLHEAD [Belgium] - The debut feature by Michael R. Roskam was the talk of Austin's Fantastic Fest. In her review for the Slackerwood blog, Debbie Cerda said, "What starts out as a movie about the mafia behind illegal bovine hormone use and trading in the Belgian agricultural industry turns into an intensive character study of one thug who is addicted to illegal hormones." I was mesmerized by the trailer to this film as well. Unfortunately, unless it gets an Oscar nom, it's doubtful that it will ever come to the United States.
  9. TATSUMI [Singapore] - This is one of two foreign films that are animated. It came out of Cannes without a lot of buzz, but in his Cinema Autopsy blog, Thomas Caldwell wrote, "Tatsumi not only explains the cultural context of gekiga comics, but adopts Tatsumi’s simple yet expressive cartooning style to depict his life and bring to life five of his short stories."
  10. A SIMPLE LIFE [Hong Kong] - Other than Faust and Shame, this was the other film to win a few awards at the prestigious Venice Film Festival back in September. Again, it stars another, international star, Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs and House of Flying Daggers). It's an unlikely film about two people who aren't related by blood but who form a mother-and-son bond.
  11. THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD [Albania] - This is the eagerly-awaited followup film for Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) about a blood feud, which keeps the men of a certain family trapped in their house, fearful of rival retaliation.
  12. SUPERCLASICO [Denmark] - Despite being a Danish film, this movie is set in Argentina and in fact Superclásico is an Argentinian term. Yet, this film is unlikely to get the Oscar nomination. It seems like it's just a quirky, romantic comedy, but the trailer for it was just so hilarious to me that I decided to include it. http://youtu.be/Do0YAZ9CTso


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