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9 Foreign Language Oscar Semi-Finalists: Who Has Them, Where You Can See Them

9 Foreign Language Oscar Semi-Finalists: Who Has Them, Where You Can See Them

Nine films will be screened next month by a select group of Academy members in Los Angeles, New York and London to determine the ultimate five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film. Chosen from the 80 titles submitted by various national groups, these nine were selected from the top six vote getters from the multiple hundred Academy members who screen them for weeks during the fall, and then with three more added by an executive committee to round out the nine.

The nine films include four that as of Dec. 18 have opened in the U.S., three set to open between February and April 2016, and two not yet acquired. The biggest-grosser, Austrian horror film “Goodnight Mommy” (Radius/Weinstein) did not make the cut, nor did Venice prize-winner from Sweden “A Pigeon Sat on a Brand Reflecting On Existence” (Magnolia), Oscilloscope’s Brazilian “The Second Mother” or Canadian “Felix and Meira.” Well Go’s “The Assassin” (Taiwan) from director Hou Hsiao-hsien, one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, also fell short. Music Box had two contenders, the Spanish “Flowers,” already opened, and the highly regarded “The Club” from Chile, from director Pablo Larrain, whose “No” was a nominee for 2013. In expectation of a possible nomination, they scheduled an opening in January. Other planned early 2016 releases not included on the shortlist are “Rams” (Iceland/Cohen Media), “The Clan” (Argentina/20th Century Fox), “Ixcanul” (Guatemala/Kino), “Aferim!” (Romania/Big World), and “600 Miles” (Mexico/Lionsgate).

Two distributors managed to have two selectees each: frequent Oscar-winner Sony Pictures Classics (“Son of Saul” and “Labyrinth of Lies”) and Magnolia (“Viva” and “A War”). Magnolia’s two other entries are from Scandinavia, “Pigeon” and Norway’s “The Wave,” which goes to theaters and VOD on March 4. Cohen Media has France’s “The Mustang,” Film Movement will open Jordan’s “Theeb,” and Oscilloscope picked up Colombia’s “Embrace of the Serpent.” Magnolia has had past nominations, and Cohen Media broke in last year. If their films reach the finals, it will be the first time for either Oscilloscope or Film Movement.

In release

Title – “Labyrinth of Lies”
Director – Giulio Ricciarelli (1st)
Country – 
Germany
US Distributor – Sony Pictures Classics
US release date – 9/30/15
Total gross to date – $737,000
Festivals include – Toronto 2014

The first of SPC’s two semi-finalists had a fall release, a year after its Toronto debut. It had a modest response after only mildly favorable reviews (62 at Metacritic), but its story about a post-war German prosecutor pursuing war criminals found some interest. The DVD and other home viewing platform date has not yet been set.

Title – “Theeb”
Director – Naji Abu Nowar (1st)
Country – 
Jordan
US Distributor – Film Movement
US release date – 11/6/15
Total gross to date – $136,000
Festivals include – Venice, Toronto 2014
Awards won – Venice/Horizons – Best Director

This first Middle Eastern first feature, set in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, got much better reviews (80 at Metacritic) but only limited theatrical grosses in the first month or so of play.

Title – “Mustang”
Director – Deniz Gamze Erguven (1st)
Country – 
France
US Distributor – Cohen
US release date – 11/20/15
Total gross to date – $103,000
Festivals include – Cannes, Venice, Toronto 2015
Awards won – National Board of Review: Freedom of Expression Awards; also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Best International Film, Indie Spirit Awards

This mostly Turkish film (though its writer, some producers and much backing came from France) has opened only in New York and Los Angeles so far, with expectations that if as is likely that it makes the final cut it will broaden much further next month. Cohen Media last year delayed their nominee “Timbuktu” until January with some success (and actually won the 2015 New York Film Critics award in the category).

Title – “Son of Saul”
Director – Laszlo Nemes (1st)
Country – 
Hungary
US Distributor – Sony Pictures Classics
US release date – 12/18 
Festivals include – Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2015
Awards won – Cannes: Grand prix, FIPRESCI Prize, LA Film Critics, National Board of Review: Best Foreign Language Film; New York Film Critics: Best 1st Film; also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Hollywood Foreign Press Association

SPC released winners “A Separation” and “Amour” and nominee “Leviathan” similarly with December openings in New York and Los Angeles. The initial dates (Lincoln Plaza and Film Forum in Manhattan, the Nuart in Los Angeles) are presented in 35mm, so it is not just Quentin Tarantino pushing film over digital. The next wave of top cities comes Jan. 15 (San Francisco, Washington, Phoenix, and others starting on Jan. 22. Selected dates will also be in 35mm.

Not yet released

Title – “Viva”
Director – Paddy Breathnach (Blow Dry, I Went Down)
Country – 
Ireland
US Distributor – Magnolia
US release date – 2/5/16
Festivals include – Telluride 2015, Sundance 2016

An Irish coproduction, made in Cuba in Spanish, this crowd-pleasing story of a Havana drag queen reconciling to life and his ex-boxer father comes from veteran Irish director Paddy Breathnach, best known for the Alan Rickman hairdresser competition comedy “Blow Dry” released by Miramax in 2001. Magnolia is opening this post-nominations in Manhattan (the Angelika) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Monica Film Center) and possibly more on Feb. 5, then expanding to other markets on Feb. 19.

Title – “Embrace of the Serpent”
Director – Ciro Guerra (“The Wind Journeys,” “The Shadow of the Walker”)
Country – 
Colombia
US Distributor – Oscilloscope
US release date – 2/17/16
Festivals include – Cannes, Toronto 2015
Awards – Nominated for Best International Films/Indie Spirit Awards

A stunning black and white widescreen film that has had solid festival presentation, this tale of indigenous tribes confronting 20th century Europeans in the upper Amazon has been dated in New York at the Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza on Feb. 17 and the Nuart in Los Angeles two days later,  the Bay area the following weekend and other top cities on March 11.

Title – “A War”
Director – Tobias Lindholm (“A Hijacking,” “R”)
Country –
Denmark
US Distributor – Magnolia
US release date – 4/8/16
Festivals include – Venice 2015

A Danish officer is tried by his decision to bomb civilians in Afghanistan by a court back home in this film by a young director who came to prominence writing the TV series “Borgen,” then wrote “The Hunt” and directed “A Hijacking,” both also released by Magnolia. If it is nominated or wins, don’t expect to see it before. It is opening on April 8 in New York (Lincoln Plaza and Sunshine), with Los Angeles on the same date with the theater to be determined.

No U.S. Distributor

Title – “The Fencer”
Director – Klaus Haro (“Letters to Father Jacob,” “The New Man”)
Country – 
Finland
Festivals include –Munich 2015
Awards Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film/Hollywood Foreign Press Association

This is the sleeper in the group. With minimal festival attention after its domestic release last March, this Estonian-set story, from the days of Soviet Union (then its country) after World War II has been called described as “Dead Poets Society” but with a thriller twist. It clearly now has found favor both with the Golden Globes and Academy committee members. Expect there to be industry interest now.

Title – “The Brand New Testament”
Director – Jaco van Dormael (The Eighth Day, Toto the Hero)
Country –
Belgium
Festivals include – Cannes 2015
Awards Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film/Hollywood Foreign Press Association

The only film by a veteran foreign language director to make the cut, Jaco van Dormael had two 1990s films get attention in the 1990s, but not since. A rare comedy, this satire with a less than omniscient Christian God the Father living in Brussels debuted in Cannes this year, but got no distributor at that time.

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