Fascinating is the best way to describe the process by which
the final five nominated for the Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language
Film are selected. Each year dozens of countries send their Oscar hopeful to
Hollywood for AMPAS to consider. This work should, at least in theory, be the
best representation of the national cinematic achievements of that year. This usually makes for a crowded field of storytelling marvels.
Since each country, via its national film academy or a special
cultural committee, can only submit one candidate, there are always “snubs”
even at the selections stage. These often happens because a film doesn’t meet
the requirements or simply because the selecting body didn’t regard them as
highly. While there are numerous detractors regarding AMPAS rule of only one
entry per country, in a sense this helps level the playfield given that smaller
territories might have very choices in comparison to European powerhouses. The
other perspective argues that because of this process sometimes the real
standouts don’t get a chance to compete.
Once a film becomes the official entry the next, and most
arduous step, is to get into the 9-film shortlist. Six of them are chosen by
popular within the AMPAS’ Foreign Language Film committee and the other three
by an executed committee. These nine finalists are then watched by 30 randomly
selected members from different Academy branches over one weekend. This is
where the five nominees are chosen. This year 80 accepted submissions (noting
that Afghanistan’s entry was disqualified) are vying for the trophy, and that
means that 75 of the world’s best films will have to cherish the exposure given
Nevertheless, making the shortlist is more than a
commendable feat itself. This list will be revealed next week, and though there
are always unexpected surprises, there are of course a few favorites and films
that have garnered lots of positive attention throughout the season. After
watching over three quarters out of the colossal list of entries in contention
I’d like to share my observations on the 25 films that seem like the strongest
bets to make the coveted shortlist and eventually become Academy Award nominees.
Granted, other films could easily sneak in if they manage to impress the right
people, but I feel confident that most of those that will advance will come
from the least below.
Trapero’s sordid crime drama based on the real life story of
the Puccio family, which became national news when authorities discovered they
were behind a series of kidnapping and murders, is a compelling work that uses
Argentina’s historical context as backdrop. . Almodovar’s El Deseo, the company behind the Oscar-nominated “Wild Tales”,
produced the film.
One of the most daring selections is also one the most
acclaimed horror films of the year. This art house chiller confronts a pair of
mischievous twin boys with their convalescent mother who recently underwent a facial
surgery. The thematic and aesthetic elegance that co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz employed elevates “Goodnight Mommy” beyond the usual gruesome fare.
This fantastical take on religion is yet another unique
vision from director Jaco Van Dormael, the filmmaker behind such films as “Mr.
Nobody.” With a humorous tone, “The Brand New Testament” explores what would
happen if God himself lived in a regular apartment in Brussels pretending to be
a mortal and finding pleasure in the little things that annoy human life – all of which
are orchestrated by him.
Anna Muylaert’s crowd-pleasing, yet thematically complex gem
delves into the intricacies of class in Brazilian society through the eyes of
an endearing live-in maid. Regina Casé, in an Oscar-worthy performance, becomes
Val, a diligent and humble housekeeper that has worked with the same wealthy
family in Sao Paulo for many years and who only questions her role within this environment when her strange daughter comes to visit.
A clandestine romance and the yoke of religion are at the
center of Maxime Giroux’s delicate debut feature. Meira (Hadas Yaron is a Hasidic woman who
feels trapped by the expectations and limitations imposed her, but when she meets
Felix (Martin Dubreuil), a secular man who is equally lost, her vision of the world widens.