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Oscars 2022: Top 10 International Features, Ranked by Likelihood to Land a Nomination

"Drive My Car," "Flee," and "The Worst Person in the World" are among the frontrunners, but there are always surprises.

DRIVE MY CAR, (aka DORAIBU MAI KA), Hidetoshi Nishijima, 2021. © Janus Films / courtesy Everett Collection

“Drive My Car”

Courtesy Everett Collection

With 92 features to watch, the Academy’s International Feature Film Committee, drawn from various branch members willing to watch an assigned slate of 12 films, selected a shortlist of 15. Any voter who watches all 15 can pick the final five.

What will they be? We hazard an educated guess based on festival awards, critics’ groups, and other anecdotal gleanings of Academy favorites. These films are among the year’s best. Check them out in all their glory in theaters if you can; some won’t be available at home for a few more weeks. (Read: How to Watch the 2022 Oscar Contenders at Home.)

Festival heavyweights include major Cannes standouts like Austria’s “Great Freedom,” Mexico’s “Prayers for the Stolen,” Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated documentary “Flee,” and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour meditation on Chekhov, “Drive My Car,” which is gaining so much acclaim that people are starting to whisper the “Parasite” word. Remember: Critics are not Oscar voters.

Below is our list of the 10 films most likely to score an Oscar nomination when they are revealed on February 8.

Kate Erbland, Ryan Lattanzio, Chris Lindahl, and Susannah Gruder also contributed to this article.

1. “Drive My Car”
Country: Japan, with seven nominations and one win (“Departures,” 2008).
Release: November 21, 2021, Janus Films
Metascore: 91

When Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” premiered at Cannes last summer, the beguiling greatness of his three-hour Haruki Murakami adaptation was obvious; its eventual success in the American market was not. After all, Hamaguchi’s previous work has barely been released in the United States. A few years ago, Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning” unpacked one of the Japanese author’s short stories into a sprawling psychodrama and that was also a masterpiece. However, it didn’t become the first movie since “The Social Network” to win Best Picture from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the National Society of Film Critics in the same year.

The story of a widowed theater director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) who stages Chekhov plays in several different languages at the same time, “Drive My Car” has proved deeply affecting to people all over the world. Without compromising his signature loquaciousness, Hamaguchi has crafted a rich and compulsively watchable epic that sees into its protagonist’s blind spots without losing sight of where he’s going. It’s a talky film that encourages us to find solace in the silence beyond words, while insisting that even the people we love most are liable to get lost in translation. As a result, it’s all but guaranteed to find itself nominated for Best International Feature Film when the final list is revealed next month. If Academy members respond to it as strongly as moviegoers, “Drive My Car” might just zoom away with the award itself. —DE

FLEE, Amin (right), 2021. © Neon /Courtesy Everett Collection

“Flee”

Courtesy Everett Collection

2. “Flee”
Country: Denmark, 13 nominations and four wins.
Release: December 3 (Neon)
Metascore: 90

Of the countless movies about the immigration crisis, none show the ingenuity of “Flee.” In Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s poignant animated documentary, an Afghan refugee recounts his 20-year survival story, and the dazzling storytelling goes there with him. The remarkable graphic style works in tandem with a narrative odyssey that would stun in any format: As the man — identified only by a pseudonym, Amin Nawabi — gradually opens up about his experiences, “Flee” builds to a powerful secret that reframes the global migrant crisis in intimate terms. From the moment Amin first appears, his bearded face rendered as a delicate 2D image, he’s wrestling with how to tell his story. “Flee” becomes his cinematic catharsis as Amin recounts his journey in fits and starts, while the animation turns his memories into a bracing and timely adventure.

Like Ari Folman’s documentary “Waltz with Bashir” (nominated for the Foreign Language Oscar in 2009), animation transforms real-life memories into vivid, experiential fragments that transcend the narration’s boundaries. Amin’s repressed sexuality often takes center stage, both in fantasy sequences and a climactic coming-out moment that register as some of the year’s best scenes. “I wanted to figure out how to create his journey through the form itself,” Rasmussen said during an interview in New York. “To be honest, I don’t know what the rules of documentary storytelling are. To me, every story has its form it needs to find.”

The filmmaker’s subject has been following the film’s trajectory from Denmark, even as he remains committed to anonymity. “He’s lived with this story as a secret for so many years,” Rasmussen said. “It’s been difficult that he can’t talk about the past. Just to have his past and present come together makes him feel more whole.”

“Flee” is a contender for Best International, Animated, and Documentary Feature. North Macedonia’s “Honeyland” became the first documentary simultaneously nominated for Best International Feature in 2019. Neon, the distributor that secured that breakthrough, also pioneered the Best Picture campaign for “Parasite” one year later. Now, the company could shatter another barrier with “Flee.” If nominated in both documentary and animation categories, “Flee” would be the first entirely animated documentary to wind up in either category. The campaign is also targeting actors, the Academy’s biggest branch, with the support of executive producer and recent Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed. Meanwhile, with the Afghan refugee crisis continuing to create hardships around the world, “Flee” puts a human face on one of the year’s most pressing humanitarian issues. A true category-busting filmmaking achievement, “Flee” is a crowdpleaser that satisfies many levels at once. —EK

Set of "The hand of God" by Paolo Sorrentino.in the picture Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo and Teresa Saponangelo.Photo by Gianni FioritoThis photograph is for editorial use only, the copyright is of the film company and the photographer assigned by the film production company and can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the film.The mention of the author-photographer is mandatory: Gianni Fiorito.Set del film "E' stata la mano di Dio" di Paolo Sorrentino.Nella foto Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo e Teresa Saponangelo.Foto di Gianni FioritoQuesta fotografia è solo per uso editoriale, il diritto d'autore è della società cinematografica e del fotografo assegnato dalla società di produzione del film e può essere riprodotto solo da pubblicazioni in concomitanza con la promozione del film. E’ obbligatoria la menzione dell’autore- fotografo: Gianni Fiorito.

“The Hand of God”

Gianni Fiorito

3. “The Hand of God”
Country: Italy, with 33 nominations and 11 wins.
Release: November 24 (Netflix)
Metascore: 76

The Academy (along with the rest of the world) hasn’t adored Paolo Sorrentino’s recent films, but the Oscar he won in this category for “The Great Beauty” suggests they aren’t allergic to the Italian auteur’s orgiastic cinema so long as it maintains a strong emotional core. That was enough to push “The Hand of God” — undoubtedly Sorrentino’s most poignant and personal work — onto the shortlist following its well-received tour on the fall festival circuit. A sobering and autobiographical coming-of-age story about a Neopolitan teenager whose entire world is lost and redeemed in nearly the same breath, “The Hand of God” finds Sorrentino revisiting the ’80s summer when Diego Maradona’s miraculous transfer to Naples coincided with the greatest tragedy of the director’s life.

Losing both of his parents when they expired from carbon monoxide poisoning set the course for Sorrentino’s creativity, he told IndieWire. “The hardest thing to say for me when I was younger … because it looks cruel, but the truth is for me for me every loss contains an idea of a future. This is something that’s apparently unacceptable for a human being because when you have a big loss you say, ‘OK, there is no future.’ One thing that’s assured is that if I didn’t have that in my life, I’d never become a filmmaker. It was completely impossible for me to become a filmmaker without this loss.”

The film is shot with uncharacteristic restraint by Sorrentino’s baroque standards, but its relative calm allows him to crystallize a truth sometimes lost in his more circus-like epics about the overlap between the sacred and the profane. Here, heaven and hell are very real places that co-exist on Earth, often on top of and inside each other so completely that people are liable to lose sight of where they were until they’ve left it behind. — DE

A HERO, (aka GHAHREMAN), Amir Jadidi, 2021. © Amazon Studios / courtesy Everett Collection

“A Hero”

©Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection

4. “A Hero”
Country: Iran, with three nominations and two wins (Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” and “The Salesman”).
Release: January 7, 2022 (Amazon Studios)
Metascore: 82

Epitomized by the heart-wrenching uncertainty of 2011’s “A Separation,” Asghar Farhadi’s social melodramas begin with straightforward predicaments that peel back — layer by layer, and with deceptive casualness — to reveal the hard bulb of a moral crisis deep underneath. His stories are better described as dilemmas, which unfold with frustration, resolve, and increasing ferocity.

Farhadi plays to his strengths with 2021 Cannes Grand Prix winner “A Hero” as he takes a classic premise — a man stumbles upon a bag full of money that obviously belongs to someone else — and spins it with enough centrifugal force to keep you rooted in place even as your sympathies fly in every conceivable direction. By the time this expertly constructed ethical whirlygig slows to a stop, Farhadi’s simplest film since “A Separation” has somehow become the most ambivalent as well as the best.

Farhadi’s experience growing up in Iran was black-and-white: Good was good, and bad was bad, with little room for the shades of grey that color the motives and actions of the characters in his films, he told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “There wasn’t anything in between these two spectra in my childhood,” he said. “When I grew up, I gradually understood that the world is not like this, and there’s no need to feel guilty for standing in a specific place because of what you feel. And this turned to be my biggest concern when I’m writing.” —DE

THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD, (aka VERDENS VERSTE MENNESKE), Renate Reinsve, 2021. © Neon / Courtesy Everett Collection

“The Worst Person in the World”

Courtesy Everett Collection

5. “The Worst Person in the World”
Country: Norway, five nominations, no wins.
Release: February 4, 2022 (Neon)
Metascore: 89

Joachim Trier’s sprightly, hilarious, energetic, and heartbreaking “The Worst Person in the World” finds the profound in a slice-of-life dramedy about Julie, a seemingly average Norwegian gal. She’s a shiftless but passionate young woman trying to carve out her place in the world, which sounds awfully familiar — but not when she’s portrayed by breakout talent Renate Reinsve and directed with Trier’s boundless creativity.

Julie finds herself happily, and then not so happily, defined by her relationship with Anders Danielsen Lie. As she skips from career possibility to career non-possibility, deals with her fraught family life, and tries to decide which man (if any?) is right for her, “The Worst Person in the World” keeps up its energy, humor, and honesty. It’s the happiest film about being a total mess, the saddest film about being young and free, and somehow the best example of what happens when we all step back and let ourselves see the messy, wild, wonderful human in everyone.

The film was a smash at Cannes, where it earned Reinsve the Best Actress award, raising both her profile and that of the delightful crowdpleaser. In the months since its debut, “The Worst Person in the World” made the festival rounds in advance of its domestic release in February, playing everywhere from TIFF to NYFF, Jerusalem to and Reykjavík and even this month’s Sundance. That’s the joy of such a film: the ability to share it with all sorts of audiences, and have them see themselves inside Julie’s own life.

“It’s hard to see it like a normal person, of course, because you’re seeing yourself up there the whole time,” Reinsve told IndieWire at the New York Film Festival this past autumn. “I’m so happy people connect with it. The only thing we want is to talk, have conversations about these things, and ask questions. There are no answers. People take it very into their own personal life, they see themselves in the film, and that’s the greatest thing you can accomplish when you make a movie, I think.” —KE

“Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” director Pawo Choyning Dorji with Pem Zam

Samuel Goldwyn Films

6. “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom”
Country: Bhutan, with no Oscar nominations.
Release: January 21, 2022 (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Tomatometer: 100%

Bhutan was so proud of Pawo Choyning Dorji’s feature film debut that the country submitted the movie twice after it was initially disqualified because the country didn’t have an official selection committee and hadn’t submitted a film for 23 years. (When Dorji started filling out the submission form, neither Bhutan nor its official language was listed.) Since the film premiered in 2019 at the London Film Festival, it has nabbed not only festival awards but also a North American distributor and a surprise low-budget inclusion on the Oscar shortlist.

The logistics of shooting the film at the world’s most remote school high in the Himalayas without electricity or network connections were daunting, but the stunning results are worth it. After three years of scouting in the Himalayas, in 2018, the filmmaker decided, “I’ll have to go to Lunana, there is no way I can make this anywhere else,” he said in a Zoom interview.

After a year and a half in pre-production, Dorji loaded up 65 mules with solar panels and batteries, and camera and sound gear for the eight-day trek up the mountains. They shot the movie with local villagers and rookie musician-turned-actor Sherab Dorji as a teacher from the city reluctantly abandoning his mobile phone connection. He really wants to be a musician in Australia, but in the mountains, instead learns a folk song from a winsome yak herder. (Yes, he gets a yak in the classroom to provide the source of much-needed heat: dried dung.)

The filmmakers planted the camera in the classroom, and let the children fly. When the children brush their teeth, he captured their first time. When it came time to say goodbye, the villagers and students’ emotions were real. “I wanted to capture the purity of the places,” said Dorji. “Everyone is seeking for what they’re seeking in the urban, in the modern, in the glittering lights of western cities. So I wanted to create a story where I take the protagonist to the opposite end of the spectrum, which is the most desolate, the most remote place in Bhutan and possibly the world. I wanted myself and the crew and the cast to go through this experience. Because I feel like if the filmmakers experienced it themselves, living with the locals — the hardship, the emotions, the love — as the filmmakers go through it, then it translates onto the film, it’s not artificial, the film comes alive.”

Not until the filmmakers returned to the city with their digital data could they look at what they had captured. In the end, the movie’s gorgeous setting and charming non-pro cast prove a winning combination. —AT

I'M YOUR MAN, (aka I AM YOUR MAN, aka ICH BIN DEIN MENSCH), Dan Stevens, 2021. © Bleecker Street Media / Courtesy Everett Collection

“I’m Your Man”

Courtesy Everett Collection

7. “I’m Your Man”
Country: Germany, 16 nominations and three wins (“The Tin Drum,” “Nowhere in Africa,” “The Lives of Others”).
Release: September 24 (Bleecker Street)
Metascore: 78

Directed by actress-writer-director Maria Schrader, “I’m Your Man” stars charming British German-speaker Dan Stevens as Tom, a live-in android lover who is at first resisted by a workaholic professor (Maren Eggert) who is evaluating the service provided by a humanoid exquisitely tuned into a woman’s deepest desires. As the movie digs into the gaps between the sexes, such resistance proves futile. Could a robot prove to be a more satisfying partner than a human?

The film tracks Tom’s progression from stilted robot to soulful, sentient humanoid. Stevens polished his German, learned to rhumba, and studied the films of Cary Grant. “He’s an android who’s very much wanting to be human, and to improve,” he told IndieWire. “So it’s not like C-3PO, who just is what he is, but Tom is constantly learning, recalibrating, evolving. He’s never one thing, and for an actor, that was a very delicious challenge, to chart that progress from something more robotic and mechanical to something that is believably human.”

Schrader, who last handled Netflix’s breakout limited series hit “Unorthodox,” has made another movie about a woman coming to terms with her greater potential. In that respect, “I’m Your Man” is only sci-fi in the flimsiest sense, and seems less invested in epistemological questions than the way they speak to its protagonist’s soul-searching malaise. With time, Tom’s eager-to-please machinery unlocks much of the deep-seated dissatisfaction plaguing her life. A stimulating film that’s also more broadly accessible than many other contenders on this list, “I’m Your Man” could prove to be a dark horse in a category otherwise dominated by Cannes breakouts. —AT

Compartment No. 6

“Compartment No. 6”

screenshot

8. “Compartment No. 6”
Country: Finland, with one nomination for Aki Kaurismäki’s “The Man Without a Past” in 2003.
Release: Opens January 26 in New York and Los Angeles via Sony Pictures Classics.
Metascore: 78

Directed by Juho Kuosmanen, the film shared the Cannes Grand Prix with “A Hero” and earned a special mention from the festival’s Ecumenical Jury. It’s also competing for the Indie Spirit award for Best International Film, and earned Golden Globe and British Independent Film Award nods.

From the convivial, smoke-filled gathering of Moscow intellectuals to the cramped train that carries his two characters to their frigid Arctic Circle destination, Kuosmanen knew he wanted to deliver audiences a sensory experience. “When you’re trying to get the funding, you need to write director’s notes,” he told IndieWire. “One thing I wrote was that I want this film to have a strong texture, so strong that you can almost smell how it smells in the train.”

That long locomotive ride from the Russian capital to the country’s northern reaches is the venue for the unlikely union of a reserved young Finnish woman Laura (Seidi Haarla) and a debaucherous Russian miner Ljoha (Yuri Borisov), who share a tiny sleeper compartment on a railway. Overcoming social expectations along with cultural and language divides, Laura and Ljoha bond when they each realize the other’s desire for connection and capacity for love.

The film’s tacit ability to conveys its themes might have something to do with the language divide that extended into the filmmaking itself. The extent of Kuosmanen’s Russian fluency begins and ends with the script, which he adapted from Rosa Liksom’s 2011 novel along with Andris Feldmanis and Livia Ulman. Fellow Finn Haarla knows enough to get by, while the Russian Borisov speaks little English and even less Finnish. Like his characters, Kuosmanen found that the ability to foster connection transcends language.

“When you know the content of the dialogue, then you basically understand the dialogue,” he said. “In a way you can focus more on the things you see because you are not so worried about the nuances of the language, because my ears don’t recognize the nuances — but I didn’t have any difficulties to understand it.”

The result, Kuosmanen said, is a particular focus on what one of his friends termed “small gestures” — the glances, microexpressions, and body language of his actors that deepens their characters and invites the audiences to connect with Laura and Ljoha regardless of the language they speak. —CL

“Prayers for the Stolen”

9. “Prayers for the Stolen”
Country: Mexico, nine nominations, one win (“Roma”).
Release: November 17 (Netflix)
Metascore: 80

Mexico has witnessed over 80,000 disappearances since former President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug cartels in 2006. A quarter of the missing are women and most are teenage girls. “Prayers for the Stolen,” Mexican-Salvadorian director Tatiana Huezo’s first narrative feature, depicts the dangers and deep-seated fears that families have long endured. Told through the lens of three girls as they grow up in the Guerrero mountains, Huezo’s film is a murky, mesmerizing look at what it feels like to come of age in a place where young women have a target on their backs and where the adults are as powerless as the children.

As a documentary filmmaker, Huezo has immersed herself in communities across Mexico and her native El Salvador to show the human consequences of their seemingly endless wars. In “Tempestad” (2016), she tells the story of two women exploited by the drug war in Mexico, and here she brings the same harrowing overtone of urgency to her fiction debut. —SG

10. “Great Freedom”
Country: Austria, four nominations and two wins (Stefan Ruzowitzky’s “The Counterfeiters” and Michael Haneke’s “Amour”).
Release: March 4, 2022, Mubi.
Metascore: 89

In most stories, the liberation of the concentration camps is the beginning of the end of a nightmare. “Great Freedom” shows that the truth wasn’t that simple for everyone. In many cases, LGBTQ+ concentration camp inmates were simply transferred to prison cells. That’s the most inhuman scandal explored in director Sebastian Meise’s Cannes Un Certain Regard winner: Germany’s Paragraph 175, a provision of a German criminal code that reigned from 1871 to (shockingly) early 1994, criminalizing all homosexual acts between men.

The story is told through the eyes and heavy, wearied soul of the fictional Hans Hoffmann, who is repeatedly imprisoned over decades in post-World War II Germany for being gay. He’s played by Franz Rogowski, the muse of German director Christian Petzold (“Undine,” “Transit”) and one of the most striking actors working in European cinema and beyond. Rogowski’s training as a dancer shows in his physical commitment to the role — gaining and losing pounds across a shoot that took place before and during the pandemic — while conveying his character’s broken interior through a somber, low-key, unmannered performance.

Over the course of his imprisonment, Hans forms a deep but often volatile bond with longtime cellmate Viktor (played by fellow Austrian actor Georg Friedrich), at turns platonic, romantic, sexual, and parasitic as Hans slowly resigns himself to the belief that life won’t change and his may perhaps even be best lived out within the crumbling walls of the dank prison. Meise and co-writer Thomas Reider spoke to men affected by the Paragraph while researching the film and eventually shot it in an actual prison in eastern Germany. “It was an empty prison, and we decorated it and painted the walls and all that,” Meise told IndieWire. “It was cold. It was not easy to shoot. We had to bring the lights up. The real place did something to the team, and this is what I like about filmmaking: to have an anchor in reality somehow.” —RL

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