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Growing Number of Contenders Makes 2023 Best International Feature Race Less Predictable

This year's Best International Feature Oscar race pits major filmmakers against promising newcomers in an unpredictable showdown.



Courtesy of Netflix/SeoJu Park

This article contains IndieWire’s past Best International Feature predictions for the 2023 Oscars. We regularly update our predictions throughout awards season, and republish previous versions (like this one) for readers to track changes in how the Oscar race has changed. For the latest update on the frontrunners for the 95th Academy Awards, see our 2023 Oscars predictions hub.

We will update these predictions throughout awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2023 Oscar picks. Nominations voting is from January 12 to January 17, 2023, with official Oscar nominations announced on January 24, 2023. The final voting is March 2 through 7, 2023.  And finally, the 95th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 12 and air live on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET/ 5:00 p.m. PT.

Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson are collaborating on predictions updates for this category. See Thompson’s preliminary thoughts for what to expect at the 95th Academy Awards here and earlier predictions for this category here.

The State of the Race

As the Academy grows more international, the most international of Oscar categories has grown more unpredictable. In recent years, the frontrunner for Best International Feature Film has been pretty clear early on (“A Fantastic Woman,” “Drive My Car,” “Another Round,” “Parasite,” “Roma”).

This time, a plethora of movies from around the world are jockeying for attention from Academy voters in a rather open-ended race. However, the possibilities have narrowed in recent weeks to a handful of contenders, most of which started their journeys at Cannes or Venice.

For the moment, a handful of veteran auteurs are facing off against newer faces from the festival circuit. Yes, Park Chan-wook’s “Decision to Leave” and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Bardo” are gathering momentum, but the same could be said for Santiago Mitre’s “Argentina 1985” and Ali Abbasi’s “Holy Spider.” Of course, there’s often a sleeper surprise like 2019 nominee “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” and this year has a few possibilities on that front as well. Even after the shortlist drops, the category is likely to remain a tough call all the way to Oscar night.

With the shortlist of 15 contenders for the category set to come out on December 21, countries had to submit their official Oscar selections to the Academy by October 3. A total 92 countries submitted films this year, just one less than last year’s record of 93 (Russia, which submitted “Unclenching the Fists” in 2021, declined to submit a film this year due to tensions with the U.S. over the invasion of Ukraine).

Most of the Cannes contenders from several months ago continue to build buzz. Belgian submission “Close,” from 31-year-old director Lukas Dhont, delivers the emotional story of a 13-year-old boy (Eden Dambrine) struggling with the unexpected loss of his close friend. A24 acquired the Grand Prix winner out of Cannes and has recently been screening it stateside at Oscar-friendly festivals ranging from Telluride to AFI. (Dhont’s crowdpleaser beat out Belgian auteurs Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Cannes entry “Tori and Lokita.”) However, even as “Close” makes the festival rounds, A24 hasn’t qualified it yet; it opens theatrically on January 20, so it may take some time for responses to trickle in.

Meanwhile, a veteran from Cannes has been basking in the glow of a successful U.S. response: Park Chan-wook, overdue for Academy recognition, has embraced the wider audience that his elegant noir “Decision to Leave” has been finding at festivals and theaters alike (the MUBI release is approaching half a million dollars in limited theatrical release). Less gory or erotic than the likes of “Sympathy For Lady Vengeance” or “Oldboy,” the story of a detective who falls for a femme fatale won Park Best Director at Cannes, kickstarting talk of more awards potential for this revered but underappreciated Korean auteur. On the other hand, much of “Decision to Leave” is an exercise in style that leaves some viewers scratching their heads, and lacks the emotional tugs that often accompany an Oscar winner.



screenshot/Janus Films

A similar uncertainty surrounds 83-year-old Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski’s “EO,” a nearly wordless look at the plight of a donkey as he faces brutality from various human owners and the movie adopts his perspective. A modern day update to Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar,” Skolimowski’s complex visual achievement (which included the use of eight donkeys to portray the lead) was a hit out of the Cannes competition and won the jury prize at the ceremony, where the director brayed like his star in his speech. Some squeamish voters may be reticent to embrace a movie about animal intelligence when said animal suffers so much, but many filmmakers adore Skolimowski’s cinematic touch. Janus and Sideshow are hoping to follow up last year’s “Drive My Car” victory by keeping this movie in the conversation.

A more accessible option from Cannes is Un Certain Regard hit “Corsage,” the Austrian submission from director Marie Kreutzer starring the ever-appealing Vicky Krieps. Set in 1877, the movie stars the “Phantom Thread” breakout as the willful Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, as she turns 40 and loses patience with the formalities of royal life. The Best Actress race is far too competitive for Krieps to have a shot at a nomination, though appreciation for her performance could help the movie edge its way onto the shortlist and stay in the conversation.

That’s also the case for another Cannes hit, Danish entry “Holy Spider,” which features a comeback performance by Iranian actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi after a sex tape scandal forced her to flee the country years ago. Set in Iran but shot in Jordan, the sophomore effort from Ali Abbasi (his celebrated debut “Border” landed a hair and makeup nomination) is a thriller based on the true story of a serial killer who targeted prostitutes — and nearly got away with it. Academy members have embraced this unconventional look at misogyny in Iran, especially in recent weeks, as women’s rights protests have gained traction on the global stage.

In a similar vein, Egyptian-born filmmaker Tarik Saleh’s thriller “Cairo Conspiracy” (previously titled “Boy From Heaven”) takes an approach reminiscent of John le Carré to its look at a Cairo university student swept up a corrupt scheme to replace the imam. The film, another Cannes competition entry, recently became the highest-grossing international film in Paris since “Parasite.”

That brings us to more recent fall titles, where two Venice highlights loom large. After a rocky start at Venice, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s since-shortened “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” has been more widely embraced by Academy members for its surreal comic look at a famous documentarian trapped between his Latin American identity and his success in the U.S. While Netflix aims to push for wider recognition of “Bardo” in other categories, the movie’s selection as the Mexican Oscar submission and its high profile in Hollywood mean that it stands a good chance at remaining a top contender in the months ahead.

Argentina 1985

“Argentina, 1985”

Amazon Studios

Another Venice competitor with streaming muscle behind it is “Argentina 1985.” Rising Latin American auteur Santiago Mitre (“The Summit”) directs the ubiquitous Argentine star Ricardo Darín (star of two previous Oscar nominees in this category, “Wild Tales” and winner “The Secret in Their Eyes”) in this dramatic recreation of the Trial of the Juntas. Darín plays lawyer Julio César Strassera, who led the effort to put members of the military dictatorship on trials. With its rousing look at the importance of the justice system, this classical entry into the category may be the most uniformly respected film in the category, and could easily maintain its frontrunner status if other contenders continue to divide the Academy.

Then again, there are some even bigger films in contention this year. While Netflix’s awards team is naturally hyping their name auteur, their international entry gaining cachet on the screening circuit is German entry “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Edward Berger’s gorgeously wrought adaptation of the Erich Maria Remarque World War I classic; Lewis Milestone’s movie version won the Best Picture Oscar in 1930. The familiar story of a group of German students enthusiastically enlisting to fight on the front lines is heart-rending and hopeless and is generating word-of-mouth beyond the international category. Cinematography is a distinct possibility.

Another epic, Gunnar Vikene’s $10 million “War Sailor” — Norway’s biggest-budget picture to date — was shot over 60 days in Malta, Norway, and Germany. The movie takes a look at World War II from a different point of view. Two merchant seamen (Kristoffer Joner and Pål Sverre Hagen) sign onto an 18-month ocean voyage and get caught for years in the war — fighting for the Allies while Bergen is under German occupation. They can’t go home until the war is over. One has a family, the other doesn’t. Surviving the war doesn’t necessarily mean that reports of buildings bombed and ships torpedoed reflect the truth. Miscommunication and separation lead to heartbreak. And heartbreak often leads to Oscar buzz.

Still, there is potential for challenging cinema and exciting new voices to make inroads with this category if enough Academy members rally around it. That’s what France is hoping to happen with “Saint Omer,” another Venice hit, which marks the narrative debut of documentarian Alice Diop. The movie, which follows the experiences of a young novelist (Kayije Kagame) attempting to write a new version of the Medea myth, is a complex meditation on Black women in modern-day France.

After it won both the Grand Jury prize and the award for best debut feature in Venice, “Saint Omer” was acquired by Neon’s Super Ltd. and later beat out four other French shortlist contenders under considered by France’s newly revised submission committee. With lengthy, dialogue-driven courtroom scenes (the protagonist follows the trial of an immigrant charged with infanticide), “Saint Omer” is a complex viewing challenge that nonetheless has many audiences fired up about its absorbing, meditative style. In this case, the “challenging” label might actually help the movie as it keeps people talking and appreciative of its bold narrative approach.




Plenty of other newcomers could sneak into the shortlist, from Cambodian entry “Return to Seoul” from producer-turned-director Davy Chou to Berlinale winner “Alcarràs,” from young Spanish director Carla Simón. There are also a pair of bold queer dramas from countries where LGBT subjects are considered taboo: “Blue Caftan,” from Morocco, and “Joyland,” from Pakistan; both films revolve around gay men who struggle with repression in their conservative communities, a representational milestone that could help the films stand out.

Finally, the continuing Academy appreciation for “RRR,” which India did not submit to this category, means that foreign-language cinema will continue to lobby for more Best Picture recognition in a post-“Parasite” world.

Contenders for the shortlist are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be deemed a frontrunner until we have seen it. A full list of international submissions can be found here.

“Alcarràs” (Carla Simón, Spain)
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Edward Berger, Germany)
“Argentina, 1985” (Santiago Mitre, Argentina)
“Bardo” (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mexico)
“Blue Caftan” (Maryam Touzani, Morocco)
“Cairo Conspiracy” (Tarik Saleh, Sweden)
“Close” (Lukas Dhont, Belgium)
“Corsage” (Marie Kreutzer, Austria)
“Decision to Leave” (Park Chan-wook, Korea)
“Holy Spider” (Denmark)
“Joyland” (Saim Sadiq)
“Saint Omer” (Alice Diop, France)
“War Sailor” (Norway)
“EO” (Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland)

“Nostalgia” (Mario Martone)
“Girl Picture” (Alli Haapasalo, Finland)
“A Piece Of Sky” (Michael Koch, Switzerland)
“Return to Seoul” (Davy Chou, Cambodia)
“The Quiet Girl” (Colm Bairéad, Ireland)

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