The pandemic has not stopped the world’s culture czars from selecting their candidates for the Best International Feature Oscar. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences rules require that the submitted motion pictures must first be released theatrically in their respective countries between October 1, 2019 and December 31, 2020, after which the Academy will announce the final eligible submissions. The shortlist of ten will be revealed on February 9, 2021.
Last year saw 91 contenders, but we’re likely to see fewer for 2021. Now that some 9,000 eligible Academy voters can screen them online at the Academy portal, available on Apple TV, some older voters may be less likely to embrace at-home viewing. There will be no wining and dining the venerable Los Angeles committee regulars, of course, and don’t be surprised if a larger global voting bloc reflects a less mainstream, more highbrow sensibility. “Anybody in the world can vote,” said one Oscar campaigner. “There will be crossover with the European film Academy.”
A handful of countries have already submitted official titles. While Cannes usually supplies a number of prizewinning contenders like last year’s Oscar-winning “Parasite,” the festival did create a selection (which screened at Deauville), as did Telluride, and many international films at festivals from Berlin, Venice, and Toronto to New York and San Sebastian have made an impact.
Here’s a sense of the films that are most likely to join the list of Oscar contenders.
Courtesy Cannes Film Festival
Likely Denmark entry is “Another Round,” Thomas Vinterberg’s well-reviewed Cannes, TIFF, and prize-winning San Sebastian selection starring Mads Mikkelsen as a sober teacher in midlife crisis who joins his close chums in an experiment in heavy drinking. Goldwyn landed the high-profile movie at a time when many theatrical buyers, even foreign-friendly Sony Pictures Classics, are holding back until they can see where the market is going.
“Many distributors are scared,” said one indie marketing executive. “If theaters don’t open, how will they make money on these films? A lot of them rely on a theatrical profile to help with digital, where foreign films don’t do great.”
Willing to bet on the future is Neon, which acquired rights to Philippe Lacôte’s sophomore feature, “Night of the Kings,” which was chosen as the Ivory Coast submission. Cohen Media Group picked up a Cannes selection, likely Colombian entry “My Father (Forgotten Will Be),” which closed San Sebastian.
Just acquired by Film Movement is Berlin’s engaging competition title “My Little Sister,” Switzerland’s entry starring Lars Eidinger as an ailing stage thespian cared for by his nurturing sister (German star Nina Hoss), directed by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond.
Several festival documentary hits might be in the running, including Italy’s gorgeous “Notturno” from Gianfranco Rosi, who was nominated for “Fire at Sea.” The movie has been submitted for documentary consideration ahead of an imminent distribution deal. Cinematography could be a contender as well. (Venice jury chief Cate Blanchett tried to give the film a special award.) Other Italian films could make the cut: Matteo Garrone’s big-scale art film “Pinocchio,” Claudio Noce’s “Padre Nostro,” which won two awards in Venice including Best Actor, and Sophia Loren’s comeback vehicle from her son Edoardo Ponti, heart-tugger “The Life Ahead” (Netflix).
Romania submitted Alexander Nanau’s hard-hitting health expose “Collective.” (Its auteur fest title, Cristi Puiu’s “Malmkrog,” clocks three hours, 20 minutes.)
France is always hard to call, but the frontrunner is Cannes selection “DNA,” a personal story from auteur Maiwenn starring Fanny Ardant and Louis Garrel. Backed by Why Not Prods. and Wild Bunch, the movie was picked up by Netflix. Another possibility is “Two of Us,” which Magnolia brought out of TIFF last year, about an older lesbian couple who share two apartments, unbenownst to their families. And Cohen Media will release “Gagarine,” Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilhannes’ Cannes selection.
The Swedish Oscar Committee announced a shortlist of three festival titles ahead of their final announcement on November 3: “About Endlessness,” by Roy Andersson, “Charter,” by Amanda Kernell, and “I Am Greta,” by Nathan Grossman.
India should submit Venice Screenplay-winner “The Disciple,” executive produced by Alfonso Cuaron. The sophomore effort from 33-year-old Indian director Chaitanya Tamnahne “is a slow-burn look at a North Indian classical musician who struggles to find success in a competitive field,” wrote IndieWire critic Eric Kohn.
Also playing well in Venice was the Polish entry, Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert’s crowdpleaser “Never Gonna Snow Again.”
It will be a huge surprise if Russia doesn’t submit top-tier director Andrei Konchalovsky’s “Dear Comrades!” which won the special jury award at Venice to strong reviews. His brother Nikita Mikalkov is well-placed in the film industry in Moscow, and friends with Vladimir Putin.
Submitted by Georgia is Cannes and New York selection “Beginning,” which won the Fipresci prize at TIFF as well as four prizes in San Sebastian. Debut filmmaker Dea Kulumbegashvili is weighing distribution offers. Three-time Oscar-nominee Agnieszka Holland (Adapted Screenplay for “Europa, Europa,” Poland submission “In Darkness,” and West German submission “Angry Harvest”), returns to the fray with Berlin competition title “Charlatan,” which was submitted by the Czech Republic.
Word is Venice competition thriller “Quo Vadis, Aida” from Bosnia has a shot: a Bosnian woman’s family is protected by the UN as the Serbs are about to do a mass execution. Last year, Ukraine entry “Atlantis” won the experimental Orizzonti section at Venice.
Germany has several choices, including Berlin prize-winner “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” Christian Petzold’s mysterious “Undine,” an IFC pickup that got solid but underwhelming reviews at Berlin, and an adaptation of a children’s book about the Holocaust, “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” (Greenwich Entertainment), directed by Oscar-winner Caroline Link (“Nowhere in Africa”).
Scheduled to debut as a Telluride discovery was Greece’s timely “Apples,” about a pandemic that causes people to rely on social media as they lose their memory. Directed by Christos Nikou, an acolyte of both Yorgos Lanthimos and Richard Linklater, the movie played well as the Venice Orizzonti opening nighter. It will find distribution.
Guatemala may submit smart-horror social commentary “La Llorona” (Shudder), which played Venice in 2019 and Sundance 2020. Palestine submitted love story “Gaza Mon Amour.” Portugal may go with Pedro Costa’s critic’s darling and Locarno winner “Vitalina Varela.”
Japan will likely choose between Naomi Kawase’s Cannes entry “True Mothers” and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Wife of a Spy,” which won directing prize the Silver Lion at Venice.
Mexico also has at least three possibilities: Fernando Frias’ immigration drama “I’m No Longer Here” (Netflix), long-shot candidate from American director Heidi Ewing, moving gay romance “I Carry You With Me” (Sony Pictures Classics), and Michel Franco’s social comment on chaos in the streets, TIFF hit “New Order,” which will qualify before the Academy deadline.
Contenders for the shortlist of ten are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be deemed a frontrunner unless I have screened it.
“Another Round” (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, not yet submitted)
“Charlatan” (Agnieszka Holland, Czech Republic)
“Collective” (Alexander Nanau, Romania)
“My Little Sister” (Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond, Switzerland)
“Notturno” (Gianfranco Rosi, Italy, not yet submitted)
“Atlantis” (Valentyn Vasyanovych, Ukraine)
“Beginning” (Dea Kulumbegashvili, Georgia)
“Emptiness” (Paul Venegas, Ecuador)
“Exile” (Visar Morina, Kosovo)
“Heliopolis” (Djaâfar Gacem, Algeria)
“Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” (Pawo Choyning Dorji, Bhutan)
“Never Gonna Snow Again” (Małgorzata Szumowska, Michał Englert, Poland)
“Night of the Kings” (Dyula Philippe Lacôte, Ivory Coast)
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” (Jasmila Žbanić, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
“River Tales” (Julie Schroell, Luxembourg)
“A Sun” (Chung Mong-hong, Taiwan)
“Wet Season” (Anthony Chen, Singapore)