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. The deadline for submissions to the Academy was December 1, 2020. The shortlist of ten will be revealed on February 9, 2021.
Last year saw 91 contenders, and this year’s number is close. Marking a change, the Academy will first vet the submissions, then reveal its final list of eligible contenders in late January. Eligible films are slowly being added to the Academy portal (also available via AppleTV).
That’s where some 9,000 eligible Academy voters are able to screen the films online, but some older voters may be less likely to embrace at-home viewing. There’s no more wining and dining of the venerable Los Angeles committee regulars, and a larger global voting bloc could reflect 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.”
This leaves a short window for would-be international voters to see the requisite number of films before shortlist preliminary voting begins on February 1. (It ends at 5pm PST on February 5.)
Cannes usually supplies a number of prizewinning contenders like last year’s Oscar-winning “Parasite,” but without a live May presentation, instead the festival created a selection (which screened at such festivals as Deauville), as did Telluride. Many international films made their mark at festivals in Berlin, Venice, Toronto, New York, London, and San Sebastian.
Courtesy Cannes Film Festival
Among the frontrunners is the Denmark entry “Another Round,” the well-reviewed Cannes, TIFF, and prize-winning San Sebastian selection, which scored four European Film Award nominations including European Film, Director Thomas Vinterberg, Screenwriter Vinterberg & Tobias Lindholm, and Actor Mads Mikkelsen. He plays 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, were holding back during the pandemic.
“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, Fernando Trueba’s Colombian entry “Forgotten We’ll Be,” which closed San Sebastian.
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.
After last year’s breakout Macedonian documentary “Honeyland,” more countries submitted documentaries, including Kenya (“The Letter”), Brazil (Venice winner “Babenco: Tell Me When I Die”), Chile (San Sebastian winner “The Mole Agent”), Romania (Alexander Nanau’s hard-hitting health expose “Collective”) and Venezuela (“Once Upon a Time in Venezuela”). And Italy picked gorgeous Mideast border documentary “Notturno” from Gianfranco Rosi, who was nominated for “Fire at Sea.” Cinematography could be a contender as well. (Venice jury chief Cate Blanchett tried to give the film a special award.)
France selected Filippo Meneghetti’s “Two of Us,” which Magnolia brought out of TIFF last year, about an older lesbian couple who secretly share two apartments.
The Swedish Oscar Committee picked “Charter,” by Amanda Kernell, over shortlisted “About Endlessness,” by Roy Andersson, and documentary “I Am Greta,” by Nathan Grossman.
India submitted Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malayalam action thriller “Jallikattu,” which played Toronto 2019, over Venice screenplay-winner “The Disciple.”
Also playing well in Venice was the Polish entry, Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert’s crowdpleaser “Never Gonna Snow Again” (Kino Lorber).
It would have been a huge surprise if Russia didn’t submit top-tier director Andrei Konchalovsky’s “Dear Comrades!” (Neon) 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, from debut filmmaker Dea Kulumbegashvili. Japan picked Naomi Kawase’s Cannes entry “True Mothers” over Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Wife of a Spy,” which won directing prize the Silver Lion at Venice.
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 picked Julia von Heinz’s political TIFF debut “And Tomorrow the Entire World.”
Scheduled to debut as a Telluride discovery was Greece’s timely submission “Apples,” about a pandemic that causes people to lose their memory. Directed by rookie Christos Nikou, an acolyte of both Yorgos Lanthimos and Richard Linklater, the movie played well as the Venice Orizzonti opening nighter. Cohen Media picked up North American distribution rights.
As expected, Guatemala submitted smart-horror social commentary “La Llorona” (Shudder), which played Venice in 2019 and Sundance 2020. Palestine submitted love story “Gaza Mon Amour.”
Out of six semi-finalists, Mexico selected Fernando Frias’ ten-time Ariel Award winner, immigration drama “I’m No Longer Here” (Netflix), backed by both Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron.
Portugal selected Ana Rocha de Sousa’s “Listen” over Pedro Costa’s critic’s darling and Locarno winner “Vitalina Varela,” but substituted the latter when “Listen” had too much English. Similarly, the Academy allowed Canada to replace another film, Jean-Philippe Duval’s “14 Days, 12 Nights,” for Deepa Mehta’s mostly English “Funny Boy,” and has been more lenient with submitters than usual this year.
Here’s the list of Oscar contenders for the shortlist of fifteen, in alphabetical order. No film will be deemed a frontrunner until I have seen it.
“Another Round” (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)
“Apples” (Christos Nikou, Greece)
“Charlatan” (Agnieszka Holland, Czech Republic)
“Collective” (Alexander Nanau, Romania)
“Dear Comrades!” (Andrei Konchalovsky, Russia)
“Hope” (Maria Sødahl, Norway)
“I’m No Longer Here” (Fernando Frias, Mexico)
“The Mole Agent” (Maite Alberdi, Chile)
“My Little Sister” (Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond, Switzerland)
“Never Gonna Snow Again” (Małgorzata Szumowska, Michał Englert, Poland)
“Notturno” (Gianfranco Rosi, Italy)
“Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” (Lili Horvát, Hungary)
“14 Days, 12 Nights” (Jean-Philippe Duval, Canada)
“200 Meters” (Ameen Nayfeh, Jordan)
“2000 Songs of Farida” (Yalkin Tuychiev, Uzbekistan)
“Agnes Joy” (Silja Hauksdóttir, Iceland)
“Alelí” (Leticia Jorge, Uruguay)
“And Tomorrow the Entire World” (Julia von Heinz, Germany)
“Arracht” (Tom Sullivan, Ireland)
“Asia” (Ruthy Pribar, Israel)
“Atlantis” (Valentyn Vasyanovych, Ukraine)
“The Auschwitz Report” (Peter Bebjak, Slovakia)
“Babenco: Tell Me When I Die” (Bárbara Paz, Brazil)
“Beginning” (Dea Kulumbegashvili, Georgia)
“Better Days” (Derek Tsang, Hong Kong)
“Blizzard of Souls” (Dzintars Dreibergs, Latvia)
“Breasts” (Marija Perović, Montenegro)
“Broken Keys” (Jimmy Keyrouz, Lebanon)
“Buladó” (Éche Janga, Netherlands)
“Chaco” (Diego Mondaca, Bolivia)
“Causa Justa” (Luis Franco Brantley, Luis Pacheco, Panama)
“Charter” (Amanda Kernell, Sweden)
“The Crying Steppe” (Marina Kunarova, Kazakhstan)
“Dara in Jasenovac” (Predrag Antonijević , Serbia)
“Emptiness” (Paul Venegas, Ecuador)
“The Endless Trench” (Jon Garaño, Aitor Arregi, Jose Mari Goenaga, Spain)
“Exile” (Visar Morina, Kosovo)
“Extracurricular” (Ivan-Goran Vitez, Croatia)
“The Father” (Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov, Bulgaria)
“Forgotten We’ll Be” (Fernando Trueba, Colombia)
“Gaza mon amour” (Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser, Palestine)
“Happy Old Year” (Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Thailand)
“Heliopolis” (Djaâfar Gacem, Algeria)
“Impetigore” (Joko Anwar, Indonesia)
“Jallikattu” (Lijo Jose Pellissery, India)
“Killing the Dead” (Hugo Giménez, Paraguay)
“Land of Ashes” (Sofia Quiros Ubeda, Costa Rica)
“The Last Ones” (Veiko Õunpuu, Estonia)
“Leap” (Peter Chan, China)
“The Letter” (Maia Lekow, Chris King, Kenya)
“La Llorona” (Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala)
“The Last Ones” (Veiko Õunpuu, Estonia)
“Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” (Pawo Choyning Dorji, Bhutan)
“The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Kaouther Ben Hania, Tunisia)
“The Man Standing Next” (Woo Min-ho, South Korea)
“The Milkmaid” (Desmond Ovbiagele , Nigeria)
“Mindanao” (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines)
“Miracle in Cell No. 7” (Mehmet Ada Öztekin, Turkey)
“Night of the Kings” (Dyula Philippe Lacôte, Ivory Coast)
“Once Upon a Time in Venezuela” (Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, Venezuela)
“Open Door” (Florenc Papas, Albania)
“Nova Lituania” (Karolis Kaupinis, Lithuania)
“Operación Causa Justa” (Luis Franco Brantley, Luis Pacheco, Panama)
“Person Lessons” (Vadim Perelman, Belarus)
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” (Jasmila Žbanić, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
“River Tales” (Julie Schroell, Luxembourg)
“Roh” (Emir Ezwan, Malaysia)
“Running to the Sky” (Mirlan Abdykalykov, Kyrgyzstan)
“Sincerely Yours, Dhaka” (eleven different directors, Bangladesh)
“The Sleepwalkers” (Paula Hernández, Argentina)
“Song Without a Name” (Melina León, Peru)
“Songs of Solomon” (Arman Nshanyan, Armenia)
“A State of Madness” (Leticia Tonos, Dominican Republic)
“Stories from the Chestnut Woods” (Gregor Božič, Slovenia)
“A Sun” (Chung Mong-hong, Taiwan)
“The Sun” (Majid Majidi, Iran)
“This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection” (Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Lesotho)
“Toorbos” (Rene van Rooyen, South Africa)
“Tove” (Zaida Bergroth, Finland)
“True Mothers” (Naomi Kawase, Japan)
“Two of Us” (Filippo Meneghetti, France)
“The Unknown Saint” (Alaa Eddine Aljem, Morocco)
“Vitalina Varela” (Pedro Costa, Portugal)
“Wet Season” (Anthony Chen, Singapore)
“What We Wanted” (Ulrike Kofler, Austria)
“When We’re Born” (Tamer Ezzat, Egypt)
“Willow” (Milcho Manchevski, North Macedonia)
“Wiren” (Ivan Tai-Apin, Suriname)
“Working Girls” (Frédéric Fonteyne, Anne Paulicevich, Belgium)
“You Will Die at 20” (Amjad Abu Alala, Sudan)
“Zindagi Tamasha” (Sarmad Khoosat, Pakistan)