Oscar History

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Mighty Submissions? Mexico's Got "Miss Bala" and China's Got Christian Bale

In the most mainstream-ready news yet for this year's Best Foreign Language Film competition, China has submitted Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War. The movie has changed titles at least three times now (literally) but yes, that's the very expensive Christian Bale film based on Geling Yan's historical novel The 13 Flowers of Nanjing which is about the Nanjing massacre when Japanese soldiers slaughtered Chinese civilians in 1937. Bale will play a priest who is helping to save Chinese citizens. I believe previous titles included The 13 Women of Nanjing and Nanjing Heroes. After a very long production the movie will supposedly be opening this December.

Zhang Yimou and Christian Bale on the set

Christian Bale in a still from the film that just can't pick a title!

Zhang Yimou is a superstar as auteurs go, having previously directed international hits and awards magnets like Ju Dou (Oscar nominee Foreign Film ), Raise the Red Lantern (Oscar nominee Foreign Film), To Live (Golden Globe Nominee Foreign Film), Shanghai Triad (Oscar nominee -cinematography),  Hero (Oscar nominee -China), The House of Flying Daggers (Oscar nominee -cinematography) and Curse of the Golden Flower (Oscar nominee in costume design). 

But with Bale in the lead (or prominent ensemble) role, one wonders how much of his new film is in English and whether that might not be a problem when the Oscar committee starts ruling about eligibility? Early reports suggested that 40% of the film would be in English though there's also dialogue in Mandarin, Japanese, and Chinese. Academy rules don't allow the majority of your dialogue to be in English in this category so we shall see. You know how finicky the Oscar committee can get about eligibility rulings. But one things for sure: this film won't have trouble winning attention with Yimou behind the camera and Bale in front of it. 


Runar Runnarson's debut feature VOLCANO will represent Iceland for the Oscars. It's the story of a retiree rediscovering his life. The film already has achieved a small degree of fame for an old age sex scene. Reviews are strong and it's said to be quite moving.

Last year's winning country Denmark has gone with SuperClasico

Then we have two countries that share the distinction of several nominations without a win yet.

Israel will present FOOTNOTE, the story of combative father and son Talmud professors which won the screenplay prize at Cannes. Israel is the most nominated losing country ever having been up to bat for 9 Oscars thus far.

Mexico (tied with Poland, just behind Israel, at 8 nominations without a win) will go with MISS BALA as most cinephiles suspected. I will be seeing the acclaimed beauty-queen in distress drama Tuesday for the New York Film Festival. Can't wait after all the good things I've heard. 

Here's the US trailer which I'm not watching so as to be surprised next week. The film opens in limited release next month after this final festival bow. 

Imagine that. At least TWO of the contenders are actually opening in the States before the following calendar year! It's so rare these days. And lately when that's happened it's been on December 31st. Boo! So give Mexico's Miss Bala and China's The Flowers of War points for braving a real release and not banking on the lottery ticket of a future Oscar nomination before hitting the big screen.

Useful Useless Statistics!
Countries that submit regularly that still wait on virgin nominations:
Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Portugal, The Philippines, Serbia, Slovenia, Thailand, Turkey, Venezuela ...and current cinematic hotspots Romania and South Korea.

Oscar's favored countries *these past 10 years* (they tend to go in waves):

  1. Germany (6 nominations, 2 wins these past ten years)
  2. France (5 nominations or 50% of the lineups)
  3. Canada (3 nominations, 1 win these past ten years)

Most favored country (in history) that has had a rough run with Oscar lately: Spain is the third most honored country in the Academy's entire history (19 nominations and 4 wins) but they've only been nominated once in the past ten years. Of course they won that year (The Sea Inside) and two of Spain's biggest stars also won acting Oscars recently (marrieds Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz ... so, uh, never mind. I take it back. Not a rough run! It's ITALY that's smarting. Just one nomination for the country with the most competitive wins and second most nominations ever these past ten years. What's going on Italy?)

CHART UPDATES (ONGOING) HERE including new films from Ireland, Albania, and Vietnam.

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    As a popular tourist destination in the Far East, China has a lot of wonderful attractions, sightseeing and historical wonders for travel enthusiasts who want to discover the true beauty of China.Apart from the weather, Yunnan has a number of cities wi...

Reader Comments (18)

Mind boggling that Romania and South Korea are still waiting on nominations. I know they're not often to the Academy's taste. Still, ti the committee thing, whatever it is, could eek in Dogtooth last year, hopefully they can make way for some South Korean and Romanian films soon

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Of the traditional favorites of the Academy, Italy has had it even more rough than Spain lately - only one nomination after the last win in 1998.

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Jan -- ooh right you are. I have fixed.

September 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

South Africa submitted Skoonheid, which seemed to have a decent reception at Cannes.

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

I've actually seen Miss Bala because it's playing in Mexico and I visited a friend down there. It's excellent-a very well done thriller.

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew R.

Also, France is like the Meryl of the Foreign Language Film category: 1) gets nominated about every other year, 2) keeps waiting for the first win in ages, 3) there's always another chance soon

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJan

When does a film have to open in its home country to be considered for the Oscar? I was thinking that the Nanking movie would have to open in China sometime soon, but I could very easily be confused about the rules...

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I'm actually really looking forward to the Nanjing movie. I like Chinese history, and I think Christian Bale will be great in this. I wonder what it would be like as a double feature with Empire of the Sun. It's kind of like Bale is coming back to a formative experience in his young acting career and revisiting it as an adult.

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Italy's rough run should have stopped twice in the past couple of years:
1. If the academy's foreign branch wasn't completely bananas, Gomorrah should have been an easy nominee. If only the executive committee was in place then...
2. If Italy submitted I Am Love last year, the international hit status of that film would have definitely got it in.

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

What about my country ? Indonesia ? is there any eligible movie here ?

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArif

Skoonheid features some detailed and pretty fugly gay sex even I had to look away from. (NB Half my history folder is gay porn.) Kudos to South Africa for challenging their tastes, but I predict the Academy will pass.

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Arif -- you would know better than us! What homegrown movies opened there this year?

Goran -- ?????

Adri -- we can hope it makes a worthy bookend

Evan -- i always forget the exact dates (i think the end of october?) but what usually happens for films that aren't really ready to launch but want to be the one is that they open them at some obscure cinema in the home country for one week qualifying. Yes, the same sneaky shouldn't really count as a release system that american distributors use.

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Evan, to be eligible in the Foreign-Language category, the film has to play in the home country for at least one week between 1 October 2010 and 30 September 2011. As Nat said, it can be given a "qualifying run" if the film hasn't really opened before the end of the period. For example, this year's Canadian choice, "Monsieur Lazhar," isn't opening in cinemas here in Québec until 20 October, but the film is showing this week in Calgary for its qualifying run.

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

Have you seen Footnote (I'm just intrested in your opinion),btw as far as I know it was picked by Sony pictures so it has to be realised sooner or later (I suppose sooner :)

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSpartak

Arif -- what about THE RAID directed by Gareth Evans, winner of audience award in the Midnithg Madness section and potential future cult movie?

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

I think Canada blew it by choosing MONSIEUR LAZHAR. It's a cute little film, but not much else.There wasn't much else to choose from though, but ML will probably be bumped off in round one for being a safe, feel-good rendition of THE CLASS. Mind you, the Academy has been going for half-assed crowd pleasers when it comes time to vote. (Case in point: In a Better World.)

I much preferred Wim Wenders' PINA.

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPat

A Separation is also playing a qualifying run in the US (on, *sigh*, 30th December); people seem to be talking about that possibly getting a Best Original Screenplay nom a la Talk to Her/Y Tu Mama Tambien.

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJCS

JCS -- silly distributors/campaigners ;) those december 30th bows for foreign films never amount to much. Talk to Her and Y Tu Mama Tambien had both done very well at the box office and had been open for some time by the time the nominations came in. The smaller or more obsure (i.e. subtitled lol) your film is the more of a headstart you need.

Spartak -- i haven't seen Footnote but I LOVE Lior Ashkenazi so i need to (i just realized he was in it.)

September 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R
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