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The Curious Case of The Grandmaster

Dancin' Dan here with a fun bit of Oscar trivia after nominations. When Wong Kar-Wai's gorgeous The Grandmaster didn't make it into the Best Foreign Language Film category. I wasn't surprised. Wong hasn't had much luck with the category (his masterpiece In The Mood for Love was also submitted but Oscar passed on it) and the new film, based on the life and work of Ip Man, has been divisive. I feared that this would spell doom for Philippe Le Sourd's stunning cinematography, thought Nathaniel had been predicting its nomination there for some time, but was heartened by its somewhat surprise inclusion in the ASC's seven-wide field. To my delight, upon looking at the full list of nominations, not only was Le Sourd nominated, but so was William Chang for the film's sumptuous costumes!

Which sets the mind racing... How many films that missed out on a Best Foreign Film nomination been nominated in other categories?


Foreign films have been honored going all the way back to the 1931/32 Awards ceremony, when the French film A nous la liberté was nominated for Best Art Direction. But that was before there was an official category for Best Foreign Language Film, with a submission process of one film per country. 

In the 57 years since the establishment of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, there have been only been six (or seven depending on how technical you want to get) submitted for that competition that only received nominations in other categories. Those films are:



  • Last Year at Marienbad - submitted by France in 1961. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 1962.
  • Satyricon - submitted by Italy in 1969. Nominated for Best Director (Federico Fellini) in 1970.


These are just two of many films that were eligible for the Oscars two years running because any film released in Los Angeles in a given year is eligible for that year's Awards. As still seen today, many foreign films get submitted for the Foreign Language Oscar before opening stateside, and if they open after that year's eligibilty period, they are eligible for every regular category in the year they are released - provided they were not nominated for the Foreign Language Film Oscar.



  • House of Flying Daggers - submitted by China in 2004. Nominated for Best Cinematography that year.
  • Curse of the Golden Flower - submitted by China in 2006. Nominated for Best Costumes that year.
  • Volver - submitted by Spain in 2006. Nominated for Best Actress (Penelope Cruz) that year.


Interestingly enough, both Chinese films shared the same director, Zhang Yimou. And this year, The Grandmaster is nominated in the same two categories (although it was submitted by Hong Kong).

But the Big Kahuna of these films, the only one until now to receive multiple nominations while missing out on the Foreign Language Film category, is...


  • City of God - submitted by Brazil in 2002. Nominated for Best Director (Fernando Meirelles), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing for 2003, the year it actually opened in the US.


The seventh arguable case, like City of God, got a lot of momentum from a perceived snub and was nominated in most of the same disciplines


  • Three Colors: Red - submitted by Switzerland in 1994. Unfortunately the capper to Krzysztof Keislowski's masterful trilogy was disqualified before nomination ballots went out. Instead of the foreign film recognition it won Oscar nominations for Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography)


Of course, none of these films won any of the Oscars they were nominated for. Can The Grandmaster become the first to do so? The odds are certainly against it in Cinematography (unless Gravity suffers a very precipitous fall), and it's facing two Best Picture favorites and the great Catherine Martin in Costume Design, so the odds are probably against it there, too. I was divided on the film as a whole but what a worthy nominee it makes in both categories. It's an uphill battle for any non-Hollywood film to get recognized at the Oscars, especially those with subtitles, so we have to pay tribute when it happens, especially when the nominated elements are worthy.

Plenty of other foreign films - around 100, in fact - have been nominated outside the Foreign Language "ghetto". But those films were not eligible for Best Foreign Language Film since their home country did not submit them for competition.  The most famous of these are arguably Das Boot (1982, nominated for Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, and both Sound categories), Il Postino (1995, nominated for Picture, Director, Actor, Screenplay, and Score - which it won), Three Colors: Red (1994, nominated for Director, Screenplay and Cinematography *this film was submitted for Foreign Film but disqualified*), Cries & Whispers (1973, nominated for Picture, Director, Screenplay, Costumes, and Cinematography - which it won), and Talk To Her (2002, nominated for Director and Screenplay - which it won)

Which of these nominations are you most pleased or confused by? Are you pulling for The Grandmaster in either of its nominated categories (It was #2 on my Team Experience ballot for cinematography, and I'm still toying with putting above Gravity)? 

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Reader Comments (14)

How timely! Just saw the Hong Kong cut of The Grandmaster last night and was hoping there would be another opportunity here to talk about it. Read your review Denny, and just curious, you saw the American cut, right? I'd be curious to hear who's seen what and how their opinions stack up on it. I really liked the version I saw, but even that felt like it could use some room to breathe. Absolutely rooting for it in both cinematography and costuming. Two richly deserved nominations.

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTB

Was Two Women not submitted by Italy? It won the Golden Globe a month before Loren won Best Actress at the Oscars.

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

TB - yeah, I saw the American cut. I REALLY want to see the Hong Kong cut. Everyone who's seen both says it's better.

Paul Outlaw - Nope! Italy submitted Antonioni's La Notte that year, which was not nominated. Actually, it was the first film Italy submitted that wasn't nominated.

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Europa Europa

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMariah Carey

dancin dan, What about Catalina Sandino Moreno as Best Actress nominee for MARIA FULL OF GRACE?

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdavid

I LOVE the Hong Kong cut so much. The nominations were so well-deserved. A beautiful film and Leung and Zhang are great- although Zhang is making my personal ballot. Though kind of amazing after all that collaboration with Christopher Doyle that this is the first cinematography nod in a WKW that does not involve Doyle.

The Battle of Algiers submit twice, it got Foreign Film one year, but a couple years later got Best Director and Best Screenplay. One of my all-time favorite films.

Now I'm left wondering what are the rules and stipulations of a Blue is the Warmest Color re-submitting.

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Loved this whole post, and feel sheepish about having forgotten The Grandmaster in these very categories on my Team Experience ballot, even though I join you in feeling ambivalent about the film as a whole. Maybe because it was only the 108-minute version, but I also feel like I've run out of steam with Wong a bit.

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

That picture of Last Year at Marienbad is amazing. I haven't seen it so at first I assumed it was A nous la liberté with the Art Direction nomination. A true work of art!

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Every single shot in The Grandmaster could be pulled out and framed and hung on a gallery wall. It's exquisite to look at. (Along with Cinematography and Costume nominations, it deserved a Production Design nod as well.) I wasn't surprised that it didn't make the final five Foreign Film nominees, because the narrative is so choppy, confusing and in the end, not emotionally involving. It's a case of style over substance. But what style!

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

I am very pleased with Grandmaster getting cinematography. It's a hell of a beautiful movie.
And Zhang Ziyi definitely made my personal ballot... if I had one ;)

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPitry

Mariah - Actually, Europa Europa was NOT submitted by Germany. In a controversial decision, they didn't submit anything that year. Perhaps this helped the film win its screenplay nomination?

david - Maria Full of Grace is an interesting case. Much like Switzerland and Three Colors: Red, Colombia submitted the film but it was disqualified. The reason I didn't mention it here is because they actually submitted another film (El Rey) in its place, whereas Switzerland didn't when Red was disqualified.

CMG - Zhang was my 6th place Best Actress. She's so great in this.

Evan - You should definitely watch Last Year at Marienbad. There's nothing else like it in cinema, and it's quite the gorgeous experience.

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I've always thought what happened with Umbrellas of Cherbourg was interesting. It must have been France's foreign film submission in '65 and received a nomination -- then must have been released theatrically in the U.S. the following year (I'm guessing) and received four nominations (for screenplay and three music categories). Is this the only film to have been nominated for Academy Awards in two different competitive years?

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJasco

jasco - "la nuit américaine" too. won foreign film in 1974, and got nominated screenplay, director, supporting actress in 1975.

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

"Day for Night," comes to mind. Especially after watching Ingrid Bergman's acceptance speech for winning Best Supporting Actress for 1974's "Murder on the Orient Express."
In her speech she went on to praise Valentina Cortese for her work in "Day for Night," with whom she was nominated the year after that film won what Bergman called "the best picture..."

January 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

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