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9 Foreign Film Finalists for the Oscar Race

by Nathaniel R

"The Wound" from South Africa might be the biggest surprise on the finalist list.The Academy's foreign film nominating committees have whittled down the 92 contenders to 9. If you've forgotten or never heard the procedure it involves multiple volunteers watching a certain number of entries to be eliglble to vote on them. The top six films advance from those ballots and the executive committee chooses another three which makes the 9 finalists. Then a final committee watches the nine finalists and votes to determine the five nominations. We correctly predicted 7 of the 9 finalist (you can peak here though we'll be updating that chart to reflect the official standings shortly)

A Fantastic Woman directed by Sebastián Lelio for Chile
In the Fade directed by Fatih Akin for Germany
On Body and Soul Ildikó Enyedi for Hungary
Foxtrot directed by Samuel Maoz for Israel
The Insult directed by Ziad Doueiri for Lebanon
Loveless directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev for Russia
Félicité directed by Alain Gomis for Senegal
The Wound directed by John Trengove for South Africa
The Square directed by Ruben Östlund for Sweden MORE AFTER THE JUMP...

The executive committee is there for oversight, essentially, in case the volunteer committees ignore really obviously brilliant films (as they have in the past - remember that 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 days fiasco?). The catch is that we never know which 3 films the executive committee opted to "save"  -- this sounds like a really high-brow reality TV show, doesn't it. I'd watch!

the finalists with a half dozen others we thought had a shot at the finals

Normally I'd speculate but I haven't the foggiest which films they saved this year because all of these films have been quite popular in their own ways (at festivals or with critics) and none seem outwardly "difficult" from descriptions or audience response to date. The lowest profile films are surely the two African films and it's a welcome shock that TWO African films are finalists since Oscar is notoriously Euro-centric in this category. They're most grossly negligent in recognizing Asian cinema (unlike African countries, Asian countries generally submit every single year) but that didn't change this year. They also haven't been super psyched about LGBT cinema over the years so its a pleasant surprise to have two such films this year: The Wound and A Fantastic Woman though sadly France's BPM didnt make it three.

Even with the relatively new multiple committee and executive oversight procedure (which has yielded much better nominees -- dont believe anyone who tells you otherwise as they clearly haven't followed/studied the category) some tremendous movies always slip through the cracks. This year we must mourn the loss of France's riveting AIDS activism drama BPM (Beats Per Minute) and Norway's supernatural/LGBT/psychological drama Thema. They're two of the best films of the year in any language.  I also really liked the Czech entry Ice Mother about a grandmother who suddenly takes up an unusual hobby to the horror of her awful adult children, and the spiky Polish film Spoor from Agniezka Holland (Europa Europa, In Darkness) about an elderly animal-loving woman who becomes embroiled in a murder mystery. Other high profile entries which did not make the finals include Cambodia's First They Killed My Father, directed by Angelina Jolie and available on Netflix (and just Golden Globe nominated for Foreign Film), Spain's seemingly very well liked Summer 1993, and Austria's Happy End from a previous winner of this category, Michael Haneke (Amour).

I regret to inform that I've been remiss in my screening duties this year in this category (I usually do better) and have seen only three of the nine finalist to date but loved each of them: A Fantastic Woman, On Body and Soul, and Loveless. I can't yet say that I hope they're nominated since I haven't seen their competition but I'd be very surprised if they don't deserve to be given their individual strengths. As for the others, The Square has been nabbing many a critics prize and our own Murtada enthusiastically vouched for Félicité here and here

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Reader Comments (22)

Sad to see "BPM" snubbed. It's not the Oscar foreign film category unless a really great film is snubbed.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Any theories as to why BPM didn't make the cut? It seemed like the front runner only a week ago.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEric

Its impossible for this categoty to not snub movies. The best of world cinema in 5 slots. But i think they did a nice job.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTheBoyFromBrazil

BoyFromBrazil -- that's a great point which is probably why the category is always under attack. I would say that they should switch it to 10 films like they did with best picture briefly but i dont want oscar to keep changing their rules ;)

December 15, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The Insult is a real crowd pleaser (I know I sound like a broken record on this), and was my favourite at TIFF. Won't be at all surprised if it makes the final five.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBJT

So sad for the 'Summer 1993' snub. It is such a beautiful and brilliant film.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbonobo

I hope this helps Felicite, The Insult and The Wound come to theaters near me.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada


Support your motion. 10 out of 93 seems reasonable.

It hurts BPM it's not here, tough. Now rooting for A Fantastic Woman. Hated Loveless and found The Square pretentious.

Didn't think Zama would get to the final 9, even though Lucrecia Martel's is head and shoulders above these films IMO.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterchofer

THE WOUND is quite a solid and compelling film, so I am glad for it's inclusion here - a little sad it is at the expense of BPM and Slovakia's THE LINE, but it's not an undeserved inclusion that knocked out the slightly better films (like, say, A MAN CALLED OVE last year, which was fun but had no right to be a nominee).

But the five I have seen (A FANTASTIC WOMAN, ON BODY AND SOUL, LOVELESS, THE WOUND, THE SQUARE) would make one of the best nominee lists of recent memory. (And cheering for BODY AND SOUL or LOVELESS for the win.)

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

PS I also watched FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER last night, coincidentally, and I believe that the Academy made the right decision in not shortlisting it. Compelling story, but Jolie still has some limitations as a storyteller.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

The Wound is unforgettable -- a South African village story centered around adolescent circumcision rituals. In this all male ritualistic setting, a gay character negotiates his relationships and his place in his culture.


December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

I've seen 8 of these movies (exception: "The Insult") and I have to say that this list is quite solid (though I'm not a fan of "On Body and Soul" and "In the Fade" is quite mediocre). "The Square", "Foxtrot" and "A Fantastic Woman" are the best and "Loveless" is just behind them.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone

It's very easy to see why BPM didn't make the list - it ignores every Hollywood-narrative convention - even going out of its way to make a lot of its co-protagonists "unlikeable" in traditional terms (eg. during the emotional climax, one character does something that most moralists would consider unforgivable - even *I* found it uncomfortable - and the film pointedly refuses to judge him for it).

It's exactly the kind of dry, crowded, defocused, tangent-prone, formally basic filmmaking even semi-mainstream filmmakers find difficult to love.

Full disclosure: I'd consider my tastes relatively adventurous, and even I very much did not love it.

But a film I *did* love was The Wound and I'm ecstatic its profile has been given this boost. It's superior to the much more hyped (and also relatively solid) God's Own Country. Alas the latter is about white people so it sucked up all the LGBT buzz at both Sundance and Berlin.

Otherwise, On Body and Soul, Loveless and Fantastic Woman are all also among the year's best films. I'm kicking myself for missing Felicite on its festival run. And I'm very much looking forward to both Foxtrot and The Insult.

The Square has already been hysterically overrated. But admittedly its strongest sequences are really quite something.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I would like to share with you a Variety article from Peter Debruge about an alternate method he thinks might help fix the eternal problem of this category.

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

My two favorites, BPM and Summer '93, were left out so now I'm rooting for Chile all the way.

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I feel like they have been quite enamored with France on the last decade. They passed on films like Elle, Persepolis and of Gods and Men. I understand that it would be ridiculous to nominate them every year but they nominated them for less interesting films. Same thing with Spain (They passed on Blancanieves and Volver).

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEvaG

Eva -- they have fallen out of love with France which has experienced its longest dry spells ever for nominations recently as well as its still ongoing longest dry spell for wins. France hasnt won since INDOCHINE in 1992 and they used to win all the time.

but it is strange that they pass on France's best submissions frequently

December 16, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

In the Fade is okay, but not that great. The others that I have seen - On Body and Soul, Fantastic Woman, Loveless, The Square - are solid movies. So hard to pick because they are also all completely different movies.

My favorite foreign film this year though was a Coen-brothers-esque Croatian film called Goran. It wasn't even Croatia's submission. Boooo ...

December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

'On Body and Soul', one of my favorite films of the year. I'd love seeing it getting major recognition.

December 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLuigi De Angelis

Not surprised by the Jolie miss. Even though I like the film a great deal, it's position as being directed by an American always felt like something the voters would refuse. America is ineligible in this category after all due to potential favouritism, and this probably played on the minds of voters that Jolie would have a unfair advantage.

I'd love A FANTASTIC WOMAN to be nominated, but something tells me it'll be a disappointing miss.

December 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I thought Thelma was solid and definitely wonderful cinema. Period. But even if I consider it among the top 5 best films of the year, other people who are actually voting in these awards do not always share my view. Bummed that Thelma did not make it but not depressed.

Glad that The Square and A Fantastic Woman made it to the cut. I truly love The Square despite my initial trepidation that I am watching the film Cannes anointed with its Golden Palm. But it was wonderful and satirical and intelligent and also pretentious and self-conscious. And it comes well together. I like ambition and a wild drive to put it all there onscreen. And what started as the search for one's cellular phone and wallet led to an exploration of a lot of themes: the use and function of art (or nothingness), Europe's treatment to both European and non-European "others", how taste is calibrated (cultural and aesthetic), and how humans are conflated with art and objects. A Fantastic Woman is also wonderful cinema anchored by Daniela Vega's unflinching performance. What her character went through is like imagining a transgender Alice and her adventures underground. Then that last scene with her singing an aria from Handel's Serse was both raw and polished at the same time. Truly a fantastic woman who went through the heteronormative urban spaces with defiance and quiet dignity.

BPM was also good. I thought the best scenes were those back-and-forth arguments between members of the solidarity group. I thought Zama was great but a few people walked out during the screening I was in, so maybe it didn't connect well with moviegoers. Not surprised that Happy End was not among the finalists given its mixed reviews but I still plan to see it when it opens (in Film Forum this Friday).

December 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

NATHANIEL R- Yes i wanted to write "..they HAVEN'T been quite enamored..." alway double check,Eva always double check

December 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEvaG

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