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The Ophir Nominations. Which film will be Israel's Oscar Submission?

by Nathaniel R

The Ophir Awards, honoring the best in Israeli cinema, were created in 1990. The winner of Best Film always becomes Israel's Oscar submission. Well, almost always. There have been a few exceptions due to eligibility issues --  the most famous example being The Band's Visit (2008) which was hugely successful in US arthouses (and eventually became a Tony-winning Broadway musical) but which could not be submitted because the Israeli and Egyptian characters spoke in English too often due to their language barriers.

After the jump, the nominations for this year's Ophirs (thank you to longtime reader Yonatan for the hat tip!) and more about Israel's Oscar history...


Oshri Cohen and Liron Ben-Shlush are both nominated playing husband and wife in "Working Woman"

  • Incitement (Yaron Zilberman)
    A thriller about the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
  • Love Trilogy: Chained (Yaron Shani)
    A drama about a policeman struggling at his job. This is the second film in a trilogy. 
  • Tel Aviv on Fire (Sameh Zoabi)
    A comedy about a Palestinian writer on a popular soap opera. Cohen Media Group has the US rights.
  • The Unorthodox (Eliran Malka)
    A period drama about the owner of a Printing Press establishing an ultra orthodox list 
  • Working Woman (Michael Aviad)
    A drama about a woman whose boss is making inappropriate advances. Available to rent on Amazon Prime. 

The Unorthodox leads the nominations with 14 but will run into Oscar eligibility problems if it wins the Ophir due to its release date in summer 2018 at home. There are two notable misses in Best Film. Peaches and Cream received the second most nominations (a whopping 11) but somehow missed the top category. The Berlinale Golden Bear winner Synonyms, a drama about an Israeli man in Paris, was also shut out. Kino Lorber has the rights to distribute the latter in the US so we impatiently await the release. 


Only one of these directors has ever been submitted for the Oscar before. Yaron Shani (Love Trilogy) previously had a nominated film with Ajami (2009).



Tom Mercier, the star of "Synonyms"


Hani Furstenberg in "The Golem"

The only one of these actresses we're familiar with is the bewitching Furstenberg who you've probably seen before too. She previously co-starred in The Loneliest Planet with Gael García Bernal, the gay drama Yossi & Jagger, the Israeli Oscar submission Campfire, and even an episode of American Gods



Yaniv Biton in "Tel Aviv on Fire"


Hadas Ben Aroya co-stars in Peaches & Cream









"Red Fields" which also goes by the title Mamy, is a musical drama about a woman in a small town who works at a gas station





  • There are no lions in Tel Aviv 
  • My uncle is a hero 
  • There was a boy 
  • A whore like me 
  • Rachel Agmon


  • How to swim 
  • A girl with a fork in the world of soup 
  • Dina Malul makes war 
  • Hinoma 
  • Normal day

The Ophir awards will take place on September 22nd so when the last envelope is opened we'll (presumably) know which film will be the country's Oscar submission. We must note "presumably" because The Unorthodox leads with the most nominations but was actually released in Israel before the Oscar cutoff last season so technically if it wins, Oscar will likely reject it as ineligible for submission.

With Mexico finally winning the Oscar last season on its 9th nomination, Israel no longer has any hearty competition for the glass-half-full honor of "most foreign language film nominations without an Oscar win". They've been nominated 10 times to date. The next most-often nominated is Belgium with 7 nominations, followed by Greece and Norway in a dead heat with 5 nominations each. 

Israel's Ten Oscar Nominees


  • Sallah (1964)
  • The Policeman (1971)
  • I Love You Rosa (1972)
  • The House on Chelouche Street (1973)
  • Operation Thunderbolt (1977)
  • Beyond the Walls (1984)
  • Beaufort (2007)
  • Waltz with Bashir (2008)
  • Ajami (2009)
  • Footnote (2011)

US arthouse audiences loved them and they were Ophir Winners but Oscar passed them by: 

  • Late Marriage (2001) $1.6 million in the US (my personal favourite Israeli film of all time)
  • Fill the Void (2012) $1.7 million
  • Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014) $just 12,000 short of a million
  • The Cakemaker (2018) $almost made it to a million

 Have you seen any of the Israeli nominees over the years?

Oscar submission charts here

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Reader Comments (10)

Two other excellent Israeli films are Yossi and Jagger (my all-time favorite) and Lebanon.

While I never would have voted for any of the nominees, at least Waltz with Bashir and Ajami are better.than the mediocrities that won (Departures and The Secret in Their Eyes). Sallah is total wreck.

It's a shame Gett wasn't chosen. It would have been a nice tribute to the late, great Ronit Elkabetz, both as actress and director.

July 30, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Was Ronit Elkabetz eligible for best actress in 2014? or was it 2015?

July 30, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue -- technically GETT was submitted for the 2014 Oscars but since it wasn't released in the US until 2015 and wasn't nominated in 2014 she would have theoretically been eligible for the 2015 best actress race.

July 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

As I understand it, if the chosen film cannot compete in the Oscars (as happened with The Band's Visit) then the film that is second in the voting is who will go to Israel for the Oscars (as happened with Beaufort who became the first Israeli movie to be nominated in 27 years)

If there is a tie in the Ophir for Best Movie (as happened with Aviva My Love and Sweet Mud) the tie for best Movie is maintained but another vote is made to choose who will go to the Oscars (as happened with Sweet Mud)

It is incredible to think that the winner of Best Film at the Berlin Festival (Synonyms) is not nominated.

July 31, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterharmodio

(as happened with Beaufort who became the first Israeli movie to be nominated in 27 years)

Sorry, I was wrong Beaufort who became the first Israeli movie to be nominated in 23 years since Beyond the Walls.

July 31, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterharmodio

I've seen "Synonyms" during Berlinale and I wouldn't call it "gay drama". There are gay characters in this movie but the main one is not gay and it's not about being gay at all so...

July 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone

Oh no! And how could I forget Or (My Treasure) with (another) sensational performance by Elkabetz?

July 31, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s

I checked the reminder lists for 2014 and 2015 and Gett was on neither, so it looks like other than being considered for Foreign Film, it was not eligible in any other categories.

July 31, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

Someone -- good to know. I must have misread a synopsis or review or something.

July 31, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Thanks! That's what I thought. Too bad because 2015 was too crowded.

July 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy

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