Oscar Best Foreign Film 2014In a category that sometimes seemed like a two-horse race between The Great Beauty and The Hunt, with the possible squeaker of The Broken Circle Breakdown, it was ultimately Paolo Sorrentino’s love letter to Rome that triumphed. Great Beauty is the 11th win for Italy at the Oscars and the first time since Roberto Benigni’s 1998 Life Is Beautiful that the boot has kicked up a Foreign Language score. Sorrentino told me in December that he was very honored by just the nomination. 86th Annual Academy Awards - Show“It’s a great responsibility. It’s a case in which I represent Italy and so it’s important in this moment when Italian cinema isn’t having a great time in its life… I hope we go ahead not only for me, but also for Italian cinema,” he said. Go ahead he did tonight and thanked his inspirations who include Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese (in the house at the Dolby Theatre), and Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona. Sorrentino also thanked the cities of Rome and Naples, as well as his family.

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The Great Beauty has been compared to the work of Fellini, especially Roma and La Dolce Vita; it’s the story of an aging writer in the Eternal City recollecting his lost youth (see the trailer below). Sorrentino told me late last year that he had long been collecting “little anecdotes” linked to Rome and decided to put them all together into a film so that the lead character would be a witness to that world.

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The Great Beauty was up tonight against the aforementioned The Hunt by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg and Belgium’s Broken Circle Breakdown from Felix Van Groeningen; as well as Rithy Panh’s Cambodian documentary The Missing Picture and Hany Abu Assad’s Palestinian drama Omar (Abu Assad was the only director in the bunch ever previously nominated). This was a year where a record 76 films were entered for Foreign Language consideration, and it was also a year with an embarrassment of riches — a testament to the diversity and strength of local movies. Great Beauty, released in the U.S. by Janus Films, has already won a Golden Globe, a European Film Award and a BAFTA, and is likely to figure heavily at Italy’s Oscars, the David di Donatello Awards, later this year. Sorrentino also told me the last time we spoke that the film’s success on an international level will hopefully “stimulate” Italian producers to take more risk.