Updated with more detail: Today’s reveal of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar shortlist is particularly notable for the films it does not include. Shockingly omitted is France’s submission, Elle. Directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Isabelle Huppert, this has been one of the most talked- and raved-about movies since it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and was roundly considered a shoo-in for a slot.
Huppert has been picking up awards and nominations including being named Best Actress by the NY and LA film critics groups and the Gotham Awards. She is nominated for an Indie Spirit and a Golden Globe, and the film also has a Globe nom. It’s 89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and is an impressive feat given Verhoeven was working in French for the first time.
France has the most nominations of any country with 37, and the second most wins at nine. Last year, Mustang ended a six-year nomination dry spell, but the Hexagon hasn’t walked away with the gold since 1992’s Indochine. Most of the victories date back to the 50s, 60s and 70s. Elle was a bold and inspired choice this year, but there have been — and continue to be — rumblings that the local selection committee needs an overhaul.
Was it an omen that Elle, a twisty rape drama, left the recent European Film Awards empty-handed despite three nominations? That ceremony was swept by Germany’s Toni Erdmann, which is on the Oscar shortlist. Both films are handled by Sony Pictures Classics.
Another SPC title, Julieta, from Spanish master Pedro Almodovar, is also a no-show on the shortlist today. His 20th film, it too premiered in Cannes and continued to find favor at major festivals. The melodrama also scored three European Film Award nominations but no wins. It has been hailed as a return to form for the Oscar winner. But evidently not a return to the shortlist.
Also excluded is Jackie helmer Pablo Larrain’s Neruda. Another favorite, and like Elle, coming off of a Golden Globe nomination, the spin on the biopic genre debuted in Directors’ Fortnight. It is Larrain’s fourth time representing Chile. He scored a nomination with 2012’s No, and many had expected he would advance in this race again this year. His profile has certainly grown given all the attention surrounding Jackie, whose Natalie Portman has also been picking up laurels. It opens Friday in the U.S.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Phase One and Executive Committees whittled down the 85 submissions this year to today’s shortlist of nine. The category has been known for some curious choices in the past. Although rules have been tweaked since, among the most notorious omissions in Oscar lore was Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or winer Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days in 2008.
The Academy has made a step toward doing right by Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, whose roundly lauded 2014 pic, Mommy, was an Oscar no-show. It has advanced his It’s Only the End of the World to the shortlist. The film drew a very mixed reception in Cannes, where it nevertheless won the Grand Prix du Jury. This is Dolan’s third time repping Canada. The films stars Gaspard Ulliel as a terminally ill writer who returns home to tell his family he’s dying. Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Nathalie Baye and Vincent Cassel also star.
It’s not surprising at all to see several other deserving films here. They include Toni Erdmann, Maren Ade’s bittersweet German comedy that has been picking up awards since it made a welcome debut in Cannes. It left that festival with no major prizes from the main competition but recently took five European Film Awards and the NY Film Critics’ Circle’s nod in Foreign Language. It also topped Sight & Sound’s best of 2016 list, is the only movie of 2016 to have landed on BBC Culture’s survey listing the Top Films of the 21st Century and has an Indie Spirit and a Golden Globe nomination. It revolves around an older man who begins to play pranks on his adult daughter after finding her too self-serious.
Martin Zandvliet’s Land of Mine from Denmark was expected here too. Also with Sony Pictures Classics, it’s set after World War II and sees German POWs forced to remove land mines from Danish beaches. This film recently took three EFAs including for Zandvliet’s wife, cinematographer Camilla Hjelm.
Hit Swedish dramedy A Man Called Ove (Music Box) by Hannes Holm, Iran’s The Salesman from Oscar winner Asghar Farhardi (Amazon/Cohen Media Group), Norway’s The King’s Choice by Erik Poppe, Andrey Konchalovsky’s Paradise and Switzerland’s My Life As A Zucchini by first-timer Claude Barras (GKids) also were widely predicted to make this list and all have done so.
Zucchini is particularly interesting given it’s an animated film that is also vying in the main animation category. Another movie vying in two races, Italian documentary and Berlin Golden Bear winner, Fire at Sea, did not find the same FL favor. It is shortlisted in Documentary.
One film I admit I did not see coming that made today’s cut is Australia’s Tanna. Directed by Bentley Dean and Martin Butler, it’s set on the titular volcanic South Pacific island and is a story of star-crossed lovers that’s been compared to Romeo and Juliet. It played Venice two years ago, picking up prizes in Critics’ Week.
The shortlist will now be winnowed down to five nominees by specially invited committees in New York, Los Angeles and London. The full membership votes on the ultimate winner.