UPDATED, writethru: From a field of 87 submissions to the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category, nine movies have now advanced to the shortlist. Working with one of the strongest years in recent memory, the Phase I Committee and the Executive Committee have settled on such favorites as Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters.
Among the films left off the list is Golden Globe nominee and Cannes Camera d’Or winner Girl by Belgium’s Lukas Dhont. That film has seen backlash from rights groups regarding the casting of a cisgender actor in a trans role. Also not making the cut is Sweden’s audacious Border, which did however score as a finalist for the Make Up and Hairstyling race. A surprise inclusion is Kazakhstan’s Ayka, the Cannes Best Actress-winning drama from Sergei Dvortsevoy. And, in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, Korea finally makes the shortlist.
As I noted in my recent preview of the FL shortlist possibilities, the entries this year formed a rich roster. While many of the titles advancing today were expected, the category has had its fair share of shocks and controversy in the past. The exclusion of Netflix’s Girl this year comes in the wake of negative response from the LGBTQ community to the movie that stars cisgender actor Victor Polster — and after last year’s A Fantastic Woman went all the way to the gold. The film is the story of Lara, a 15-year-old born in the body of a boy, who dreams of being a ballerina. It’s inspired by the true story of Nora Monsecour and won the Un Certain Regard prize for lead actor Polster in Cannes this year.
Ali Abbasi’s Border is also notable for its absence. The story of a customs officer with an uncanny knack for sniffing out guilt was the top Un Certain Regard prize winner in Cannes and and is a trippy, quasi-political treatise on “the other.”
Among the films that did make the cut today, there is no surprise with Cuaron’s Roma, the Oscar-winning helmer’s personal reflection on his own childhood in Mexico and the women who surrounded him. The Netflix drama is a contender in several major categories and took the Golden Lion in Venice. Out of Cannes, Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winner and family drama Shoplifters (Magnolia) was also expected today, as was Nadine Labaki’s social drama and Jury Prize laureate Capernaum (Sony Pictures Classics).
Pawlikowski’s Cold War (Amazon), which was left off the Golden Globes nominations list, won the Best Director prize in Cannes and figures on Oscars’ shortlist after a near sweep at the European Film Awards this past weekend. Burning (Well Go), from Korea’s Lee, took a FIPRESCI in Cannes and was recently named runner-up to Roma in the LA Film Critics Association’s Best Picture category. Its inclusion on the shortlist is a first for Korea which has never gotten this far, much less won or been nominated for the FL Oscar despite the country’s vibrant local industry. Likewise a debut in Cannes, Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s Birds of Passage (The Orchard) puts Colombia on the shortlist for only the second time ever. Guerra’s eventual nominee, Embrace of the Serpent, was the first to make the cut three years ago.
The Lives of Others Oscar winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is back in contention now with Never Look Away (Sony Pictures Classics), his big canvas work that’s inspired by the life of artist Gerhard Richter and premiered to much acclaim in Venice.
Reaching back further in the year, Gustav Moller’s taut feature debut The Guilty (Magnolia) was a breakout at Sundance in early 2018, scooping the Audience Award in the World Cinema section.
The Phase I Foreign Language voting group decides on six titles for the shortlist while the Executive Committee selects three further films. I hear the latter met this morning to pick the trio for those slots which newly installed Exec Committee Co-Chair Larry Karaszewski told me last month are earmarked for those that may have been “sort of forgotten.”
From the nine movies on the shortlist, the ultimate five nominees will be revealed on January 22. Rules were tweaked this year to make participating in the FL voting more accommodating, and those passionate folks who take an interest in this race have been all the luckier for it, particularly with the wide-ranging quality and diversity of stories on offer.
Here’s the full list of nine shortlist movies:
Birds Of Passage (Colombia), dirs.: Cristina Gallego/Ciro Guerra
The Guilty (Denmark), dir: Gustav Moller
Never Look Away (Germany), dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Shoplifters (Japan), dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Ayka (Kazakhstan), dir: Sergei Dvortsevoy
Capernaum (Lebanon), dir: Nadine Labaki
Roma (Mexico), dir: Alfonso Cuaron
Cold War (Poland), dir: Pawel Pawlikowski
Burning (Korea), dir: Lee Chang-dong