The final five titles nominated for the newly named International Feature Film Oscar category included some surprises when they were announced in January. Chief among the latter is Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, an awards season darling that has continued to cement its position as a leading candidate for this particular race, while also increasingly moving into serious contention for some other categories.
The blackly comic thriller about the members of a poor family who scheme to work in a wealthy household by posing as unrelated, highly-qualified help, is only the sixth movie to land Best Picture and International Film (formerly Foreign Language) nods, and the first Korean film to do so. It is the 11th non-English language film ever nominated for Best Picture.
What makes the feat even more impressive is that Korea has such a rich homegrown industry, bursting with talent and very sophisticated audiences. It’s surprising that it has taken this long for Hollywood awards bodies, and domestic audiences, to take notice. There have been remakes of other Korean films, and rights acquired for sure, but the market should now be even higher on the radar, particularly as television adaptations of Bong’s work start to gear up with a Snowpiercer series soon to debut on TNT and a Parasite transfer set up at HBO.
Parasite is the odds-on favorite for the International Feature Oscar as the season begins to tighten its focus. But it’s also become a real contender in Best Picture and its other categories. Other recent films to generate similar heat have included Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma from last year, and Michael Haneke’s 2012 Amour, which each scored Best Picture nominations. Both won the Foreign Language category. However, no foreign language film has ever won Best Picture to date. It remains to be seen now if Parasite can break that streak.
Pedro Almodóvar, whose Pain and Glory began its career in Cannes, bagging the Best Actor prize for Antonio Banderas, who’s also up for an Oscar, is another filmmaker who has had nominations outside the International category in the past. He won that race with 1999’s All About My Mother. If the Academy ends up putting its weight behind Bong in Best Picture, and opts to honor another foreign language film in its place, Almodóvar’s autobiographical movie could be the one they’ll go for. The director has been the Spanish representative seven times and scooped nominations on three of those occasions. In total, Spain has had 20 nominations in this field, with four of those going on to win. The last time was for 2004’s The Sea Inside.
The third movie on the roster that has drawn the most attention since it debuted in Cannes is France’s Les Misérables. From Ladj Ly, this was a breakout for the first-time feature helmer who took the Jury Prize at the festival. Recently, László Nemes’ Son of Saul gave that debut director a big honor in Cannes and the film went on to win the Foreign Language Oscar. While Ly’s politically charged urban drama is extremely timely given the current strife in his home country, the movie hasn’t had the same momentum as Son of Saul. Ly has a bright future ahead of him (he signed with CAA in Cannes) so will likely have his day another time.
France has been in the winners’ circle more than most, and Les Misérables’ nomination is the 38th for the country. Nine films have converted to wins, but it’s been a long dry spell since 1992’s Indochine walked away with the gold statue. As a silent movie, 2011’s The Artist, which won Best Picture, was not in the Foreign Language race.
The latter is the first entry to both the International Feature and Documentary Feature races to have scored nominations in both. There’s been some upset in the past about a country selecting a doc as its foreign language representative, rather than giving two films a potential shot (2016’s Fire at Sea from Italy advanced in Documentary but did not make the cut in FL). However, narrative documentary Honeyland proved to be the bee’s knees, advancing North Macedonia to an International Feature mention for the second time since the country began submitting films in 1994. The first was for its initial rep, Before the Rain. It has never won.
Honeyland scored multiple prizes in Sundance and has picked up others along the way, largely in documentary races. The film follows the life of the last female beekeeper in Europe, living in an isolated mountain region deep within the Balkans.
Finally, Komasa’s Corpus Christi puts Poland back in the race after last year’s Cold War and 2014 winner Ida, both of those from Pawel Pawlikowski. Corpus Christi was a Venice premiere that’s surprisingly inspired by real events. It’s the story of a 20-year-old who experiences a spiritual awakening while in a youth detention center. Barred from entering the seminary as a result of his crimes, the young man pursues his dream by impersonating a priest and ministering a small-town parish. It’s been a box office hit at home and is a further sign of the strength of Polish cinema, where the industry has continued to expand and thrive. The country has been nominated 12 times since 1963, winning just once.
Along with changing the name of the category this year, the Academy expanded the annual shortlist from nine to 10 titles. The films that did not make the nominations cut include Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird (Czech Republic), Tanel Toom’s Truth and Justice (Estonia), Barnabás Tóth’s Those Who Remained (Hungary), Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole (Russia) and Mati Diop’s Atlantics (Senegal).