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Oscars: Will Saudi Arabia's 'Wadjda' Win The Best Foreign Language Film Award?

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 18, 2013 at 3:18PM

Of all the Academy award categories the Foreign Language one has probably been the most mystifying, arcane and hard to predict. Traditionally, and unlike in most other categories, nominees have been decided by a committee rather than by a wider voting branch and it's often led to controversy, with some of the most acclaimed international films of a given year missing out. Recent years have seen some changes for the better—films like "Dogtooth" or "Bullhead" would never have been nominated a decade ago—but controversy still circulates around this category.
5

North America

Heli

Given that so much of it is made up of the United States, it's not surprising that North America generally fields only a handful of contenders each years. That said, with Canada picking up three nominations in the last three years, and a brace of Mexican nominees over the years, it's not impossible that we could see a nominee from one of the States' neighbors this year.

It is, it should be said, unlikely to be the Dominican Republic's "Who's The Boss." And given the Academy's likely aversion to genitals being set on fire, it probably won't be Mexico's otherwise-well-regarded "Heli," which premiered at Cannes. But given the strength of Canada's nominees in recent years, only a fool would rule out "Gabrielle" completely -- Louise Archambault's film, which premiered at Locarno before heading to TIFF, is a tearjerker involving a developmentally-disabled romance. Reviews from critics have been fairly tepid, but after the somewhat-similar "Monsieur Lazhar" picked up a nod, this certainly shouldn't be ruled out.

South America

Gloria

With Chilean, Brazilian and Argentinean cinema (among others) proving among the most exciting in the world, South American nominees have been increasingly less rare in recent years, with Argentina's "The Secret In Their Eyes" winning in 2009. The country probably won't repeat this year, as "Wakolda (The German Doctor)" doesn't have much heat, but its neighbors do have some serious potentials.

Brazil's ecstatically-received "Neighboring Sounds" has glorious reviews behind it, but the film may be a little too arthouse for the nominating committee, we suspect. A much, much better bet is Chile's "Gloria," which took the Best Actress prize at Berlin, and has won fans everywhere it's gone since. Again, it's something of a crowd-pleaser, which always helps, and its late-in-life-love theme is always appealing to the Academy. Not a definite, but certainly a strong possibility.

Also submitted, though facing an uphill clime, are Colombia's "La Playa DC," Ecuador's "Porcelain Horse," Peru's "The Cleaner," Uruguay's "Anina" and Venezuela's "Breach In The Silence."

So there we have it. Check below for our predicted five nominees, and read on for this week's Best Picture Chart.

Best Foreign Language Film predictions - Tuesday November 19th

"The Broken Circle Breakdown" (Belgium)

"Gloria" (Chile)

"The Past" (Iran)

"The Rocket" (Australia)

"Wadjda" (Saudi Arabia)

Best Picture Chart - Tuesday November 19th

(down to 15 slots now, as we approach the start of the critics' award season and the field narrows).

Gravity, Clooney

1. "Gravity" (2)

Crossed the half-billion dollar mark this week, and still the focus of water-cooler conversation in a way that "Life Of Pi" or "Hugo" never were, which would seem to give it a certain advantage over them. Probably the film that will define 2013 at the movies (which is not to say that it's the best film), and capturing the zeitgeist is important, but it's not quite pulling too far ahead of '12 Years' just yet.

2. "12 Years A Slave" (1)

Starting to quiet down at the box office (it expanded to 1400 theaters this weekend, but its takings dropped), which might not be a great sign of longevity. Could certainly use an upping of the charm offensive from all concerned, but could yet get a boost from the critics' groups that'll put it in pole position.

3. "Saving Mr Banks" (8)

Last time, we'd felt a little ebbing on this one, but its AFI premiere has seen it come roaring back; if anything, it was more enthusiastically received by LA critics than at the London screening. It does tick the films-about-films box, but it's not really "Argo" or "The Artist" either: will it have enough love to challenge for the win against two truly adored competitors?

4. "American Hustle" (=)

The opening scenes were warmly received at a David O Russell tribute at AFI Fest, which at least bodes well. It was reportedly very funny, but will need some substance to compete with "Gravity" and 'Slave."

The Wolf Of Wall Street

5. "The Wolf Of Wall Street" (3)

Will be in a sort of competition-of-coy with 'Hustle' to be the last film to be revealed in the season. Could the two end up competing for a slot (they seem to be similarly-toned...) Or, more likely, will there be room for both?

6. "Nebraska" (7)

Credit to all at Paramount, they're working their asses off on promoting this -- Bruce Dern has been nearly inescapable in the last couple of weeks. And it's paid off, with a very solid opening limited weekend, especially for a black-and-white movie with no box-office names. Dern looks increasingly locked for a Best Actor nod, but can it keep up the momentum for the rest of the film?

7. "Captain Phillips" (5)

With "Saving Mr Banks" gaining ground, this does feel like it's slipped from the conversation a bit. But while it's disappearing from theaters, it should just about get to $100 million by the end, and in a year of much smaller-grossers than last year's crop, that can only help its cause.

8. "Inside Llewyn Davis" (6)

CBS Films may not have much experience in the Oscar game, but they've found a canny way to campaign here: focusing on the music, and the soundtrack as much as possible, with the second live concert/tribute taking place last week. It's playing to their strengths, and given that the movie is unquestionably one of the year's best, that should be enough for a nomination.

Philomena

9. "Philomena" (10)

We caught this for a second time recently (circumstantially, rather than deliberately), and it reinforced to us that if The Weinstein Company really get their act together and put their full weight behind it, the nomination's there for the taking (it's been a monster critical and commercial smash in the UK, and should travel well). As it is, they're remaining indecisive and hedging their bets with some of their other movies, so this isn't a home run yet.

10. "Her" (11)

Has successfully kept up the buzz from its NYFF premiere, and still remains something of a talking point. A Best Actress win in Rome for Scarlett Johansson's disembodied turn bodes well for that campaign -- but are the critical plaudits mostly coming from a younger crowd that won't be represented within the Academy? Or will this prove more universal?

11. "Blue Jasmine" (9)

Ended up some way below "Midnight At Paris" at the box office, and not as immediately likable. Still, has passionate first-choice supporters to the extent that something like "August: Osage County" might not.

12. "Dallas Buyers' Club" (=)

The box-office remains a touch disappointing, a victim of Focus' turmoil. Could yet pick up though, and the film should play better on screeners than some. Our gut says that this'll ultimately fall outside the nominated films, though it gets a boost if the Russell or Scorsese films falter.

The Butler

13. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (16)

On the one hand, this has apparently played incredibly well at Academy screenings. On the other, the campaign's been rather dormant, and, surprisingly, the Weinsteins haven't even set a street date for the DVD (what is going on over there?...), a second wind of advertising that can often be a real boon. Still doesn't feel like a Best Picture nominee to us.

14. "All Is Lost" (13)

It remains to be seen if Roadside Attractions' gradual rollout works out, but it hasn't been a great first month in theaters. Ultimately, there may have only been room for one solo survival movie, and "Gravity" always had the edge. But it's certainly deserving of a place too, and we remain hopeful that voters can acknowledge the film as well as Robert Redford's performance.

15. "August: Osage County" (14)

Remains in a kind of stasis, with an AFI screening not doing all that much to get it back in the race. But it's worth noting that George Clooney, a producer on the film, can now focus on this now "Monuments Men" has moved to February, and he's always a campaigning force to be reckoned with.

Bubbling Under: "Lone Survivor," "The Book Thief," "The Invisible Woman," "Rush," "Enough Said," "Mud," "Prisoners," "Fruitvale Station," "Out Of The Furnace," "Labor Day," "Before Midnight," "The Past"

Out: "Out Of The Furnace" -- as we suspected, not really an Oscar kind of movie. Had reviews from its AFI premiere been ecstatic, rather than quietly appreciative, perhaps it could have broken through, but this is unlikely to figure in anywhere, really.

"The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" - word is that, as we suspected, Fox have decided not to mount much of a campaign for this one, putting "The Book Thief" above it on the priority list. Maybe it'll prove a smash at Christmas and the decision'll be reversed, but it's likely to be too little too late by that point.

This article is related to: Awards, Academy Awards, Features, Oscars, Wadjda


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