Academy Awards Project: Best Foreign Language Film
This category is my favourite overall. To me, this is the authentic best picture category, because there are much fewer rules. One film per country. That's it. We usually get an incredible blend of what the world has to offer, and this year is no different. Ranking these five films is officially the most difficult task of this project; thankfully it was left towards the end. All five of these films are absolutely worth investing in, and I don't want to devalue any of these works with their placements. We have two past winners, two newcomers, and one work by a filmmaker that has already made a break in Hollywood. Every nominee here feels worthy of their mention. The “biggest snub” today was just another great film that could have also fit in. Otherwise, these five films really are some of the best of the year. This one was hard, folks. Here are the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, ranked from worst to best.
Biggest Snub: Birds of Passage-Columbia
Embrace of the Serpent was a lingering crawl into the underbellies of your mind. It took its time, but it was worth the freak out. Duo Cristina Gallego and Curo Guerra have returned with a much more straightforward film Birds of Passage: a crime thriller. Life is shot artistically, but fear is captured realistically. In the crux of South American drug trading spanning a few decades, Birds of Passage is one of the better underworld epics to have come out in recent memory.
5. Never Look Away-Germany
My heart wants this film to be higher, but amongst so many tough nominees, I have to be very picky. There are plot elements that don't quite add up (the miracle in the climax; also, does Kurt know about Ellies father or not?). Otherwise, I will play the devils advocate and insist that three hours didnt even feel like enough here. You truly understand how Kurt got from point A to point B with his art, through turmoil, revelations, and many attempts. It might be a bit of an antithesis on its statements of art, and the real artist (Gerhard Richter) hates the deviations the film made, but I'll treat this as its own entity (for selfish reasons). Never Look Away is painfully beautiful, and you might find it hard to hold back tears due to its soul.
In so many other years, this would be first. Nadine Labaki's latest drama is so challenging to watch, and yet it never ever gives up on its message. It doesn't even feel as preachy as Where Do We Go Now? despite its intensity. It almost disguises itself as a documentary to remind you that these kinds of living conditions exist. This might be a fictional film, but this is based on reality. There isn’t a stronger word to describe this emancipation from a family and a country than "severe".
While similar to Capernaum's identification of what a real family is, Shoplifters gets the narrow edge up because of it's slightly stronger complexity. Is this suffering family doing the best thing for an abused child? This question gets even more difficult the more we find out about this family. This isn't a group of people trapped by circumstance, but a lot of this poverty is self inflicted due to a horrific past. The questions of "what do we need to do to get by, and does it differ with each scenario?" may not have a correct answer here, but that honesty is what makes Shoplifters special.
2. Cold War-Poland
Ambiguity seems to be the way to earn kudos in an otherwise near perfect category, and Cold War has it in spades. A romance is tested again and again because of uncontrollable situations, but it was this unpredictability that brought these two lovers together in the first place. The history of eastern Europe that the two leads cover in this bite sized epic is too powerful to ignore, and both the artist and the protector know this. We get the most bittersweet ending of 2018 here: the kind that shakes you to your core.
The higher up on this list we go, the less the respective film wishes to tell you. There isn't a score of an editing cue to ready your senses to receive a specific emotion. Roma just lets its depiction of early '70s Mexico do the work. There are some stories here about individuality, family, worth and class here, but we are merely witnessing an exhibition of this living photo album. Placing Roma high up makes sense if I was just ranking films. Trying to rank the cultural identity that these foreign films has makes Roma an even more powerful number one spot. You live and breathe the civil unrest in a complicated Mexico here. You see it all around you. Cuarón started off as a foreign film director; don’t let his Hollywood experience throw you off. This is as anti-formulaic as you can get with this kind of a budget. As a film, a representation of a country, and a cinematic innovation, Roma is the best foreign language film of the year.
Our predicted winner: Roma. It's still Roma.
Unless Roma's fight for best picture leaves enough space for Cold War to get its only win here. But those chances are slim (yet not impossible).
Our Academy Awards Project is wrapping up with the ranking of all of the Best Picture nominees later today. Tune in tomorrow for additional articles before the big ceremony!
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.