Saturday, June 15, 2024

Making The Case For Two International Features To Be Nominated For Best Picture

In an era of growing strength from international films at the Oscars, both in frequency and broadening showings in nominations, there is a chance another important mark will be made for the first time at the 2024 Oscars. No two (non-English language) international features have ever been nominated in Best Picture in the same year, and- according to many predictors at this point in the season- it seems more likely than usual this upcoming season. Two films in particular, Justine Triet’s French domestic legal thriller “Anatomy of a Fall” and Jonathan Glazer’s atypical British (but German-language) Holocaust drama adaptation “The Zone of Interest,” seem particularly poised to crack the Best Picture ten. At the time of writing, “Anatomy of a Fall” ranks eighth in the NPB odds in Best Picture, and “The Zone of Interest” is listed at number ten.

This exploration requires all the usual caveats- it is still very early in the awards season, as the fall festival circuit starts to churn into motion. Not to mention the strong effects of recency bias- both films premiered at Cannes earlier this year and have been shown again at Telluride, TIFF, and NYFF, and the initial rave reviews for both are still fairly hot off the press. It is certainly possible that, due to the usual tides of awards season in general or the inevitable new sets of premiers/awardees at other fall festivals, these two will drift away from their current pole positions. But for now, historical precedent seems to be bending, and we’ll examine how it might actually break at the 2024 Oscars.

As we look back at the history behind this particular glass ceiling for international features, a couple of major close calls are noteworthy. A quick Wikipedia dive would suggest that this feat actually has happened, but there is an important bit of grey area. At the 79th Academy Awards in 2007, Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” and Alejandro Inarritu’s “Babel” impressively cracked a field of five Best Picture nominees. While “Letters from Iwo Jima” was properly a non-English film (and won prizes as such at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards, among others), it was unquestionably American in origin and was thus not eligible based on nationality. “Babel” was twisted in a similar but opposite way: it was an international production (multinational, more appropriately). Still, it contained substantial American and English-language aspects, which kept it from being considered a proper international (“Foreign Language,” then) film. These two films certainly came close to achieving the feat, but a couple of asterisks beside both keep them from being a through-and-through instance of two such films sharing a Best Picture lineup.

Another wonky close call came back in the mid-1970s. At the 46th Academy Awards in 1974, Bergman’s Swedish film “Cries and Whispers” made the list of five in Best Picture. “Cries and Whispers” was not submitted as Sweden’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category (Bergman’s own “Scenes From a Marriage” was submitted but later disqualified), but would have been a likely winner considering its broad strength (five nominations). Instead, the French language film “Day for Night” took home that prize in 1974. The interesting wrinkle comes into play that “Day for Night” was apparently eligible for general Oscar categories the following year, in 1975, at the 47th Academy Awards, where it ended up securing three above-the-line nominations, though not for Best Picture. Of course, there is no way of knowing whether it would have been a Best Picture nominee in 1974 were it eligible then, but nominations for directing, acting, and writing all show sizable strength no matter the year. One can only wonder if “Cries and Whispers” and “Day for Night” would have made history alongside each other!

While the 20th century had a couple of other capable pairings that might have come even sort of close (“The Emigrants” and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” in 1973, “Life is Beautiful” and “Central Station” in 1999, generously), the stream of multi-nominated international films in the 21st century has become more steady, and with a solid ten Best Picture slots in play now, it seems like a matter of time, if you choose to include “Minari” from the 2021 Oscars, there has been a non-English film nominated for Best Picture every year since 2019- but never two, it is within reasonable speculation to imagine “Cold War” coming close to joining “Roma” in 2019, with its multiple nominations including Best Director, or “The Farewell” (which occupies a similar linguistic limbo as “Minari“) making the cut the same year as “Parasite” in 2020. 2022’s ceremony sported films such as “Parallel Mothers” and “The Worst Person in the World,” which made their own splashes short of the Best Picture category (where “Drive My Car” did land), and folks can passionately debate just how close “RRR” really was to a Best Picture nomination this past season alongside multi-winner “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

In any case, we’ve got a solid slate of films vying to accomplish the so-far-impossible this year, led at the moment by “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Zone of Interest.” Both films have enjoyed an early boost from buzz out of Cannes (which, again, is hardly an Oscar bellwether) but also have a lot to gain from a long season ahead of greater promotion, exposure, and viewership. It is foolish to imagine that we are seeing anything close to a full picture of the race at this point in the season, especially with many of these internationally produced and released films (at this point last year, was anyone even aware of “All Quiet on the Western Front?”).

Anatomy of a Fall” seems better positioned to make a full-scale Oscar run at the time of writing, it is slated among the batch of predicted nominees in four categories on NBP (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay). “The Zone of Interest” clears this bar in three categories (Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best International Feature). However, NBP’s staff is a bit chillier on its Oscar prospects than other predictors. The assumption stands, of course, now that “The Zone of Interest” was selected by the U.K. as their submission for Best International Feature, while “Anatomy of a Fall” lost out to “The Taste Of Things” for France, this would give Glazer’s film a boost for Best Picture.

Both films have strong campaigners in their camp, too. “Anatomy of a Fall” is being distributed in North America by Neon, who is no stranger to vaulting international films into the Oscar spotlight (“Honeyland,” “Parasite,” “The Worst Person in the World,” “Flee“). Can Neon capture the same lightning in a bottle that brought “Parasite” to Oscar glory in Best Picture? Reigning Best Picture champ A24 (also behind “The Farewell” and “Close“) is navigating the North American release of “The Zone of Interest” and will no doubt give it the best possible strategic run, as they have with many others, including two Best Picture winners in the past.

The jury is still very much out on these two films (and hundreds of others that are no doubt dreaming in gold this time of year), but strong debuts and notable fundamentals have made them consensus picks as big contenders. No matter the future of “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Zone of Interest” in particular, the historical fact remains that two true non-English international features have been nominated in the same year in the Best Picture category. For all we know, it could be two totally separate films at the fore come nomination morning in January 2024 (or three… or zero!). But as things stand at this moment in time, history seems ripe for the writing as milestones and glass ceilings continue to break. It would be a worthy, important, and necessary distance marker as the Academy tries to advertise just how far it has come in regards to diversifying itself and its awardees (are the best films of any given year really almost exclusively English-language, for just shy of a century?!). It’s high time two (at least!) non-English international films stand beside each other as Best Picture nominees, and we have reason to hope going into 2024.

Do you think “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Zone of Interest” will be nominated for Best Picture? If not, which one do you think will get in and which one will miss? Have you seen either film yet? If so, what did you think? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Cole and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @CurtissOnFilm

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