Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The 2022 Best International Feature Film Oscar Race So Far

Over the past month, we have slowly started to see countries make official selections for Best International Feature Film contenders at this year’s Academy Awards. With Cannes highlighting some of the year’s best world cinema and with upcoming festivals such as Venice and TIFF bringing new debuts to the table, now is a good time to stop and look at the current contenders and who we think may be in with a chance to receive nominations this year. 

The Announced Contenders

The Quiet Girl (Ireland)
The country film to announce its selection this year, Ireland had a lot of faith in “The Quiet Girl.” The feature film debut by director and writer Colm Bairead received 11 nominations at the 18th Irish Film & Television Awards (also known as the IFTAs) and won seven of those prizes. It also broke box office records and became the highest-grossing Irish-language film not only during its opening weekend but of all time. “The Quiet Girl” is the eighth film Ireland has submitted for Oscar consideration in this category, with their first submission being Tom Collins’ “Kings” in 2007. Currently, only one film has made the shortlist for Best International Feature Film: 2015’s “Viva.” Will “The Quiet Girl” be the first Irish film nominated for Best International Feature Film? Being the first country to declare its contender certainly helps make the movie stand out.

Decision To Leave (South Korea)
Perhaps the most challenging decision that any country will have to make about their film selection this year, South Korea had the difficult decision of choosing between Park Chan-wook’s “Decision To Leave” and Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s “Broker,” both of which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and received high praise and prestigious awards. While there is a chance that “Broker” will be selected as Japan’s entry this year, Korea decided to nominate Park’s film for this year’s selection. Despite having success with films such as “Oldboy” in 2003 and “The Handmaiden” in 2016, this is the first time Park Chan-wook’s film has been chosen to represent South Korea. South Korea has submitted movies for the Best International Feature Film category since 1962 but has only had its film nominated once. That one film would end up being Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” which would go on to win that category and Best Picture. While I don’t think “Decision To Leave” will make that much of an impact in this year’s Academy Awards, it does feel like it’s time to recognize Park Chan-wook for his contribution to cinema over the past few decades and to give his film a nomination in this category. Park Chan-wook also won the Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, making him a potential contender for an international selection in this year’s Best Director line-up. I have also had the fortune of seeing “Decision To Leave” at Cannes this year, and I can confirm that the film deserves a nomination for Best International Feature Film, alongside a potential Director nomination for Park. A further festival push by having the film play at TIFF and NYFF will help garner support from the North American film critics and make “Decision To Leave” a big contender for this year’s race. After missing the shortlist over the past two years, South Korea is ready to put itself back on the map.

A Piece Of Sky (Switzerland)
Michael Koch’s Swiss-German language feature may not be the most recognizable title on this list, but that does not mean it is not one to write off fully. “A Piece of Sky” had its world premiere at this year’s Berlinale, receiving a special mention from the international jury. Switzerland has submitted 41 films since its first entry in 1961 and has won the Best International Feature Film category twice: in 1984 for “Dangerous Moves” and in 1990 for “Journey of Hope.” While they recently made the shortlist in 2016 for “My Life as a Courgette,” “Journey of Hope” was the last official nomination for Switzerland in the category. With tough competition this year, it may be difficult for them to seek a nomination on this occasion.

Goddamned Asura (Taiwan)
Inspired by real-life events from newspaper reports, “Goddamned Asura” is a horror crime drama that has been selected as Taiwan’s contender. First premiering in Taipei’s Golden Horse Film Festival, the film received numerous nominations from the festival and ended up winning the Best Supporting Actress Award. It has since gone to other festivals worldwide, with plans to take it to the Paris Filmosa Festival in September. Taiwan has been submitting films for the Best International Feature Film category frequently since 1980 and primarily had a string of success due to Ang Lee’s work. Taiwan received nominations two years in a row between 1993-1994 with Lee’s “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” but would eventually win the Academy Award in 2000 with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Taiwan has made the shortlist twice since then, most recently with 2020’s “A Sun,” but I don’t see “Goddamned Asura” being the film to get Taiwan their first nomination in 22 years.

The Employer And The Employee (Uruguay)
Originally premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in the summer of 2021, “The Employer and the Employee” qualifies for this year’s Uruguay selection as the film didn’t debut there until April 2022. Uruguay first submitted a contender in 1992 with “A Place in the World.” While it initially received a nomination for Best International Feature Film, the nomination for Uruguay was pulled after stories came out about the lack of Uruguayan involvement with the project. Uruguay would begin to submit contenders again in 2001 but failed to receive a nomination. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival is something worth noting, even if it was in 2021 and in the Director’s Fortnight line-up, but whether it can build up that momentum over a year later is a question worth asking when it comes to this selection.

All Quiet On The Western Front (Germany)
Based on the 1929 Erich Maria Remarque novel of the same name, many film pundits were rightfully predicting that Edward Berger’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” would be selected as Germany’s submission this year. Starring a cast including Daniel Brühl, Albrecht Schuch, and Sebastian Hülk, the film will be distributed by Netflix. The film has not been seen yet during the writing of this piece, but this film certainly has a lot going for it just by looking at the statistics. While Dan Stevens wasn’t enough of a name draw when it came to Germany’s selection last year, “I’m Your Man,” Daniel Brühl’s name in the cast list will undoubtedly draw attention. Not only that, but the adaptation of a classic anti-war tale will more likely capture the attention of Academy members than the science-fiction comedy that “I’m Your Man” was. Netflix will take “All Quiet on the Western Front” to TIFF before releasing the film nearer the end of the year, creating buzz throughout the winter season and leading up to the precursor award shows. I am currently predicting this one to get an Oscar nomination and am eagerly awaiting the reaction from TIFF.

Eternal Spring (Canada)
Last year, Denmark’s “Flee” became the first film in history to be nominated for Best International Feature Film, Animated Feature, and Documentary Feature. It looks like Canada wants to try to replicate that magic with their contender this year. “Eternal Spring” is an animated documentary. That centers on the 2002 hijacking of broadcast television stations in Changchun, highlighting the repression of ethnic and religious groups in China. Premiering in March 2022, the film was screened at the 2022 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, where it was named the overall winner of the Hot Docs Audience Award as well as the Rogers Audience Award for the most popular Canadian film. This is only the fourth film since 1971 that Canada has submitted a film for Best International Feature Film that wasn’t in the French language. Canadian films were nominated three years in a row between 2010 to 2012, including Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies,” Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar,” and Kim Nguyen’s “War Witch.” This sounds like a fascinating project and one that could capitalize on the success of “Flee” last year. Still, it has to be careful to keep its identity and continue attending festivals to ensure Academy members see it.

EO (Poland)
Out of all of the films competing for the coveted prize this year, none will be as abstract as Jerzy Skolimowski’s “EO,” a film that focuses on the journey of a donkey after it is set free from the circus. Inspired by Robert Bresson’s 1966 film “Au Hasard Balthazar,” the 88-minute film features heavy commentary on animal rights and whether the work done by protestors and activists is actually helping to protect and save these animals. The film tied for the Jury Prize at Cannes alongside “The Eight Mountains,” and it is easy to see why this film would stand out amongst the crowd in a major competition. “EO” will be going to both TIFF and NYFF, perhaps aiming to grab people’s attention and become a film that critics end up backing in this year’s race. Having a unique style and tone does not always play well with the Academy – just look at two years ago when they didn’t even shortlist France’s “Titane” – but with a runtime this short, a strong festival push and a strong message behind “EO,” it will be interesting to see if the Academy does decide to embrace this one.

The Potential Contenders Already Seen

RRR (India)
As of now, no other foreign-language film this year has taken North America by storm quite like India’s “RRR.” While other Bollywood films do relatively well at the American box office, “RRR” managed to bring in $9.5 million on opening weekend. Heavy demand saw the film being re-released in major markets, including New York and Los Angeles, and the film also saw a huge boost of support after being released on Netflix throughout the summer. India may have one of the biggest film industries in the world, but they have failed to receive a nomination for Best International Feature Film since Lagan in 2001. There is no guarantee that the Academy would embrace a film as insane as “RRR,” especially with a three-hour runtime, but it will certainly be the most watched film from India in 2022. It will also be completely different from any other contender released this year, making it stand out from the crowd and potentially draw a new audience to watch the ceremony live. We still do not know if India will be bold enough to make this decision, but it would be wise of them to take this risk and nominate “RRR” this year.

The Eight Mountains (Italy)
Last year, Janus Films – alongside some very vocal and passionate critic groups – were able to push Japan’s “Drive My Car” to victory in the Best International Feature Film category after taking the film to several film festivals. After a strong debut at the Cannes Film Festival this year, Janus Films acquired the distribution rights to “The Eight Mountains,” directed by Felix van Groningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch. Like “Drive My Car,” “The Eight Mountains” is a three-hour film focusing on character development and capturing gorgeous landscapes instead of plot or heavy action. However, Janus Films does not seem to be pushing “The Eight Mountains” nearly as much as they did with “Drive My Car,” as the film was not announced to be attending any of the fall film festivals as of yet. This film would heavily benefit from critical approval, just as “Drive My Car” did, but there are proving not to be too many opportunities coming to push that narrative forward. Coming out of the Cannes Film Festival, I would have predicted “The Eight Mountains” to at least make the shortlist and be a potential contender for the Best International Feature Film award. Now, I’m not sure it will even make the shortlist.

Broker (Japan)
With South Korea officially selecting “Decision To Leave,” it may be easy to write off Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Broker” from this year’s Best International Feature Film list. By all means, the film would have qualified as a Korean selection if the country had chosen “Broker. ” However, there is an argument to be made that Japan can also take the film as their selection. While the film was shot in Korea with a Korean cast, Hirokazu is Japanese and may have potentially received partial funding for his film from Japan, something the country would have to prove if they were to select the film as their contender for the year. Japan has previously selected one of Hirokazu’s films as their official selection, “Shoplifters,” in 2018, and that decision earned them a nomination last year. It would be easy to see why Japan would want to select his work once again if the film meets the criteria set out by the Academy, especially when “Broker” star Song Kang-ho won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Of course, Japan won Best International Feature Film last year with Ryusake Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car,” so it will be very hard for them to match last year’s impressive run with that film. The question now is whether Japan will announce that they are allowed to select “Broker” as their contender, as that is a film I could certainly see earning a nomination for Best International Feature Film.

Close / Tori and Lokita (Belgium)
Belgium is one of the countries where I am most interested to see their official selection because both Lukas Dhont and the Dardenne Brothers have films that are eligible for the Best International Feature Film category this year. They have both already had their previous films make the official Belgian selection, yet neither of them has received nominations for their films. Lukas Dhont previously had “Girl” in 2018, while Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have had “Two Days, One Night” (2014), “The Child” (2005), “The Son” (2002), and Rosetta (1999). Both of their respective films for this year, Dhont’s “Close” and the Dardenne’s “Tori and Lokita,” played at the Cannes Film Festival and received positive reviews. “Tori and Lokita” received an honorary 75th Award, tied with the 75th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. At the same time, “Close” was a joint recipient of the Grand Prix award alongside Claire Denis’ “Stars At Noon.” Neither film at this moment have future appearances at a fall film festival, and yet they both have interesting distributors tied to them in North America. “Close” will be distributed by A24, while Janus Films will distribute “Tori and Lokita.” This has proven to be a strong year for Belgium in the film industry, and they have two good choices here for their Best International Feature Film selection. I am predicting that they will go with Dhont’s “Close,” and I think that is their best chance of receiving an Oscar nomination.

R.M.N. (Romania)
Romania has only been shortlisted twice for the Best International Feature Film prize of the 37 selections: “Collective” in 2020 and “Beyond the Hills” in 2012. “Beyond the Hills” was directed by Cristian Mungiu, who is back this year with “R.M.N..” Mungiu was also submitted previously for his Palme d’Or winning film “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”, and controversy was caused amongst the Academy when that film failed even to be shortlisted in 2008. This particular film brought a change to the rules for determining the shortlist for the Best International Feature Film category, and it may just benefit Mungiu this year. “R.M.N.” received strong word of mouth from its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, even if the film failed to win any prizes at the ceremony. The film will have its North American premiere at TIFF, and it is possible that the themes within this film resonate with viewers and that “R.M.N.” is the critical darling of the year. While I would currently leave this off my top five predictions, I will be keeping my eye on it.

Holy Spider (Denmark)
Holy Spider” may be directed by Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi and take place in Mashhad in Iran. Still, Iran does not necessarily need to select this film for it to qualify for this year’s Best International Feature Film race. Instead, I expect that Denmark will make it their official selection. The Danish selections have been strong over the past few decades, winning in 2010 for “In a Better World” and 2020 for “Another Round.” Even last year saw Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee” earn a nomination not only for Best International Feature Film but also for Best Animated and Documentary Feature. “Holy Spider” is not an easy watch, and some critics have responded negatively to the film, commenting on the narrative structure and use of cinematography to show the murders of the Holy Spider’s victims. However, the film also received much support and praise from its premiere at Cannes, and actress Zar Amur Ebrahimi received the Best Actress award. “Holy Spider” will be heading to TIFF, which will prove to be a good chance to see the consensus on the film’s graphic nature. Abbasi’s previous film, “Border,” earned a Best Makeup & Hairstyling nomination, so it will be interesting to see if the Academy is again encouraged to take notice of his filmmaking and whether he will score a nomination for Best International Feature Film. It may be too harsh of a subject matter for some Academy members. Still, it may also be the nomination that makes a statement about the current situation in the Iranian film industry.

Corsage (Austria)
If there is one film going to almost every major film festival this year, it is Marie Kreutzer’s “Corsage,” starring Vicky Krieps. “Corsage” made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, where Krieps won the Best Performance Prize from that particular line-up. IFC Films quickly picked up U.S. distribution rights to the film, and “Corsage” is now lined up to appear at TIFF, NYFF, and the London Film Festival before releasing in the United States at the end of December. With a heavy festival campaign and an excellent start for Krieps in particular, a push for the film to make the Best International Feature Film line-up could even lead to a potential campaign for a Lead Actress nomination. Austria was shortlisted last year with Sebastian Meise’s “Great Freedom,” and I would not be surprised to see “Corsage” make the shortlist this year. This should be a film that earns nominations on top of Best International Feature Film, including Cinematography, Costume Design, and Actress. For now, though, I will just continue to celebrate every chance it gets to show at a major festival and garner more support and love.

The Potential Contenders Still To See

Bardo (Mexico)
It almost seems unfair at this point to predict the nominees for Best International Feature Film because there is no doubt that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Bardo” will be the front-runner and potential winner of the category for a majority of this race. “Bardo” is Netflix’s big contender, not just in the Best International Feature Film category but in Best Picture. Iñárritu has previously won Best Director twice in a row for “Birdman” and “The Revenant,” with the former also taking home the Best Picture prize. Mexico is a country that has done well in Best International Feature Film over the decades, with Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón, and Guillermo del Toro all helping to produce wins and nominations for Mexico in the category. The most straightforward comparison that can be made to “Bardo” in this situation is Cuarón’s “Roma” from 2018, the first Netflix film to be nominated for Best Picture. “Roma” would go on to win Best Cinematography, Best Director, and Best International Feature Film for Mexico, and there is a chance that “Bardo” could have a similar pathway. “Bardo” is set to have its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in September, and it will be In Competition for the Golden Lion. This will be the first chance to see whether Netflix finally has a winner on its hands, but also if this is a steady and worthy front-runner for Best International Feature Film.

Athena (France)
We have had the chance to see several potential French contenders already, but the Cannes line-up did not inspire confidence in any of these choices. Claire Denis’ has two films out this year. However, “Stars At Noon” is in English, and “Both Sides of the Blade” failed to leave a lasting impression from Berlinale. “Brother and Sister,” starring Marion Cotillard and Melville Poupaud, received some of the worst reviews from the Cannes Film Festival. As a result, I imagine it will not be up for consideration as this year’s selection for France. The French jury may consider Mia Hansen-Løve’s “One Fine Morning,” which was featured in the Director’s Fortnight section and received strong reviews. They may also consider “Saint Omer,” directed by Alice Diop, which will be heading to TIFF, Venice, and London throughout the fall season. However, I am going to predict that France will make “Athena” their official selection for this year’s Best International Feature Film race. After failing even to be shortlisted after choosing Julia Ducournau’s “Titane” last year, France will most likely want to play it safe in terms of tones and themes. “Athena” focuses on three siblings in France after the tragic death of their youngest brother, creating a compelling narrative that Academy members will be drawn to. This is another film that Netflix will distribute, and it will be interesting to see what their priorities are aside from “Bardo.” It is still early days to be analyzing the French selection, and they always have a lot to choose from, so for now, we just have to see what word of mouth is from “Athena” and “Saint Omer” as we wait for any other potential nominees to emerge.

Argentina, 1985 (Argentina)
Having its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, “Argentina, 1985” tells the story of a team of lawyers taking on the heads of Argentina’s bloody military dictatorship during the 1980s. Also announced as being In Competition at the London Film Festival this year, this looks to potentially be Amazon Studios’ biggest contender in the Best International Feature Film race this year. Directed and co-written by Santiago Mitre, his work has been highly regarded in the past, including the Cannes 2015 Critics’ Week Grand Prize for “Paulina.” This would be the first time Mitre would be submitted as Portugal’s pick for the Best International Feature Film selection, but for now, it feels like a safe prediction for the country’s selection this year. With only a short wait to hear about the reception for the film from Venice, this may be a film that manages to sneak into my top five predictions very soon.

It is still too early to confirm all of the films that will be competing this year and what the eventual nomination list for Best International Feature Film will be. However, this piece may just help inspire you and give you the information you need to make your first predictions for this category. While I feel confident that Mexico’s “Bardo” will hold onto the top spot for a large majority of this race, perhaps another film can get the critical support that “Drive My Car” had last year to push it above at the last minute. However the race shapes out in the future, you can keep an eye on Next Best Picture for the biggest updates and our current predictions.

What do you think will currently win Best International Feature Film this year? Are there any major contenders you are considering that haven’t been mentioned here? What films do you think countries such as France and Belgium will choose? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account, and be sure to keep an eye on the Next Best Picture team’s Oscar predictions coming on September 1st.

You can follow Amy and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @filmswithamy

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Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Editor In Chief at The Gaudie. Awards Editor at Insession Film. Scotland based film critic.

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