Will anti-Putin sentiment help Russia’s ‘Leviathan’ win Foreign Film race at Oscars?

Leviathan” isn’t about Russian president Vladimir Putin, per se, but it’s impossible to miss the portrait of him prominently displayed in the office of the film’s principal villain: Vadim (Roman Madyanov), the mayor of a seaside town who tries to strong-arm a local man out of his home. A corrupt Russian leader trying to force his way onto land that doesn’t belong to him – sound familiar? But the film was selected anyway by Russia’s Oscar nomination committee to represent the country in the Best Foreign Language Film race. Can it win?

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Perhaps more surprising than “Leviathan’s” Oscar selection is the fact that the film was made on Russia’s dime, receiving a large portion of its funding from Russia’s ministry of culture. But while its stinging critique of its nation’s politicians, legal system, and even the Orthodox Church could be controversial back at home, it could actually boost its chances at the Oscars if the academy wants to express anti-Putin sentiment of its own in light of his own villainous track record of late, annexing Crimea from Ukraine and passing draconian anti-gay laws.

The film is now among nine semifinalists still in contention for a Foreign Film nomination, and according to our racetrack odds, it’s third in line for the win, getting 5/1 odds.

It would be Russia’s first nomination in this category since “12” in 2007. Altogether, Russia has only won once out of five nominations, for “Burnt by the Sun” in 1994, though before that the Soviet Union won three times out of nine bids.

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“Leviathan” is already an award-winner, taking Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival but losing the Palme d’Or to “Winter Sleep,” which was entered by Turkey for Oscar consideration but didn’t make the academy’s shortlist. Other Cannes entries still vying for Oscar are Mauritania’s “Timbuktu” and Argentina’s “Wild Tales,” both of which rank among our top five likely Oscar nominees.

“Leviathan” has also scored Foreign Film nominations from the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the Critics’ Choice Awards.

The biggest obstacle for “Leviathan” seems to be “Ida,” the black-and-white Polish film about a novitiate nun who discovers family secrets from World War II. It recently swept the European Film Awards, where “Leviathan” was also a contender, and currently leads our Golden Globe an Oscar predictions for Best Foreign Film.

“Ida” would be the 10th Polish film to earn an Oscar nod in the category, but it would be the very first to win.

Do you think “Leviathan” can come from behind on the strength of its timely political commentary, or is “Ida” a foregone conclusion? Use our drag-and-drop menu to make your predictions, or click here to enter your picks in all Oscar categories, as well as Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, Independent Spirit Awards, and more.

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