Which of the record 83 Foreign Language Film entries have inside track at Oscars?

The academy just announced that a record 83 countries have submitted entries in the Foreign Language Film race. Predicting the eventual five nominees is made more difficult by the two-step process.

First, the several hundred academy members of the Foreign Language Film screening committee are divided into groups and required to watch a number of the submissions over a two-month period that ends in mid December. They will rate them from 6 to 10 and their top six vote getters make it to the next round, as will three films added by the 20 members of the executive committee. 

Those nine semi-finalists will be screened three per day beginning in early January by select committee members in both Gotham and Hollywood who will then vote for the final five which will be revealed, along with the other Oscar nominations, on Jan. 15.

The entire academy membership will get screeners of these five films and vote for the winner, which will be revealed on the Oscarcast.

Below, summaries of the leading 12 contenders. 

Argentina: “Wild Tales”
This film played to great acclaim at both Cannes and Toronto. The darkly comedic anthology film (made of six shorts) is currently at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and has a score of 83/100 on Metacritic. The film’s co-producer is Pedro Almodóvar, who directed the category’s 1999 winner, “All About My Mother” from Spain.

Argentina has six previous nominations and is the only South American country to have won, which it did twice: “The Official Story” in 1985 and “The Secret in Their Eyes” in 2009.

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Belgium: “Two Days, One Night”
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have a remarkably consistent record of delivering films to great critical fanfare and they have done it again with this social drama. While the film did go home empty handed at Cannes (a strange occurrence for the Dardennes), it is currently at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and scores 92 at Metacritic. That Marion Cotillard is in the hunt for a Best Actress nod for her performance in the film (currently ranked at #13 at Gold Derby’s prediction center) does’t hurt it either.

Belgium has been nominated in this category seven times but has yet to prevail. Belgium has chosen films by the Dardenne brothers  three times in the past (“Rosetta” in 1999, “The Son” in 2002 and “The Child” in 2005) but none of them yielded a nomination.

Canada: “Mommy”
“Mommy” was another film that took Cannes by storm this year where it tied for the Jury Prize (along with Jean-Luc Godard‘s “Goodbye to Language”). The fifth feature from 25-year-old Xavier Dolan is very well reviewed with a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 81 on Metacritic. Seven recipients of the Jury Prize have received Oscar nominations for Foreign-Language Film and two have won the prize: “My Uncle” from France (1958) and “Z” from Algeria (1969).

Canada has received seven past nominations at the Oscars and won the honor in 2003 for “The Barbarian Invasions.”

France: “Saint Laurent”
This biopic about French designer Yves Saint Laurent screened at Cannes to mixed reviews and that sentiment has been reflected in the available reviews. The film currently holds a 56% score on Rotten Tomatoes and 50 on Metacritic.

But France should never be underestimated in this category as it has received the most nominations of any country, 39, and the second most wins with nine.

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Italy: “Human Captial”
This modern noir film has received much acclaim in Italy and with those who have seen it stateside. The film won seven trophies at Italy’s David di Donatello Awards (Italy’s Oscar equivalent) including Best Film (beating last year’s Oscar winner “The Great Beauty”) and one of the film’s performers, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, won Best Actress at this year’s Tribecca Film Festival. It’s currently rated at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Italy is also never one to be taken lightly in this category as the country has received 31 nominations and 11 wins, the most wins of any country.

Israel: “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”
This drama about a woman having to be put on trial in order to finalize her divorce has screened at both Cannes (in the Directors’ Fortnight) and Toronto. Neither Rotten Tomatoes nor Metacritic have any reviews of the film in their database as of yet, but you can never count Israel out of this competition.

Israel is currently the country that holds the most nominations for Foreign Language Film without having won the honor. Of its ten bids in all, four of them have come since 2007.

Mauritania: “Timbuktu”
This political drama is the first film to be submitted to the Academy from this African nation. The film screened to stellar reviews at both Cannes and Toronto and with its story of a militant Islamic group taking over an African village, the themes of the film will certainly give it the feel of something important. It currently holds a score of 87 on Metacritic.

Only three African countries have been nominated for this award, with each one winning once: “Z” from Algeria (1969), “Black and White in Color” from the Ivory Coast (1976) and “Tsotsi” from South Africa (2005).

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Poland: “Ida” 
The tale of a young nun who finds out that she was born of Jewish parents who were murdered during World War II has been claiming prizes at film festivals all around the world. It is currently at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and 89 on Metacritic. At last year’s Toronto Film Festival, the film won the Prize of the International Critics (Special Presentation section). It also claimed four Polish Film Awards this year including Best Film and Best Actress and is currently nominated for the People’s Choice Award for Best European Film at the European Film Awards.

Like Israel, Poland has never won the Foreign Language prize despite being nominated nine times.

Russia: “Leviathan”
This selection surprised many due to the film’s subject: corruption in the Russian government. It won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes and it gets a boost in the area of being a film with a relevant social message. The film has also received stellar reviews (99 on Metacritic). Three previous winners of the screenplay award at Cannes have won this Oscar: “Mephisto” from Hungary (1981), “No Man’s Land” from Bosnia and Herzegovina (2001) and “The Barbarian Invasions” from Canada (2003). The 2011 Cannes winner, “Footnote” from Israel, did receive a nomination.

Russia has received five nods in this category and won in 1994 for “Burnt by the Sun.” Russian language films under the Soviet Union earned another nine nominations with three wins.

Spain: “Living is Easy with Eyes Closed”
This comedic drama about a teacher embarking on a road trip in hopes of meeting John Lennon in 1966 is playing very well in Spain. The film currently has a perfect score (100%) on Rotten Tomatoes and 86 on Metacritic. The film also won six Goya Awards (Spain’s Oscar equivalent) including Best Film and Best Director.

Spain is another heavy hitter in the Foreign Film category having snagged 19 nominations and four wins: “Begin the Beguine” (1982), “Belle Époque” (1993), “All About My Mother” (1999) and “The Sea Inside” (2004).

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Sweden: “Force Majeure”
This film competed at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section where it took the Jury Prize and also screened in Toronto. The dramatic comedy is also receiving great notices from critics with a current score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and 86 on Metacritic.

Sweden also has a good history with the Oscars having scored 14 nominations and three wins, all films by Ingmar Bergman: “The Virgin Spring” (1960), “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961) and “Fanny and Alexander” (1983). But recent history has not been that kind to Sweden with their last nomination coming a decade ago for “As it is in Heaven. “

Turkey: “Winter Sleep”
This won the Palme d’Or victory at Cannes and overall reviews are good (67% at Rotten Tomatoes and 83 out of 100 at Metacritic). However, some have faulted it for its three hour plus running time.  Thirteen Cannes champs have contended at the Oscars and five won: “Black Orpheus” from France (1959), “A Man and a Woman” from France (1966), “The Tin Drum” from West Germany (1979), “Pelle the Conqueror” from Denmark (1988) and “Amour” from Austria (2012).

Even though Turkish cinema celebrates its centennial this year, the country has never been nominated for the Foreign Language Film prize.

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