A few weeks ago I asked whether I was crazy to predict that “Son of Saul” would reap Oscar bids for Best Picture, Best Director (Laszlo Nemes) and Best Actor (Geza Rohrig). This film about a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz who makes it his mission to give a dead child a proper burial is one of the best-reviewed of the year. Now, after its win at the New York Film Critics Circle, where does it stand in the Oscar race?
Circle voters delivered a split decision as “Son of Saul” won Best First Film but lost Best Foreign-Language Film to “Timbuktu” from Mauritania. The good news for “Saul,” though, is that it won’t have to face off against “Timbuktu” at the Oscars; “Timbuktu” was nominated by the academy last year, losing to “Ida” from Poland. It was awarded this year by the NYFCC because it didn’t open stateside until January 2015.
The NYFCC Best First Film winners often compete for Oscars. “Animal Kingdom” (2010) went on to earn a Best Supporting Actress bid for Jacki Weaver; “Margin Call” (2011) contended for Best Original Screenplay; and “How to Survive a Plague” (2012) was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. However, the last winner of that award to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar was Bennett Miller‘s breakthrough, “Capote” (2005).
But there will be more opportunities for “Son of Saul” to rack up critics’ prizes. It doesn’t open here until December 18, but already has a MetaCritic score of 91 and 95% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s certainly a factor as critics continue to announce their favorites.
It could particularly make an impact at the Los Angeles and National Society critics’ events, which are often quite hospitable to foreign films. The LA crowd picked “Amour” as Best Film in 2012, while the National Society awarded “Amour” along with three other foreign films in the last 10 years (“Pan’s Labyrinth” in 2006, “Waltz with Bashir” in 2008, “Goodbye to Language” in 2014).
The academy doesn’t pick foreign films as often for Best Picture nominations, but it does happen. Overseas efforts like “Il Postino” (1995) and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) have made it through. “Life is Beautiful” (1998) is an especially pertinent example; the Italian film about a Jewish father trying to protect his son from the horrors of the Holocaust was nominated for Picture and Director and won Best Actor for Roberto Benigni. It won two other prizes: Best Foreign Language Film and Best Dramatic Score.
Could “Son of Saul” be just as successful? It has the advantage of competing at a time when there can be as many as 10 nominees for Best Picture, so if it does keep picking up critics’ prizes, it could carry that momentum to the Oscars.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics