Oscars long love affair with foreign language films

There are a lot of Oscar firsts surrounding Alfonso Cuaron’s acclaimed Mexican drama, “Roma.” History will be made if it wins Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, as well as being the first movie in Spanish and Mixtec languages to take home the top Academy Award.

With history “Roma” on the cusp of rewriting the Oscar history book, let’s look back at some foreign language Oscar firsts.

The first foreign film to earn an Oscar nomination was Rene Clair’s delightful French satire “A Nous La Liberte” for Best Art Drection in the ceremony’s fifth year.

It was 80 years ago that the academy nominated a foreign-language film for the Best Picture Oscar when Jean Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece “Grand Illusion,” was one of 10 nominees for the top prize.  Though the film lost to Frank Capra’s “You Can’t Take It With you,” the French drama was named the best picture by the New York Film Critics Circle. Renoir, who earned an honorary Oscar in 1975, was only nominated for one competitive Oscar for directing the 1945 Hollywood film, “The Southerner.”

It would be another three decades before the academy nominated a foreign film for best picture when the Algerian import “Z,” directed by Costa-Gavras competed with “Anne of the Thousand Days,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Hello, Dolly!” and “Midnight Cowboy,” which won the top prize. The controversial political thriller did win Best Foreign Language Film, as well as the Oscar for editing.

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The Swiss drama “Marie-Louise” was the first foreign language film to win the best original screenplay Oscar at the 18th Oscars for writer Richard Schweizer. Three years later, he won again for motion picture story for “The Search,” sharing credit with David Wechsler.

Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini received his first of 12 Oscar nominations for best screenplay of 1946 for Roberto Rossellini’s groundbreaking “Open City.” Fellini, who received an honorary Oscar in 1993, earned his first of four best director nominations at the 34thceremony for “La Dolce Vita.”

Vittorio De Sica’s heartbreaking Italian neo-realist drama “Shoe-Shine” was the first foreign film to be singled out for a special award at the 20thAcademy Awards. It also received a nomination for original screenplay for “the high quality of this Italian-made motion picture, brought to eloquent life in a country scarred by war, is proof to the world that the creative spirit can triumph over adversity.”

Ironically, De Sica only received one Academy Award nomination during his long career-for supporting actor for 1957’s “A Farewell to Arms.”

Fellini’s “La Strada” was the first winner of the foreign-language film Oscar at the 29thannual Oscars.

Ingmar Bergman received his first of nine Oscar nominations at the 32ndannual Oscars for his screenplay for “Wild Strawberries.” for his screenplay. He received his first of three best director nominations for 1972’s “Cries and Whispers.” Though Bergman never won a competitive Oscar, the influential Swedish filmmaker received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1971.

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The 38thannual Academy Awards marked the first time a Japanese filmmaker was nominated for best director when Hiroshi Teshigahara earned a bid for “Woman in the Dunes.” He lost to Robert Wise for “The Sound of Music.”

Akira Kurosawa was only nominated for one Oscar (he did earn an honorary Academy Award) for 1985’s “Ran.

Taiwan filmmaker Ang Lee became the first Asian filmmaker to win best director for 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain” and then made history once again winning for 2011’s “Life of Pi.”

Though Robert De Niro won his supporting actor Oscar for 1974’s “The Godfather Part II’ speaking in Italian, it was Roberto Benigni who became the first to win lead actor for a foreign-language film in 1998’s “Life is Beautiful.”

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