Earlier this year all eyes were on Alfonso Cuaron‘s “Roma” to make Oscar history as the first foreign language film to win Best Picture. Though it came up short in the end, it may have opened the door for Bong Joon Ho‘s “Parasite” to finally end that 91-year drought.
“Roma,” Netflix’s epic domestic drama about a poor maid (Yalitza Aparicio) working for an upper-middle class Mexican family in the 1970s, came into the 2018 Oscar race with a whopping 10 nominations. Cuaron prevailed for his directing — which made it the first non-English language movie to win that award — and it took home additional prizes for Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film. Yet when the final envelope was opened, the very American “Green Book” was announced as the recipient instead. Perhaps voters felt “Roma” had been amply taken care of in the foreign film category (not to mention the other trophies Cuaron took home that night).
But look on the bright side: it’s possible “Roma” had to walk so that “Parasite” could run. The Neon release, which centers on a lower-class Korean family that schemes its way into working in an upper-class household, has garnered widespread critical acclaim and boffo worldwide box office. It’s buzz has grown since winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year, and currently, it’s ranked fourth in our overall Best Picture racetrack odds.
Should it crack the lineup, “Parasite” would join an elite group of foreign-language titles that have competed for Best Picture. The first was Jean Renoir‘s “Grand Illusion” (1938), which earned its bid before the Best Foreign Language Film award was created in 1947. It took another 31 years for another film to crack the lineup: Costa-Gavras‘s “Z” (1969), which ultimately won the foreign film prize, plus another for its film editing.
Jan Troell‘s “The Emigrants” snagged a Best Foreign Language Film bid in 1971 before contending in Best Picture the very next year (it wasn’t released in the US until 1972). Next came Ingmar Bergman‘s “Cries and Whispers” (1972), which competed for Best Picture in the 1973 race and won a prize for its cinematography, though oddly enough was snubbed in the foreign film category. A similar fate befell Michael Radford‘s “Il Postino” (1995) 22 years later: it too was nominated for Best Picture, but not Best Foreign Language Film (it won Best Score).
Just three years later Roberto Benigni‘s “Life is Beautiful” (1998) entered the Best Picture race and won three awards: Best Actor for Benigni, Best Score and Best Foreign Language Film. Ang Lee‘s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) perhaps came closest to snagging the top prize: like “Roma” it earned 10 bids and won Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography, as well as Best Production Design and Best Score. Lee took home the DGA Award, BAFTA Award and Golden Globe for Best Director, but lost the Oscar to Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”).
Technically speaking, two foreign language titles contended for Best Picture in 2006: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s “Babel” and Clint Eastwood‘s “Letters from Iwo Jima.” But Eastwood’s film was an American production filmed largely in California, and Inarritu’s multi-language drama contains large portions in English, making both ineligible in for Best Foreign Film. (“Babel” won a prize for its score, while “Letters” won for its sound editing.) Six years after that Michael Haneke‘s “Amour” (2012) won the Palme d’Or before competing for Best Picture and winning Best Foreign Language Film.
So clearly the foreign film category has served as an escape hatch for Oscar voters who want to honor an international title, but not in Best Picture (only “The Emigrants” won neither, perhaps because it contended in separate years). Yet it would behoove the academy to acknowledge at least once that the year’s best movie was made in a language other than English, and considering how close “Roma” came, that day may soon come.
Be sure to make your Oscar nominee predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on January 13. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.