After 'Parasite,' What Can the Oscars International Race Do for an Encore?

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After ‘Parasite’ and ‘Roma,’ What Can the Oscars International Race Do for an Encore?

On the heels of two of the most successful non-English films in Oscar history, the category is facing a year of production halts and theater closings

These should be the best of times for the Oscars’ Best International Feature Film category. After all, last year’s winner, “Parasite,” went on to win additional Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. The year before, “Roma” won in the category that was then called Best Foreign Language Film, then added Best Director and Best Cinematography awards.

With the Academy adding more members outside the United States every year, the international category is becoming more and more of a powerhouse. But can it continue that clout this year, when production and exhibition has been curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and there may well be fewer entries than usual? And regardless of the number of entries, is there anything out there that feels like the next “Roma” or “Parasite”?

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The answer is almost certainly no on the second question, but it’s premature to draw any conclusions on the first. Certainly, you’d think that the number of 2020 entries would fall short of the 90-plus that have qualified in two of the last three years: Theaters have been closed internationally and film festivals like Cannes and Venice, which normally would have shown countries which of their films were most likely to be Oscar-worthy, have either been canceled or scaled back.

And yet with a full month and a half remaining before the delayed Dec. 1 deadline for submitting entries, more than 15 films have already been announced as their countries’ submissions, more than usual at the same point in the usual Oscar calendar. (Submissions are usually due by Oct. 1, which puts us in the equivalent of mid-August on the normal calendar.)

Of the films that have been submitted so far, the highest profile are Switzerland’s “My Little Sister,” Romania’s “Collective,” Mexico’s “I’m No Longer Here,” the Czech Republic’s “Charlatan,” Georgia’s “Beginning,” Ivory Coast’s “Night of the Kings,” Poland’s “Never Gonna Snow Again,” Taiwan’s “A Sun” and “Bosnia and Herzegovina’s “Quo Vadis, Aida?”

But even though the vast majority of countries have yet to make their choices, nothing is liable to create anywhere near the kind of Oscar buzz that the Mexican film “Roma” or South Korea’s “Parasite” did. Then again, those are two of the most successful non-English films in Oscar history, so it’s probably silly to think that their success will be an annual occurrence.

This year, countries with the potential to be strong contenders include Denmark (which could go with Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round”), France (maybe Maiwenn’s “DNA,” though the country always has lots to choose from), India (with Chaitanya Tamhane’s “The Disciple”), Russia (Andrei Konchalovsky’s “Dear Comrades!”) and Greece (with Christos Nikou’s “Apples,” which mixes the oddness of Greek nominee “Dogtooth” with a more sentimental story that may draw in voters).

For the third consecutive year, screenwriter Larry Karaszewski and executive Diane Weyermann are heading the Academy’s International Feature Film Award Executive Committee, but their job may be very different this year: Where they normally welcome voters to two months of in-person screenings in October, this year all of the viewing in the first round will likely take place virtually, on the secure, members-only Academy Screening Room. The phase-one voting, which used to be the province of the L.A. members who went to screenings, will be open to any member who sees enough films to qualify. That could mean more voters, and it will almost certainly mean more voters outside the United States.

Here’s the list of the films that have been submitted by Academy-approved international boards so far. A spot on this list does not guarantee that a film will be eligible, because entries have to be vetted by the Academy to make sure they qualify. (Last year, the requirement that a film have “a predominantly non-English dialogue track” knocked out two entries at the last minute.)

Algeria: “Heliopolis,” Djaafar Gacem
Bhutan: “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” Pawo Choyning Dorji
Bosnia and Herzegovina: “Quo Vadis, Aida?” Jasmila Zbanic
Czech Republic: “Charlatan,” Agnieszka Holland
Ecuador: “Emptiness,” Paul Venegas
Georgia: “Beginning,” Dea Kulumbegashvili
Ivory Coast: “Night of the Kings,” Philippe Lacote
Kosovo: “Exile,” Visar Morina
Luxembourg: “River Tales,” Julie Schroell
Mexico: “I’m No Longer Here,” Fernando Frias de la Parra
Poland: “Never Gonna Snow Again,” Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert
Romania: “Collective,” Alexander Nanau
Singapore: “Wet Season,” Anthony Chen
Switzerland: “My Little Sister,” Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond
Taiwan: “A Sun,” Chung Mong-hong
Ukraine: “Atlantis,” Valentyn Vasyanovych

TheWrap also keeps a running list of all the films that have been submitted, with descriptions and links to trailers when available. That can be found here.

Steve Pond