one of the earliest and most deserving Academy Award winners for Best Foreign Film

Rashomon (1951): one of the earliest and most deserving Academy Award winners for Best Foreign Film

The Academy has a long history of flirting with the foreign film industry. As early as 1932, the Academy was nominating foreign films in technical categories (A Nous La Liberte, nominated for Art Direction). In 1938, Grand Illusion became the first non English language film to be nominated for Best Picture. With the intervening war and the presence of foreign films greatly reduced, there wasn’t a need to do anything more, but after the war, with the resurgence of a world cinema, the Academy had to do something more than just nominating films for their scripts (in 1946, both Children of Paradise and Open City), so in 1948, the Academy started giving a special award to one foreign film. This was just a placeholder until 1956, when the category of Best Foreign Film was finally established as a competitive award.

But 1956 was the start of a big problem. The first problem was that each country only got one submission. So even if Ingmar Bergman makes two brilliant films in one year (like in 1957, when he made The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries), only one could get nominated (The Seventh Seal was submitted, but not nominated). The second problem was that the country had to decide what to submit, and sometimes their choices weren’t so great (like in 1985, when Japan didn’t submit Ran, or in 2002 when Spain didn’t submit Talk to Her). The third was what to do about films that were made with the cast and crew and sometimes money being split among countries and so the Academy doesn’t let anyone claim it (like Europa, Europa in 1991 or Red in 1994). The fourth is the committee that decides what films actually make it past the initial submission (last year neither Persepolis or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the two best foreign films of the year made it even to the semis).  That last one is less of a problem now, because thanks to the 2007 debacle, the committee only gets to decide some of the semi-finalists with a different group deciding the others.  As both White Ribbon and The Prophet, the two biggest contenders, didn’t get passed over.

This is one of the few areas in which critics and even the Golden Globes have it all over the Academy. They simply put forth the best film not made in English, no matter when it was originally released, no matter how many might come from one country, no matter what the host country thinks. While I’m presenting the actual Academy nominations, my personal nominations are done on the theory that the best films should have been nominated. I have tried the best I can to make sure I present films in the same year in which they would have been eligible for the Oscar, had they been put forth and the Academy had the brains to nominate them.

It would be ridiculous to do this list and not mention the amazing films that came before the establishment of the award, first those that came before the Oscars (Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Nosferatu, Metropolis, Battleship Potemkin), those that came before the special awards (M, Vampyr, Grand Illusion, Rules of the Game, Children of Paradise, La Belle et la Bette) and those from the time of the special awards, before there were 5 nominees (Bicycle Thief, Stray Dog, Rashomon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Smiles of a Summer Night).

France has been by far the most successful at getting nominated (39, including this year, including a stretch of 13 in 15 years from 1966 to 1980), followed by Italy (28, including 1974-1979, at six straight years, the longest streak of any country), Spain (19), Germany (18), Japan and Sweden (15 each). Aside from the two counties that have won in their only nomination (Bosnia and The Ivory Coast), the most successful at winning has been Switzerland (2 for 4), The Netherlands (3 for 7) and Italy (11 for 28), with France (12 wins) and Italy having the most wins. Israel and Poland have had the worst luck (0 for 8), but that could very well change for Israel this year. Japan has three wins but they all date from the era where it was a special and not a competitive award (Kurosawa’s second win – for Dersu Uzala was submitted by Russia), and in fact this year’s nomination is only its second since 1981.  Of course, the last two sentences were made somewhat meaningless by the fact that Departures ended up beating Waltz with Bashir, once again proving this is the category that is the hardest to guess. Germany is on the current hot streak with 6 nominations in 8 years (including this year) and 2 wins during that stretch (and is probably the favorite this year in spite of the difficulty at guessing this category).

Grades: Winners: B- Nominees: C (This is the hardest category to grade. It’s by far the category I’ve seen the fewest percentage of nominees (72.06% 88.81%) and the hardest to find the nominees on video. Some of these films never received a theatrical release in this country and have never been released on video. The only two Oscar winners (in any category) since the 50’s that I haven’t seen are Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and Volver a Empezar, because they’re just about impossible to find. (I did manage to see both in the last year, but it hasn’t been easy tracking these down). This category accounts for every Oscar nominated film I haven’t seen since 1980 1976 and well over half since 1970 1959. It’s just a pain in the ass.) Two of the most inexplicable winners are No Man’s Land and The Lives of Others. They are both very worthy films, but they won over better films that were loved, actually seen by a lot of Americans and that got a lot of other nominations (Amelie and Pan’s Labyrinth).

The rules are also slightly different on this one. I am skipping the Honor Roll entirely because most films are only nominated for this award. Also, because most films are only nominated for Foreign Film, the ones in purple are the ones that actually received other nominations, although because of the tricky rules about when Foreign films are eligible, they are often nominated in the other categories in a different year than when they are nominated for Foreign Film (best Picture nominees are still red, but there is no blue because no Foreign Film has yet won Best Picture). And for the Shame Roll, I am only including the films that absolutely should have been nominated that were actually submitted to the Academy and ignored.

There are lists of the films that were submitted that are too long to include here. I usually avoid Wikipedia as a source, but the information here seems to be backed up by Inside Oscar.

Shame Roll: The Seventh Seal, The Magician, The World of Apu, Persona, Wings of Desire, White, Red, Princess Mononoke, City of God, 8 Women, House of Flying Daggers, Volver, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Persepolis

1948 AA: Monsieur Vincent

1949 AA: The Bicycle Thief
1950 AA: Walls of Malapaga
1951 AA: Rashomon
1952 AA: Forbidden Games
1954 AA: Gate of Hell
1955 AA: Samurai I
1956 AA: La Strada, Gervaise, Harp of Burma, Qivitoq, Captain of Kopenick

  • me: La Strada, Harp of Burma, Death in the Garden

1957 AA: Nights of Cabiria, Gates of Paris, Devil Came at Night, Mother India, Nine Lives

  • me: Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Throne of Blood, Cranes are Flying, Nights of Cabiria (the single best year for foreign films or films at all)

1958 AA: Mon Oncle, Arms and the Man, La Venganzana, The Road a Year Long, Big Deal on Madonna Street

  • me: Hidden Fortress, Elevator to the Gallows, Magician, Ivan the Terrible Part II, Mon Oncle

1959 AA: Black Orpheus, The Bridge, The Great War, The Village on the River, Paw

  • me: 400 Blows, World of Apu, The Bridge, Floating Weeds, Black Orpheus

1960 AA: The Virgin Spring, Kapo, La Verite, Macario, The Ninth Circle

  • me: The Virgin Spring, The Bad Sleep Well, Shoot the Piano Player, La Dolce Vita, L’Aventurra

1961 AA: Through a Glass Darkly, Harry and the Butler, Immortal Love, Important Man, Placido

  • me: Through a Glass Darkly, Yojimbo, Viridiana, Divorce Italian Style

1962 AA: Sundays and Cybele, Electra, Four Days of Naples, Tlayucan, Keeper of Promises

  • me: Harakiri, Ivan’s Childhood, Jules and Jim, Sundays and Cybele, Exterminating Angel

1963 AA: 8 1/2, Knife in the Water, Los Tarantos, The Red Lanterns, Twin Sisters of Kyoto

  • me: High and Low, Winter Light, Knife in the Water, 8 1/2, The Leopard

1964 AA: Yesterday Today and Tomorrow, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Woman in the Dunes, Sallah, Raven’s End

  • me: Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Hamlet, That Man from Rio

1965 AA: Shop on Main Street, Dear John, Kwaidan, Blood on the Land, Marriage Italian Style

  • me: Red Beard, Simon of the Desert, Kwaidan, Shop on Main Street, Le Bonheur, Viva Maria

1966 AA: A Man and a Woman, Battle of Algiers, Pharoah, Loves of a Blonde, Three

  • me: Persona, Battle of Algiers, La Guerre Est Finie, Hunger, Loves of a Blonde

note:  The Academy gave Best Foreign Film to The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly, yet did not nominate The Seventh Seal or Persona, even though they were submitted.

1967 AA: Closely Watched Trains, El Amor Brujo, Portrait of Chicko, Live for Life, I Even Met Happy Gypsies

  • me: Belle de Jour, Closely Watched Trains, Two of Us, Playtime, Elvira Madigan

1968 AA: War and Peace, Stolen Kisses, Fireman’s Ball, Boys of Paul Street, Girl with the Pistol

  • me: Stolen Kisses, Shame, War and Peace, Hour of the Wolf, Fireman’s Ball

1969 AA: Z, My Night with Maud, Brothers Karamazov, Adalen 31, Battle of Nerciva

  • me: Z, Army of Shadows, Mississippi Mermaid, Milky Way, The Passion of Anna

1970 AA: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Tristana, First Love, Hoa-Binh, Paix Sur Les Champs

  • me: no film worthy Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

1971 AA: Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Tchaikovsky, Dodes Ka-Den, The Emigrants (nominated for Best Picture in 1972), Policeman

  • me: King Lear, Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Emigrants, Murmur of the Heart, Dodes Ka-Den

note:  In spite of Rashomon winning a Special Award in 1951, it took until 1971 for Japan to submit a Kurosawa film.  Kurosawa had five films submitted over the years and earned 3 nominations and 1 Oscar.  The Oscar was for Dersu Uzala, submitted by the Soviet Union.

1972 AA: Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, I Love You Rosa, New Land, Dearest Senorita, Dawns Here are Quiet

  • me: Cries and Whispers, Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Solyaris, I Love You Rosa, State of Siege

note:  In the 1970’s Ingmar Bergman would earn Oscar nominations for Cries and Whispers, Face to Face and Autumn Sonata, but none of them in the Foreign Film category because Sweden did not submit any of his films between Persona and Fanny and Alexander.  All of Sweden’s Foreign Film Oscars are from Bergman films.

1973 AA: Day for Night, Turkish Delight, Pedestrian, L’Invitation, House of Chelouche Street

  • me: Aguirre the Wrath of God, Scenes from a Marriage, Day for Night, Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Spirit of the Beehive, Bread and Chocolate

1974 AA: Amarcord, Lacombe Lucien, Cats Play, Deluge, Truce

  • me: Amarcord, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Phantom of Liberty, And Now My Love

note:  Over the years, Italy submitted seven Fellini films.  Three of them were not nominated.  The other four all won the Oscar.

1975 AA: Dersu Uzala, Scent of a Woman, Land of Promise, Letters from Marusia, Sandukan No 8

  • me: Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, Dersu Uzala, Story of Adele H

1976 AA: Black and White in Color, Seven Beauties, Cousin Cousine, Jacob the Liar, Nights and Days

  • me: Face to Face, Seven Beauties, Jacob the Liar, Black and White in Color, Cousin Cousine

note:  This is the only year in which I agree with four of the nominees.  I have never agreed on all five.

1977 AA: Madame Rosa, That Obscure Object of Desire, A Special Day, Operation Thunderbolt, Iphigenia

  • me: That Obscure Object of Desire, The Ascent, Soldier of Orange

1978 AA: Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, Glass Cell, Hungarians, Viva Italia, White Bim Black Ear

  • me: Autumn Sonata, The Chess Players, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, La Cage Aux Folles

1979 AA: Tin Drum, Maids of Wilko, To Forget Venice, A Simple Story, Mama Turns a Hundred

  • me: Love on the Run, Marriage of Maria Braun, Nosferatu, Woyzeck

1980 AA: Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, Kagemusha, Last Metro, Confidence, Nest

  • me: Kagemusha, Last Metro, Mon Oncle d’Amerique

1981 AA: Mephisto, Boat is Full, Man of Iron, Muddy River, Three Brothers

  • me: Das Boot, Three Brothers, Pixote, Mephisto, Boat is Full

1982 AA: Volver a Empezar, Coup de Torchon, Alsino and the Condor, Flight of the Eagle, Private Life

  • me: Fitzcarraldo, Return of Martin Guerre, Coup de Torchon

1983 AA: Fanny and Alexander, Carmen, Entre Nous, Job’s Revolt, Le Bal

  • me: Fanny and Alexander, Danton, El Norte

1984 AA: Dangerous Moves, Camila, Double Feature, Beyond the Walls, War-Time Romance

  • me: Dangerous Moves, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, After the Rehearsal, A Sunday in the Country, Beyond the Walls

1985 AA: Official Story, Colonel Redl, Angry Harvest, 3 Men and a Cradle, When Father Was Away on Business

  • me: Ran, My Life as a Dog, Official Story, Colonel Redl, Vagabond

note:  The Academy responded to Ran not being submitted by nominating it for Best Director.  The same thing would happen when Spain chose not submit Talk to Her in 2002.

1986 AA: Assault, Decline of the American Empire, Betty Blue, My Sweet Little Village, 38

  • me: Manon of the Spring, Jean de Florette, Castle in the Sky, Decline of the American Empire, The Sacrifice

1987 AA: Babette’s Feast, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Pathfinder, Family, Course Completed

  • me: Au Revoir Les Enfants, Wings of Desire, Pathfinder, Babette’s Feast

1988 AA: Pelle the Conqueror, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Salaam Bombay, Music Teacher, Hanussen

  • me: My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Hanussen, Red Sorghum, Salaam Bombay

1989 AA: Cinema Paradiso, Camille Claudel, Jesus of Montreal, Waltzing Registe, What Happened to Santiago

  • me: The Killer, Cinema Paradiso, Black Rain, Jesus of Montreal, Kiki’s Delivery Service

1990 AA: Journey of Hope, Cyrano de Bergerac, Ju Dou, Nasty Girl, Open Doors

  • me: Europa Europa, Dreams, May Fools, Ju Dou, Nasty Girl

1991 AA: Mediteranneo, Children of Nature, Elementary School, Raise the Red Lantern, Ox

  • me: Raise the Red Lantern, Lovers on the Bridge, Double Life of Veronique, Ox, Solo Con Tu Pareja

1992 AA: Indochine, Close to Eden, Place in the World, Daens, Schtonk

  • me: Hyenas, Hard Boiled, Like Water for Chocolate, Pushing Hands, Porco Rosso

1993 AA: Belle Epoque, Farewell My Concubine, Wedding Banquet, Scent of Green Papaya, Hedd Wyn

  • me: Blue, Scent of Green Papaya, Wedding Banquet, Heroic Trio, Madadayo

1994 AA: Burnt by the Sun, Eat Drink Man Woman, Farinelli, Stawberry and Chocolate, Before the Rain

  • me: Red, Il Postino, Mina Tannenbaum, White, Eat Drink Man Woman

note:  Blue was not submitted.  Red was rejected when submitted by Switzerland as not being a majority Swiss production.  White was submitted by Poland, but not nominated.  All in all, it made the Academy look very stupid.

1995 AA: Antonia’s Line, Star Maker, Dust of Life, All Things Fair, O Quatrillo

  • me: Les Miserables, Shanghai Triad, Antonia’s Line, City of Lost Children, Underground

1996 AA: Kolya, Ridicule, Prisoner of the Mountains, Other Side of Sunday, A Chef in Love

  • me: Ridicule, Ponette, Other Side of Sunday, La Promesse

1997 AA: Character, Beyond Silence, Thief, Secrets of the Heart, Four Days in September

  • me: Princess Mononoke, Insomnia, Abre Los Ojos, Men with Guns, Character

note:  Princess Mononoke is the only Miyazaki film submitted by Japan and it wasn’t nominated.

1998 AA: Life is Beautiful, Central Station, Children of Heaven, Grandfather, Tango

  • me: Ringu, Run Lola Run, Life is Beautiful, The Celebration, Sitcom

1999 AA: All About My Mother, Caravan, East-West, Solomon and Gaenar, Under the Sun

  • me: All About My Mother, Aimee and Jaguar, Three Seasons, Romance

2000 AA: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Amores Perros, Divided We Fall, Everybody Famous, Taste of Others

  • me: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Amores Perros, Princess and the Warrior, Widow of St Pierre, Faithless

2001 AA: No Man’s Land, Amelie, Elling, Lagaan, Son of the Bride

  • me: Spirited Away, Amelie, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Devil’s Backbone, Millennium Actress

note:  I have no words to describe the results of this year.  I still can’t believe Amelie didn’t win.

2002 AA: Nowhere in Africa, Hero, Crime of Father Amaro, Man Without a Past, Zus and Zo

  • me: City of God, Talk to Her, 8 Women, Hero, Nowhere in Africa

2003 AA: Barbarian Invasions, Twilight Samurai, Twin Sisters, Zelary, Evil

  • me: Barbarian Invasions, Saraband, Triplets of Belleville, Twin Sisters, Tokyo Godfathers

2004 AA: Mar Adentro, Downfall, Yesterday, Chorus, As It Is in Heaven

  • me: A Very Long Engagement, Downfall, House of Flying Daggers, Bad Education, Kung Fu Hustle

2005 AA: Tsotsi, Paradise Now, Sophie Scholl, Joyeux Noel, Don’t Tell

  • me: Sophie Scholl, Cache, Joyeux Noel, Tostsi, Innocent Voices

2006 AA: Lives of Others, Pan’s Labyrinth, Days of Glory, After the Wedding, Water

  • me: Pan’s Labyrinth, Volver, Lives of Others, Black Book, Paprika

2007 AA: Counterfeiters, Mongol, Katyn, Beaufort, 12

  • me: Persepolis, Lust Caution, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Orphanage

note:  This is the year that shows the stunningly bad judgment of the Academy.  Of the nominees, only Mongol is even close to being worthy of a nomination.  Yet, Persepolis, 4 Months and Orphanage didn’t even make the semi-finalists list.  And the fact that France was forced to choose between Persepolis (which ended up with an Animated Film nomination) and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which ended up with nominations for Director and Adapted Screenplay) shows how stupid the system is.

2008 AA: Departures, Waltz with Bashir, The Baader Minhof Complex, The Class, Revanche

  • me: I haven’t seen any foreign films from 2008 yet   I’ve Loved You So Long, Let the Right One In, A Christmas Tale, Waltz with Bashir, Gomorrah

note:  I haven’t seen Revanche yet because it doesn’t come out on DVD until Tuesday.

2009 AA:  The White Ribbon, A Prophet, The Milk of Sorrow, Ajami, El secreto de sus ojos

  • me:  I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve seen more of the Foreign films from this past year.  But my winner will likely be either The White Ribbon or Sin Nombre.

My Final Tally:

  • Ingmar Bergman: 17 nominations, 8 wins (+1 early film worthy of a win)
  • Akira Kurosawa: 12 nominations, 5 wins (+5 early films worthy of wins)
  • Luis Bunuel: 9 nominations, 2 wins (+3 early films worthy of nominations)
  • Francois Truffaut: 9 nominations, 3 win
  • Hayao Miyazaki: 7 nominations, 3 wins
  • Zhang Yimou: 6 nominations, 1 win
  • Werner Herzog: 5 nominations, 3 wins
  • Federico Fellini: 5 nominations, 2 wins (the Academy gave him 4 wins)
  • Ang Lee: 5 nominations, 2 wins
  • Pedro Almodovar: 5 nominations, 1 win
  • Louis Malle: 5 nominations, 1 win