On March 15 2021, the Oscar nominations will be announced and we will discover the five international films in contention this year. But we already know that they will come from this list of fifteen films, which have advanced to the next round of voting in the International Feature Film category for the 93rd Academy Awards.
Films from 93 countries were eligible in the category.
The films, listed in alphabetical order by country, are:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Quo Vadis, Aida?
Chile, The Mole Agent
Czech Republic, Charlatan
Denmark, Another Round
France, Two of Us
Guatemala, La Llorona
Hong Kong, Better Days
Iran, Sun Children
Ivory Coast, Night of the Kings
Mexico, I’m No Longer Here
Russia, Dear Comrades!
Taiwan, A Sun
Tunisia, The Man Who Sold His Skin
I have seen 10 of the films from this list of 15 and want to take you through my opinions of them, plus what I think their chances are of being nominated/winning. 4 out of the 10 I’ve seen are directed by women, so things are moving in the right direction in the international films, at least.
Sorry to these films: Better Days, Sun Children and The Man Who Sold his Skin – which I did not have time to see. If you’ve seen any of these, let us know your verdict in the comments below!
A further two I won’t be covering here, but we have full reviews of them elsewhere on the site – France’s Two of Us (click here for full review) and Russia’s Dear Comrades! (click here for full review)
10. The Mole Agent, Chile (directed by Maite Alberdi) – available on Hulu (US)
One of two documentaries on the list, my issues with this one are really about the dubious ways in which the documentary is made and the levels of construction and artifice involved. Therefore, I will go into this in more detail in my piece on the Documentary Features. It’s quite frustrating that two films are on both lists because those spaces could have been taken by any number of deserving films.
Oscar chances: I think this is unlikely to be one of the five nominated and I’m OK with that!
9. A Sun, Taiwan (directed by Chung Mong-Hong) – available on Netflix
A little-seen 2.5 hour film nestling on Netflix that is more effective as a family drama and less effective in its prison and gang set scenes. A family with one seemingly ‘perfect’ son and one ‘black sheep,’ who is sent to prison after an incident involving a machete and a hand in soup. While he is in prison, a girl shows up at the family’s door who is pregnant with his child. Perhaps my favourite aspect was the relationship that develops between the mother of the family and the pregnant girl. And Samantha Shu-Chin Ko, as the mother, gives probably my favourite performance of the film. The father is a prideful driving instructor, who disowns his jailed son, but when he comes out of prison, their relationship slowly starts to rebuild, in surprising ways. A very long film that is worth watching but I didn’t love it as much as some.
Oscar chances: I’d be pleasantly surprised if this makes it into the final 5. Hopefully after Parasite‘s dominance last year, the Academy is looking beyond Europe for the international films it chooses to uplift.
8. Another Round, Denmark (directed by Thomas Vinterberg) – available on VOD
You might be surprised to find this so low on my list, but the rest are more exciting, in my opinion! Another Round is enjoyable and I will admit to some level of relatability, as someone who was a Secondary School teacher in the UK for ten years. Mads Mikkelsen gives a great central performance, of course. For more – check out Chris Connor’s FULL REVIEW.
Oscar chances: This is a shoe-in, not just in the nominations, but a near-certain win. The presence of big star Mads Mikkelsen certainly helps with that.
7. Quo Vadis, Aida?, Bosnia and Herzegovina (directed by Jasmila Zbanic)
The siege of Sarajevo was a significant news event of my teen years and I remember it dominated the nightly news for a very long time. In the years since, there has not been very much film or TV that has tackled this dark time, so it’s good to see one come out now. The film focuses on a translator, in a sublime central performance by Jasna Duricic, who is torn between trying to do her job while also worrying about her husband and two teenage sons. It was quite hard to watch, as someone with a husband and two sons! For more – check out Zita Short’s FULL REVIEW.
Oscar chances: I think this is more likely to make the final 5 than Charlatan or Hope, but I still don’t think it will make it.
6. Hope, Norway (directed by Maria Sodahl)
Surprisingly, this film also features quite a famous international star – Stellan Skarsgard – but has had nowhere near the same attention as Another Round. Andrea Braein Hovig plays a woman who finds out that her lung cancer has spread to her brain, just before Christmas. She has three children, three step-children and an elderly father to worry about, but the film really focuses on her relationship. It certainly makes you aware of all the things that go unsaid…until it’s too late.
Oscar chances: Pretty much zero, unfortunately.
5. La Llorona, Guatemala (directed by Jayro Bustamante) – available on Shudder
I’m always going to support genre films, especially horror, getting attention from the Academy and again, with Parasite‘s win, this is hopefully something set to continue. La Llorona is a haunting tale in the mystic-realist tradition of Central and South America that combines political atrocities with religion and the supernatural. Other brilliant recent films that are within this sub-genre include Tigers are not Afraid, Atlantics and His House. There are some stunning images in La Llorona that stick in the mind long after watching.
Oscar chances: I think this has a good chance of being nominated, as it’s done well with critics’ groups.
4. Night of the Kings, Ivory Coast (directed by Philippe Lacote)
Night of the Kings is a film about the power of story-telling, in this case, within the complex hierarchies of a lawless prison. Again, there is some stunning imagery, a haunting score and compelling performances. I cannot really do it justice within a few brief words here, so will point you to Peyton Robinson’s FULL REVIEW.
Oscar chances: I think this has a good chance of being nominated, as it was well-reviewed during its festival run (TIFF, NYFF etc)
3. I’m No Longer Here, Mexico (directed by Fernando Frias) – available on Netflix
Set in the jaw-dropping city of Monterrey, Mexico, which is surrounded by mountains, I’m No Longer Here focuses on the culture of ‘cumbia’ – which has its own distinct style of music, dance and fashion – including a very specific haircut. A teenager becomes unwittingly embroiled with a gang and must flee across the border, where he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a 16 year old Asian-American girl, despite not being able to speak English (and her not being able to speak Spanish). The cinematography and directorial flourishes set this apart, as does the acting. It feels like a unique insight into a niche culture and that’s what the international films should do – open us up to a world that we were probably unaware of before.
Oscar chances: I don’t think they’re very high, unfortunately. Despite this being available to millions of viewers on Netflix, I’ve seen hardly anyone talking about it.
2. Collective, Romania (directed by Alexander Nanau) – available on VOD
The second documentary on the list, but a brilliant example of one this time. The first half is a investigative journalism drama in the vein of All the President’s Men, Zodiac or Spotlight and the second half is a fascinating insight into a corrupt political system, from the viewpoint of a new, young, idealistic health minister. The level of access is extraordinary, considering the shocking events that are the subject of the investigation – the needless deaths of infection in mismanaged hospitals after a tragic nightclub fire. Utterly riveting.
Oscar chances: Collective has a good chance of appearing in both the International and Documentary Feature nominations, which is frustrating, because I hope it’s only one!
Charlatan, Czech Republic (directed by Agnieszka Holland)
Agnieszka Holland is best known for her 1993 adaptation of The Secret Garden. She has recently had a prolific period, with 2019’s Mr Jones, her 2017 film Spoor finally being released on VOD in January of this year and now Charlatan. Believe me, I wasn’t expecting a film about, well, pee, to be as captivating as this turned out to be. It’s extremely well directed, with much better cinematography than you would normally find in a historical biopic of this nature. The production design is also incredible, as is the central performance.
Oscar chances: Very low, regrettably, although Holland’s name might count for something.
So, my predictions for the Final Five are: Another Round, Night of the Kings, La Llorona, The Two of Us and Collective.