This year the Academy played it safe. The final five nominees ,in this often-controversial category, are those films that looked like front-runners early after their festival runs last year. After the well-deserved award given to Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation from Iran, or the striking nomination for Greece’s Dogtooth a few years back, the Oscars have returned to more comfortable ground. Some of the most shocking omissions in this edition include Germany’s well-received Barbara, Mexico’s Cannes winner After Lucia, or Australia’s Holocaust drama Lore.

Without a doubt the Palm d’Or winner from master director Michael Haneke, Amour, has been, still is, and will be the favorite, and almost irrevocable winner. The film has 4 other Academy Award nominations: Best Director, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Original Screenplay, and if that wasn’t enough, Best Picture of the Year. Some of them seem like a long shot; still, the Foreign Language Film award is basically in Haneke’s hands already. With so much praise, and being the only film, out of the five here, with multiple nominations, who else could win?

Just to inspire some doubt, lets take into account that films like Amelie and Pan’s Labyrinth  had multiple nominations and neither of them won the Best Foreign Language Oscar. On the other hand, and to Haneke’s favor, the key here is the Best Picture nomination. The only two other foreign language films to be nominated for Best Picture in recent memory are Life is Beautiful (Italy) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Taiwan), both went on to secure the Best Foreign Language Award in their respective years. In conclusion: Mr. Haneke, the Oscar is yours. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the nominees.
 

Amour (Austria)

Amour

Not much left to say, but that this masterfully directed story of love against the backdrop of decaying humanity, has won every award possible in the past year. With 5 Academy Awards nominations in total, this award will be its crowning jewel. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emamanuelle Riva delivered nuanced, and heartbreakingly raw performances as a couple facing the reality of aging, thus, revealing the truth about the purest form of love. Riva is nominated herself as Leading Actress, the oldest nominee ever in the category, and although not a frontrunner, don’t count her out of the race just yet.

Can it win? Yes it can, it will, and it must win. Really there is basically nothing that can even get close to being a probable upset. From 1 to 5, I rate Amour’s possibilities to win as a 4.9. I leave that one decimal as room for error just because at the Oscars you never know for sure.
 

A Royal Affair (Denmark)

royal-affair

At first sight this might appear like your typical costume drama, except that it’s in Danish, but it’s far from that. Starring Denmark’s superstar Mads Mikkelsen, this story of infidelity at the highest levels of the Scandinavian nation’s monarchy, is a lavish, yet very modern, and thought-provoking drama. Director Nikolaj Arcel consciously made a film that uses the imagery of a period piece, while also appealing to current audiences because of the realism in the performances. An unhappy queen forced into a loveless marriage, an attention-craving childish king, and a socially revolutionary doctor, all part of a love triangle that will unravel chaos throughout the kingdom. Nothing too far off from what the Academy loves, but really a great example of a fresh take on a defining historical event in the European nation.

Can it win? No, but this is the same fate this year for all of the other nominees in this category. Its chances are 0.5 out 5, close to zero, but then again a film like Departures (Japan, came out of nowhere and won. Therefore, let’s not play with absolutes. It is still a great showcase of great production design, costumes, music, cinematography, and performances, a great film overall.
 

Kon-Tiki (Norway)

kon-tiki

This is the 5th nomination for Norway in Oscar history, and its first since 2001. The country has never won the Award, and in a different year, this would have been a great possibility. The most expensive film ever made in the Nordic nation follows the story of Norwegian national hero Thor Heyerdahl, an ethnographer whose voyage through the Pacific tried to prove the connection between South American and Polynesian civilizations. The film is visually astonishing, packed with amazing special effects, and highly entertaining, a blockbuster of a foreign film. Directing duo Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg made a record setting film in their nation, and a great homage to the iconic man, unfortunately Oscar glory will most certainly be elusive.

Can it win? No, but if marketed well, it can become a profitable film. The directors filmed a shot-by-shot English version of it, which probably will help it reach a bigger audience. From 1 to 5, I would have to say 0.5 once again. A great adventure film in any case. There are cool sharks, funny moments, and an uplifting story, definitely worth watching.
 

NO (Chile)

NO

Pablo Larrain’s feature marks Chile’s first ever Academy Award nomination, and undoubtedly a great pick it was. Starring Mexican movie star Gael Garcia Bernal, this amazing film, shot with an 80’s style U-matic camera, focuses on Rene Saavedra, an advertisement executive who is recruited to create a campaign to win a plebiscite against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.  Funny, stylish, devotedly true to details, and poignant in its message, this is a unique cinematic work. My personal favorite, of which you will be able to read more in an upcoming review, and interviews with the director and star, is probably the only even remotely distant threat to Haneke’s triumph. A front-runner early in the race, Larrain’s film is at the very least, a game-changing film in Chilean history. Truly commendable.

Can it win? No; however, like I said, some outlets consider this the only possible spoiler in this almost non-existent race. For what is worth, let’s hope the nomination boosts its appeal with audiences, and that this translates into greater exposure. Its possibilities feel like a 1 out of 5, a tiny bit higher than the others because of what mentioned earlier.
 

War Witch (Canada)

war witch

This Canadian-made film about a child soldier in the Congo is probably the most daring choice on the list. Director Kin Nguyen’s story follows Komona, a young girl who is narrating her horrifying story as a testimony for her unborn child. Needless to say, it is a heart-wrenching film that exploits the brutality of African warfare in a poetic, and metaphorical manner. The lead actress, Rachel Mwanza, has gained critical acclaim in several festivals around the globe thanks to her brilliant portrayal. The film is uncompromising, explicit, but it manages to shine a kind of tenderness on its characters, children born in an unmerciful world, but who are still just kids. A hard sale as a winner this year, but not completely out of place since stories of children’s struggle in third world countries are often welcomed by the Academy: e.g. In a Better World, Tsotsi, Buzkashi Boys, Asad

Can it win? No, this is probably the least probable winner (if that makes any sense since they are all improbable as they face Amour) because of the harshness of the subject. War Witch will surely touch many viewers, and will received lots of positive reactions from critics for its audacious depiction of esoteric imagery weaved in with war. Having said this, its chances are obviously 0.5 out of 5.
 

Who will win? Well, by now this should be a no-brainer. This will most likely be an easy point in your poll if you pick Haneke’s Amour. If you really want to be a hipster and test your luck, then bet on NO at your own risk, or on any of the other three films for that matter. Finally, I’d just like to say that after having watched all of these five films, I can honestly say they are all amazing works of storytelling, check them out even if you know they wont win.

 
Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 8: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 9: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards

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