The Best Foreign Language Film was changed after Alfonso Cuarón won Mexico’s first trophy in 2018 for Roma and used the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of the categories name. The following year, South Korea and Parasite won the inaugural Best International Feature and also made history as the first film entirely in a language other than English to win Best Picture. The Best International Feature category winner is announced by Country. All of the countries nominated this year have a chance at their own piece of history— that’s right we have an international incident coming to the Oscars.
From 1947-1955, Best International Feature was an Honorary Award with only films from Italy, France, and Japan being singled out. The first country to competitively was Italy for Federico Fellini’s La Strada. For a period in the 90s the category became overwrought with films about the Holocaust predictably winning. Since the Oscars have become more international it’s not as rare as it used to be to see these films receive nominations in other categories. In the country race for wins the leaderboard stands: first place Italy with 14; second place France with 12 and currently tied for third with four wins are Spain, Japan and Denmark.
The Oscars recently announced this year’s nominees for Best International Feature: Bhutan- Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom; Denmark- Flee; Italy- The Hand of God; Japan – Drive My Car and Norway- The Worst Person in the World. This is Bhutan’s first nomination they’re unlikely to win but they’ve already made history. For the other four countries left things get a little more intense.
No country has more wins in this category than Italy with a whopping 14 wins of which only three were honorary. They can thank the Fellini for four of their wins: La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957), 8½ (1963) and Amarcord (1973) more than any other director. In the 90s Italy racked up two wins for The Postman (Il Postino) (1995) and Life Is Beautiful (1998) both receiving Best Picture nominations. Its last win was in 2013 for The Great Beauty. Should The Hand of God win it would add distance between France (currently in second with 12 wins) and the trio of countries tied for third. But, The Hand of God is only nominated for Best International Feature while some of its competitors scored nominations in other categories. It’s likely that Italy will remain at 14 wins this year.
Last year’s winner Denmark (Another Round) is back in competition this time around for Flee. Denmark’s first nomination came in 1956 for Qivitoq but they wouldn’t win the category until 1987 for Babette’s Feast and they followed that with wins for Pelle the Conqueror (1988); In a Better World (2010). But like Italy this is the film’s only nomination so it’s unlikely to win.
Next up is Norway and The Worst Person in the World. Norway, unlike most of the countries in Europe including the USSR or Russia is still looking for its first win. Norway has received six previous nominations with the first in 1957 for Nine Lives and most recently in 2012 for Kon-Tiki. The Worst Person in the World not only received a Best International Feature nomination but also a Best Original Screenplay nomination (Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier). Unfortunately for the Norwegians this isn’t their year and they will likely wind up tied for second place with Belgium for the most nominations without a win—seven.
Then there is the frontrunner Drive My Car from Japan. Japan’s tally of four awards only includes one competitive win for Departures in 2008 out of 17 nominations. Drive My Car received four nominations: Best Picture, Best International Feature, Best Director (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe). Its inclusion in the Best Picture category makes this almost a sure thing as no Best International Film that has also received a Best Picture nomination has lost. Should Japan win this will bring their win total to five moving them into third place by themselves. One has to ask if that is fair to both Spain and Denmark along with other countries who never received an honorary win. But this is still a big moment for Japan as they’re the last country to be singled out for an honorary win to have a film in the top category—Best Picture. Albeit both France and Italy made it into Best Picture when there were only five nominees.