Tough decisions, close calls and quiet victories: why this year’s international Oscars race is an agent of chaos

This year’s 15-film shortlist for the Best International Picture Oscar was, by Academy standards, reasonably diverse. Four Asian films, two from the Americas, and one from Africa helped counter the branch’s traditional Eurocentric bias; Of the remaining European selections, for their part, three came from black filmmakers.

There was therefore some disappointment today that the final nominees were slightly less mixed, with Santiago Miter’s Argentinian entry “Argentina, 1985” the only exception in a field of European titles by white male directors. That the South Korean entry, Park Chan-wook’s critically adored romantic noir “Decision to Leave,” failed to make the cut was one of the biggest astonishments of the morning; that the three female-directed titles on the shortlist — BAFTA-nominated Marie Kreutzer’s “Corsage,” Alice Diop’s “Saint Omer” and Maryam Touzani’s “The Blue Caftan” — were also passed over was a further disappointment. .

This was the most competitive roster the category has ever seen, and it was always going to produce some of the nastiest cuts of the day. The five films that made it include some of the most celebrated festival hits of the year, including two kid-oriented narratives that go straight to the heart, often a surer path to Oscar glory than cooler, more cerebral works like ” decision to leave.”

Last May at Cannes, A24’s Belgian submission “Close” was declared an early favorite in the race by many industry insiders – Lukas Dhont’s harrowing tale of an intimate bond between two 13-year-old boys. cut short by sudden tragedy tends to leave audiences completely red. -Eye. “Close” appeared to be in danger of losing steam in the weeks leading up to the nominations, largely missing out on major critics’ awards, missing out on the Golden Globes and surprisingly missing out on a BAFTA nomination. Yet today’s nomination proves that Dhont’s combination of stylish aesthetics and hard-hitting emotional force has many fans at the Academy, even if the film, Belgium’s eighth nominee in the category’s history, seems a long shot to give him the country its first victory.

If “Close” had high expectations from the start, Ireland’s “The Quiet Girl,” true to its title, managed to sneak up on the crowd. Opening modestly but to rave reviews in Berlin last year, Colm Bairéad’s feature debut, about a shy, neglected country girl who flourishes in the care of grieving relatives, won over audiences at festival after festival. , and dealer Super (an offshoot of Neon) took advantage of the strong word of mouth in award voting circles. A strong performance at BAFTAs (where he also earned an Adapted Screenplay nomination) was the first clue to his popularity; his nomination here, his first for Ireland, caps a sterling year for the Emerald Isle in the Oscar race, from “The Banshees of Inisherin” to Paul Mescal.

Also having a good year at the Oscars? donkeys The Humble Mule plays a memorable role in two best picture nominees (“Banshees” and “Triangle of Sadness”), but lands the lead in Poland’s best picture nominee “EO,” a totally radical experiment from the veteran 84 years old. Jerzy Skolimowski, distributed by Janus Films and Sideshow, who did wonders with last year’s winner, “Drive My Car.”

Inspired by Robert Bresson’s 1966 classic “Au Hasard Balthasar,” this immersive and iridescent chronicle of a donkey’s journey across Europe through a variety of owners and abusers makes a devastating statement for animal rights, and it was a favorite of American critics, winning New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and National Society of Film Critics awards. Poland’s 13th nominee in this category, he’s probably too unconventional to transcend that unfortunate number, but the category is enlivened by his presence.

In another year, “Argentina, 1985” could have been the winner. Miter’s moving real-life courtroom drama for Prime Video centering on the country’s historic post-dictatorship Trial of the Boards has proven a consistent crowd-pleaser since its competition premiere in Venice. Bringing a touch of Aaron Sorkin to South American history, this Amazon Studios entry might be the most entertaining and accessible of the nominees, a factor that earned Argentina’s “The Secret in Their Eyes” an Oscar in 2010, beating out some hard. competition for the Golden Globes.

But there it was up against a best picture nominee with a whopping nine nominations in total. In the fall, the German Netflix campaign “All Quiet on the Western Front” got off to a relatively low-key start. Critics didn’t bother to defend Edward Berger’s technically dazzling adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s World War I novel, and he didn’t have major festival hardware on his mantelpiece, but his industry peers stuck around. in awe of their craftsmanship and storytelling on an epic scale. , and constantly rose through the ranks. No film nominated in both the best film and best international feature categories has ever lost the latter award. And, if the story wasn’t on Berger’s side enough, the 1930 American version of “All Quiet” won best picture at the time. Everyone loves a David vs. Goliath story, but few will bet against Germany picking up their fourth victory on March 12.

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