Here Are the International Feature Film Oscar Contenders Most Likely to Land Nominations

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Anne Thompson
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Academy voters must turn in their nomination ballots by today at 5 p.m. PT. When they do, they will be participating in a process for the nomination of Best International Feature Film. For the first time in history, anyone from any branch, anywhere, can vote in that category — if they’ve watched all 15 shortlisted international feature films.

They have the unenviable task of picking their top five films out of one of the most extraordinary selections in recent memory. In this pandemic year, the small and often feted Los Angeles committee did not hold sway, although those regulars still form the core of the expanded voting pool.

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All 15 films have their fans and detractors. While it’s tough to gauge reactions from across potential voters around the world, here’s a stab at the 10 most robust contenders, ranked in order of their likelihood to land a nomination on March 15.

1. “Quo Vadis, Aida?” (Jasmila Žbanić, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Neon)

Country: Bosnia has submitted 20 films for foreign-language Oscar consideration. Danis Tanović’s “No Man’s Land” won at the 74th Academy Awards. Three other Tanović films have been submitted by Bosnia.

Awards: International wins at the Göteborg and Jerusalem Film Festivals, audience awards at the Rotterdam and Les Arcs European FIlm Festivals, and Directing and Film Not in the English Language nominations from BAFTA, and a Best International Film nomination for the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards.

Release: After playing Venice and Toronto and the international festival circuit, as well as an online overseas release, Neon will open “Quo Vadis, Aida?” in the U.S. on March 15, 2021.

This harrowing masterwork from top Bosnian director Žbanić (“Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams”) revisits a horrific period in her country’s history that has been long buried, as women still search for over a thousand missing men murdered by the Serbian army in Srebrenica on July 11, 1995. The historic drama focuses on a Bosnian U.N. translator (courageous Serbian actress Jasna Djuricic) who fiercely tries to protect her family as the Serbs ramp up for the mass execution. Over the years, Sarajevo-based Žbanić, who is 46, had hoped someone else would tackle the subject, but when no one did, she took it on. While the Serbian majority is still controlling the narrative of the past, this film broke out on the internet and has shown many people in the country what really happened, revealing a lauded Serbian general “war hero” as a brutal murderer.

2. “Another Round” (Thomas Vinterberg)

Country: Denmark, with twelve nominations and two wins, most recently, for Susanne Bier’s “In a Better World” (2010).

Awards: The Cannes, TIFF, and prize-winning San Sebastian selection swept the Danish Film Awards and European Film Awards and was nominated for Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and Cesar Awards, as well as four BAFTAs including Actor, Director, Original Screenplay and Film Not in the English Language.

Release: December 4, via Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Mads Mikkelsen reunites with his Oscar-nominated “The Hunt” director for this midlife crisis drama about a depressed high school teacher who joins his close chums in an experiment in heavy drinking in order to perk themselves up and find some joy. In 2019, Vinterberg struggled to make the film after the tragic loss of his 19-year-old daughter Ida in a car accident, who had planned to act in the film. The cast and crew, including writer Tobias Lindholm, supported him as he tried to forge on. As shooting came to an end, Vinterberg convinced ex-professional dancer Mikkelsen to dance again, on film, in a memorably exuberant final sequence.

Vinterberg, known for his dogme film “A Celebration,” assembled a quartet of veteran actors to help him and Lindholm flesh out the story in boot camp rehearsals, which did require research into the effects of alcohol. The actors made note of their findings and reported to the set sober with “a stable foundation before letting go before the camera,” said Vinterberg.

3. “Night of the Kings” (Dyula Philippe Lacôte)

Country: The Ivory Coast has submitted three films for the foreign-language Oscar including this one. The first, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Black and White In Color,” won the Oscar in 1976; the second wasn’t nominated.

Awards: Winner, Black Film Critics Circle Awards 2021 for Best Foreign Film; nominated for the foreign-language Independent Spirit Award.

Release: Neon released “Night of the Kings” in theaters and virtual cinemas on February 26, 2021, and on video on demand on March 5.

The director’s sophomore feature is a suspenseful drama inspired by the true story of a prisoner, always named Roman (French, “novel”) who is assigned to tell a story each night. Set in a fictional version of the country’s famous La MACA forest prison, the film uses performance, dance, poetic storytelling, and magic realism to spin its intense fairy tale. “Night of the Kings” features a sprawling cast of 40 young men — singers, dancers, and martial artists — found in countrywide auditions of over 2,000 people, as well as 300 extras, a quarter of them ex-prisoner/consultants, and frequent Lacôte shorts collaborator Denis Lavant. He plays a commentator on the action and advisor to the new inmate (Bakary Koné), whose gifts as a raconteur will make the difference between life and death. This movie takes you places that you’ve never been.

4. “I’m No Longer Here” (Fernando Frias)

Country: Mexico boasts nine Oscar nominations: five from Arturo Ripstein, two from A.G. Iñárritu (“Amores Perros” and “Biutiful”), one from Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), and one from Cuarón. His “Roma” was the first Mexican film to win the foreign-language Oscar.

Awards: Winner of 10 Ariel awards including Best Picture and Director; Mexico’s entry at Spain’s Goya Awards; winner of the Audience Award
for Best Feature Film and Feature Film Competition Award at the Morelia Film Festival; nominated for DGA award for first-time director.

Release: Netflix released the movie in 190 countries in May and June 2020.

Set in Monterrey, Mexico and New York City in 2011, Frías’ second film was developed in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. The colorful immigration drama stars a cast of non-pros lead by discovery Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño as Ulises, the charismatic head of a street gang of cheerful, music-loving cumbieros whose dance and party lifestyle is interrupted when they encounter a local cartel and the Mexican government’s war against drug trafficking. Ulises escapes to New York, where he struggles to hang onto his cultural identity. Netflix’s awards team coaxed powerful spokesmen Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón to champion the film.

5. “Dear Comrades!” (Andrei Konchalovsky)

Country: Russia, with seven nominations (including two for Konchalovsky) and one win since 1992, for Konchalovsky’s brother Nikita Mikhalkov’s “Burnt by the Sun” (1994).

Awards: Special Jury Prize, Venice Film Festival 2020; Best Director, Russia Golden Eagle Awards; Best Director, Chicago International Film Festival; nominated for BAFTA Film Award for Best Film Not in the English Language.

Release: Opened in Russia and other countries in November and December, and in virtual cinemas stateside on December 25 via Neon.

The 83-year-old director’s comeback drama is set during the 24 hours surrounding the violent crackdown on protesting workers in Novocherkassk in 1962. The riveting thriller takes the point-of-view of a party-line worker Lyudmila (Konchalovsky’s wife Julia Vysotskaya) who loses her teenage daughter during the fracas. After the long-hidden massacre came to light in the 1990s after 30 years of enforced silence, Konchalovsky looked for a story to tell. Inspired by directing such stage dramas as Sophocles’ “Antigone” with his wife in the title role, Konchalovsky wanted to conjure a film tragedy centered on a conflicted woman.

Inspired by the film “The Cranes Are Flying” to study film with Andrei Tarkovsky, after coming up in the Russian film industry and shooting seven features, Konchalovsky broke into Hollywood in the early 80s via Cannon Films’ “Maria’s Lovers,” starring Nastassja Kinski, which led to such breakouts as Kurosawa-scripted 1985 action thriller “Runaway Train,” which earned three Oscar nominations for Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, and editor Henry Richardson.

6. “The Mole Agent” (Maite Alberdi)

Country: Chile, with two Oscar nominations and one win, for Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” (2017).

Awards: San Sebastian Audience Award for Best European Film, Goya nominee for Best Iberoamerican Film; winner of the Cinema Eye Honors Award for Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score, Vincent van Warmerdam; nominated for Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary.

Release: Gravitas Ventures acquired the film at Sundance 2020 with a planned September 2020 release. The film was broadcast on POV on PBS in January, 2021.

This heart-tugging story about Sergio Chamy, an 83-year-old recent widower who is hired by a private investigator to infiltrate a nursing home to spy on its practices, is such a crowd-pleaser that some find it hard to believe it’s a documentary (like “Collective,” it’s shortlisted in both categories). The filmmaker had been crafting a documentary spy thriller, but immediately recognized, after the original spy broke his hip three weeks before shooting, that Chamy was the right applicant to hire, even if he might prove to be an inept operative. The filmmakers pretended to be making a film about the nursing home, and tracked new arrival Chamy along with other denizens. Chamy bonded with many of the lonely women left behind by their families, and after he left, maintained several close friendships.

7. “La Llorona” (Jayro Bustamante)

Country: Guatemala has submitted three titles, including Bustamante’s “Ixcanul” in 2015, and “La Llorona.” Guatemala has never been shortlisted for the Oscar before, and has never been nominated for the Oscar.

Awards: 2019 Venice Film Festival, Winner, the Fedeora Award for Best Film (Venice Days) and Winner GdA Director’s Award, 2019 Havana Film Festival, Winner for Best Sound, Eduardo Cáceres Staackmann, and Special Jury Prize for Best Film, Boston Society of Film Critics Awards 2020, Winner Best Foreign Language Film.

Release: Streaming on Shudder.

Writer-director Bustamante fashioned this allegorical horror movie, inspired by the supernatural folk tale, as a social commentary on a prototypical Latin American genocidal criminal. We see a wealthy family that has thrived on ill-gotten-gains, under assault from protesters outside as well as forces both inside their high-walled compound and their heads. While this is not typical Academy fare, the film’s goals are dead-serious. It was politically difficult to get the movie made — it was filmed under the protection of the French Embassy. On one Zoom panel, Bustamante was high in the mountains in Guatemala running a film boot camp for indigenous creators.

8. “Collective” (Alexander Nanau)

Country: Romania, with no nominations, made the foreign-language shortlist once (Cristian Mungiu’s 2012 “Beyond the Hills”).

Awards: European Film Award for European Documentary; Hamptons Film Festival’s Golden Starfish Award for Documentary Feature; National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Language Film; Zurich Film Festival’s Golden Eye for Best International Documentary Film; Cinema Eyes Honors for Best Non-Fiction Film, shortlisted for Best International Feature.

Release: The film opened in Romania on February 28, and played for two weeks until cinemas shuttered. After delayed release plans, Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media opened the movie in theaters and online November 20.

When this health system exposé first nabbed rave reviews at the Venice, Toronto and Sundance festivals, the Romanian documentarian (“Toto and Her Sisters”) had no idea that the film (funded by HBO-Europe) was a preview of many countries not prepared to cope with a raging virus. Nanau never interviews talking heads in his films; instead, he follows an unfolding story in real time. “Collective” tracks a team of sharp investigative journalists at sports daily Gazeta Sporturilor, who discover why 37 burn victims died after a destructive 2015 fire that killed 27 people and injured another 180 on October 30, 2015 at the Bucharest nightclub Colectiv. Crack reporter Catalin Tolontan stands up to the incompetent Romanian government and its health ministers by bringing incontrovertible proof of how they lied to the public, costing many lives. “Collective” shows the systemic corruption infecting the country.

9. “Charlatan” (Agnieszka Holland)

Country: Czech Republic, with three nominations and one win, for Jan Svěrák’s “Kolya” in 1996.

Awards: Nominated for Best European Director at the European Film Awards.

Release: August in the Czech Republic, followed stateside by Strand Releasing in spring, 2021.

The three-time Oscar-nominee (Adapted Screenplay for “Europa, Europa,” Polish submission “In Darkness,” and West German submission “Angry Harvest”), returns to the fray with this Berlinale Gala 2020 debut. Adapted by Marek Epstein from a true story, the layered biopic follows renowned Czech herbalist Jan Mikolásek (Czech star Ivan Trojan and his son Josef Trojan), whose herbal healing obsession took him through the interwar, Nazi, and Communist eras. After the death of his Stalinist protector, the maverick nonconformist Mikolásek was harassed and arrested. This charismatic enigma is driven to cure people, but is also cruel, sadistic, and in love — with his loyal assistant, František (Juraj Loj). Eventually, Mikolásek is put on trial.

10. “Hope” (Maria Sødahl)

Country: Norway, with five nominations and no wins.

Awards: Nominated for two European Film Awards for European Director and European Actress. Won Amanda Awards for Best Actress (Hovig) and Best Production Design (Jørgen Stangebye Larsen). Won the Berlin International Film Festival European Cinema Labels Award. Won the Kosmorama, Trondheim Internasjonale Filmfestival for Best Female Actress in a Leading Role (Hovig), Best Supporting Role (Gjertrud L. Jynge), Best Production Design.

Release: The movie opened in Norway in fall 2019 and hit streaming after the Berlinale during lockdown, skipping theater openings in many countries. KimStim releases the film stateside in Spring 2021.

Sødahl (“Limbo”) avoids the sentimental pitfalls of the cancer genre with this darkly funny family drama based on the director’s own experience fighting a cancer diagnosis with her partner. Two high-flying professional parents, theater director Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) and older film producer Tomas (Swedish star Stellan Skarsgård), have grown apart as they pursue their parallel lives. When Anja is hit with terminal cancer news, she must rely on Tomas, who comes through and asks her to marry him. The stakes are raised as family and friends power through the holidays and a wedding while the Anja battles for her life. Hovig tracked the powerful drugs her character was popping, which could send her toward mania or depression. And Sødahl relied on frequent Lars von Trier cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro to catch with a handheld camera the crucial moments in often chaotic group scenes.

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