The academy’s deadline for foreign-language film submissions is Tuesday, Oct. 1, and though this is a category that has often stymied common sense and gone against the critical consensus, it’s safe to say that Sony Pictures Classics has an excellent chance at moving its Oscar winning streak here to five years running.
The indie division has two of the year’s strongest contenders -- Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past” (Iran’s submission) and the festival crowd-pleaser “Wadjda,” the first-ever Oscar submission from Saudi Arabia.
Farhadi’s last movie, the critically acclaimed drama “A Separation,” won the foreign-language film Oscar in 2012. “The Past” premiered at Cannes in May, winning similar praise for its complex look at family dynamics. Berenice Bejo, a supporting actress Oscar nominee for “The Artist,” stars in the film, playing a hopeless romantic finalizing a divorce after a four-year separation from her husband.
Though the lead actress field is crowded this year with past Oscar winners (Sandra Bullock, Emma Thompson and Meryl Streep, among them), Bejo will likely receive a fair amount of run too, which will, by turn, increase the movie’s profile around its Dec. 20 release date.
“Wadjda,” which opened last month, hasn’t been lacking media attention, either, owing to the circumstances surrounding its production. It’s the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. It’s written and directed by a woman, Haifaa Mansour, in a nation where women aren’t allowed to drive, much less make a movie. (When shooting street scenes for the film, Mansour had to work from the back of a van, watching from a monitor, so she wouldn’t be seen publicly giving directions to men.)
As for the movie itself, “Wadjda” has won praise for its affecting portrait of a smart, stubborn 10-year-old girl who wants her own bicycle in a culture that frowns upon that kind of thing. Audiences have responded as well as critics. The movie has grossed nearly $250,000 in just a handful of theaters.
Among the submissions that could end Sony Pictures Classics’ four-year streak (working backward, “Amour,” “A Separation,” “In a Better World,” “The Secret in Their Eyes” are the recent Oscar-winners) are Thomas Vinterberg’s knotty Danish drama “The Hunt” and the Canadian crowd-pleaser “Gabrielle,” which focuses on two disabled people finding love at choir practice.
Chile’s entry, “Gloria,” a portrait of a 58-year-old divorcee looking to rediscover her vitality, is also strong. The movie’s lead, Paulina Garcia, won best actress honors earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival.
Other strong possibilities include “The Rocket” (Australia), Cannes’ 2013 Camera d’Or winner “Ilo Ilo” (Singapore), Yuval Adler’s prize-winning thriller “Bethlehem” (Israel) and the well-regarded political drama “Omar” (Palestine), which played at Cannes and Toronto this year.
Committees will again decide the nominees. But for the first time in the category’s history, the entire voting membership will decide the winner this year. As it did last year with the documentary, animated short and live action short categories, the academy will send voters DVD screeners of the five nominees, leaving it up to members to act responsibly and watch all the movies. The academy will also continue to screen the nominated films theatrically.