Earlier this week, Bong Joon-ho's exceptional new film, Parasite, made Oscar history. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture. The latter category is an especially noteworthy distinction for the acclaimed film. There are only a few foreign-language movies that've earned Best Picture nominations.
Which movies have made the leap and earned Best Picture's affections, showing once and for all that the language of cinema is universal? Let's look at the Best Picture nominees that prove that cinema is a rich art-form appreciated by audiences everywhere — no matter what languages you speak.
Directed by Bong Joon Ho, Parasite is an expertly-crafted and engrossingly weaved tale of class warfare centered around an unemployed lower-class family who ingratiate themselves into the lives of a wealthy, but often aloof, upper-class household. The movie is easily among the best-reviewed films of the year, and it might very well be the best received movie of 2019. This week, it was revealed that it received six Oscar nominations, which include Best Production Design, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film (formally known as Best Foreign Language Film), Best Editing, Best Director and Best Picture. Naturally, it's too early to know whether-or-not it will win any of its Oscars, including Best Picture, but its chances are high.
Directed by four-time Oscar winner Alfonso Cuaron, Roma is an intimate, semi-autobiographical black-and-white period piece centered around a housekeeper in Mexico City in the early '70s who cares for a middle-class family. When it was nominated (and later won) for Best Foreign Language film, it became the first Mexican movie to win in this category. Roma also became the first time a director won Best Cinematography when Cuaron accepted this honor, and the movie later became the first foreign-language film to win Best Director. It was nominated for 10 Oscars altogether, also including, but not limited to, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and a few more. While Roma seemed to be on its way to winning Best Picture, in a surprise turn-of-events, the Spanish-language Netflix movie lost to Peter Farrelly's Green Book.
Directed by Michael Haneke, Amour is a touchingly reserved and emotionally devastating portrait of elderly love torn by illness, as a long-standing pair of romantic former music teachers face grave sadness when the wife suffers a stroke and continues to face a long series of deteriorating health problems. The French language film is certainly not an uplifting tale, as Hanaeke's movies never tend to be, but it's a beautiful one all-the-same, and it earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (who became the oldest nominee for the category this year), Best Foreign-Language Film (for which, naturally, it won), and Best Picture. Amour didn't totally steal the Academy's hearts as it lost to Ben Affleck's Argo.
Directed by four-time Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel is a somber, sprawling multi-narrative ensemble piece, and one that completes the filmmaker's "death trilogy," following 2000's excellent Oscar-nominated Amores Perros and the English-language 2003 movie, 21 Grams. The film, which features Arabic, Spanish, Japanese and more, portrays four interrelated storylines, told in non-linear fashion, which portray a series of tragic or life-altering events happening Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. Babel was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Editing, Best Original Screenplay, two Best Supporting Actress nominations, Best Original Score (for which it won), Best Director and Best Picture. Ultimately, much like Letters From Iwo Jima, which was another foreign-language movie nominated in the same field in 2007, Babel lost Best Picture to The Departed.
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
Directed by four-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima proved to be a fascinating, engaging, and deeply compelling companion piece to the director's previous film, Flags Of Our Fathers, which was released the same year. Showing the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers, where Flags of Our Fathers showed viewers the American side of the story, Letters From Iwo Jima is an American production that is told almost entirely in Japanese, resulting in a stark, poignant, and beautifully unexpected addition to Eastwood's filmography. While the movie underperformed at the box office, it became a critical success, and it earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Director, Best Sound Editing (for which it won), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. Like Babel, Clint Eastwood's Japanese war drama lost to Martin Scorsese's The Departed.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Directed by two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a phenomenal critical and commercial success around the world, securing over $200 million at the box office, which made it the highest-grossing foreign-language film produced overseas in American history. It also received 10 Academy Award nominations, including, but not limited to, Best Foreign Language Film (which the film won along with three other Oscars for Art Direction, Original Score and Cinematography), Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Picture. Based on the Chinese novel of the same name by Wang Dulu, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon tells the fantastical story of a Chinese warrior who steals a sword from a famed swordsman, then goes on an incredible adventure with a mysterious man. While certainly praised among critics, award-goers and general audiences alike, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ultimately didn't take home Best Picture at the Oscars in 2001. Instead, the Best Picture award was given to Ridley Scott's Gladiator.
Life Is Beautiful (1998)
Directed by Oscar-winner Roberto Benigini, Life Is Beautiful is a warm, empathetic and touching dramedy that lives up to the last word in its title. The Italian dramedy, which centers around a loving father-son bond between a Jewish bookstore owner who uses his heart and imagination to shelter his young son from the terrors of the Holocaust, takes what could've easily been a difficult subject matter and tells the story with sincerity and emotional richness. The result is a charmingly bittersweet movie that won the world over, notably when the film became one of the highest-grossing non-English language movies in box office history, and it received seven Oscar nominations. It won three trophies: Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Score, and Best Actor for Benigini, who also co-wrote and directed.. In the end, Life Is Beautiful lost the Best Picture Oscar to Shakespeare in Love.
Il Postino: The Postman (1995)
Directed by Michael Radford, Il Postino, known as The Postman in the United States, tells a simple-but-elegant fictional story of real-life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda forming a bond with a Procida postman, one who learns to love poetry. This quaint 1994 comedy-drama was developed from the novel Burning Patience by Antonio Skarmeta, the film was met with both tragedy and great fortune. Specifically, Il Postino's lead actor, Massimo Troisi, grew ill during production, and it only a mere day after The Postman completed filming that Troisi suffered a fatal heart attack and passed away. The movie was released posthumously, and his performance received great notice, including a posthumous Oscar nomination. The Italian-language film was also nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Original Score (for which it won) and Best Picture, but The Postman ultimately lost to Braveheart.
Cries And Whispers (1973)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman, Cries And Whispers is a Swedish-language period drama centered around a mansion in the late 19th century and it follows three sisters and a servant who find themselves struggling when one of the sisters faces terminal cancer. It is a somber, yet elegant, movie, and one that earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Costume Design, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography (for which it ultimately won), Best Director and Best Picture. Ultimately, though, Cries And Whispers lost the Best Picture award to George Roy Hill's crime movie, The Sting.
The Emigrants (1972)
Directed by Jan Troell, The Emigrants is a sprawling, engrossing tale of two poor Swedish people who emigrate to Minnesota in the 19th century. An adaptation of two novels from Vilhelm Moberg — one that shares the movie's title and the other named Unto A God's Land — and starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, The Emigrants was nominated for five Oscars, none of which the movie won, unfortunately. The nominations included Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress for Ullmann, Best Director, and Best Picture, where The Emigrants lost to Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather.
Directed by Oscar-winner Costa-Garvas, Z is a classic political thriller that serves as a thinly fictionalized account of the assassination of politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. The French-language film is based on the novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos, and it received no shortage of accolades, including five Oscar nominations. Z won the awards for Best Editing and Best Foreign-Language Film and the film was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. Ultimately, Z lost Best Picture to John Schlesinger's dramatic western, Midnight Cowboy.
Grand Illusion (1938)
Directed by Jean Renoir, Grand Illusion, which is also known as La Grande Illusion, is a compelling and devastating French-language war movie, one that centers around a small band of French officers who serve as prisoners of war during World War I and try to plot their escape. Based on the book of the same name by Norman Angell, it is a touching and gently human movie, and one that has been considered among the greatest French movies ever made — as well as one of the best movies of any language ever made. It only received one Oscar nomination, but it was still a big deal. It earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, making it the first foreign-language film with that distinction. It lost to Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You.
Do you think Parasite will take home the gold on Oscar night? Which of these foreign language titles is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.
Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News
Thank you for signing up to CinemaBlend. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.