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Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Foreign Language Film

As an old sage one said: If dog feces lands in the pathway of a Ford Galaxie moving toward the camera in agonizing near-slow motion, will it be squashed under tire?

Roma
Photo: Netflix

As we kick off our annual cycle of Oscar winner predictions, we’re not so much hitting the ground running as we are dragging our feet. Given not just our own belief that AMPAS’s cultural obsolescence, like climate change, is now past the point of no return, we debated not walking anywhere near this dumpster fire and just watching “Elizabeth Taylor Drunk at the Golden Globe Awards” on loop until February 24.

After all, we are nothing if not pleasure-seekers, and while we like to think of ourselves as connoisseurs of shade, even a casual stroll through the Twitterverse reveals that there may not be any more of it left to throw at either this year’s worst Oscar nominees or AMPAS’s recent and, in some cases, still-raging controversies. But in lieu of disappointing our readers, we’re digging deep to summon our inner Bianca Del Rio, or to at least acknowledge that, yes, even dumpster fires provide warmth. So, without further ado: “Gladiator!”

Speaking of dragging one’s feet, and as most readers of these commentaries know, we like to buy some time to mull over the trickier categories by predicting some of the easier-to-call ones at the start of our prediction cycle. And this year, no category would appear to be easier to call than best foreign language film. As an old sage one said: If dog feces lands in the pathway of a Ford Galaxie moving toward the camera in agonizing near-slow motion, will it be squashed under tire? Let us not count all the ways, and just state the obvious: that Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma enters the Oscar race as the 11th film in this category to also be nominated for best picture, and with 10 overall nominations, it’s certainly the surest bet to prevail here.

It’s worth acknowledging that Roma is up against two films by directors who’ve previously won in this category and which are also factoring in other major races this year. One, Cold War, scored nominations for Pawel Pawlikowski’s direction and Lukasz Zal’s cinematography (Zal was previously nominated for Pawlikowski’s Ida). The other, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Never Look Away, also scored a nomination for its cinematography, and if you haven’t seen the film but are familiar with the Academy’s track record of reliably awarding works that depict the Holocaust, then this stretch from our review of Never Look Away should be enough to convince you that Roma’s victory in this category isn’t a done deal:

Von Donnersmarck, who’s also responsible for the film’s screenplay, has a woman with Down syndrome naively tell the camp nurse about to execute her, “I like you,” and the nurse responds in kind, an unnecessary contrivance that feels all the more artificial for the lachrymose opera playing on the soundtrack. The viewer is then subjected to a handheld shot from within the chamber, picturing the woman and others choking to death and collapsing. All the while, [Caleb] Deschanel’s camera stays focused on the conventionally beautiful Elisabeth, as the blurry forms behind her retch and expire. Never look away, indeed.

Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira’s surprise nominations for best actress and best supporting actress, respectively, leave no doubt about how popular Roma is with AMPAS. Less certain is to what extent fans of the film will consider it an act of ballot stuffing to cast votes for the Netflix production in this category as well as best picture.

Instructive is how several critics groups weighed in ahead of the Oscar nominations, with the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association giving Roma their top prize but looking elsewhere for best foreign language film (New York opted for Cold War, while Los Angeles went for both Burning and Shoplifters). But, then, the Academy’s members don’t collectively gather to mull over such matters on cold winter mornings ahead of voting. And given the complicated logic behind what determines a best picture winner these days, and people’s even more complicated relationship to Netflix’s model of distribution, we strongly sense that many AMPAS members will cast a conciliatory vote for Roma in this category, so as to free themselves of the guilt of ranking other films above it in the best picture race.

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: Never Look Away

Should Win: Cold War

“Tell the truth but tell it slant”
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