Apr 23
OSCAR’S ELUSIVE BEST FOREIGN FILM AWARD by Jose N. Carreon  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Fri, Apr 23, 2010

Last of two parts

After Italy and France, there are 20 other countries which have won the Oscar’s best foreign language film award and six of these garnered their very first award in the initial decade (2000-2009) of the new century.

This fact fans the flames of aspirations of other countries to secure one such award from the Oscars now that the playing field has expanded. The Philippines has yet to, at least, be nominated but with the resurgence of indie films and ground-breaking mainstream projects locally, the new decade of the 2010s must be IT.

It is, thus, sad to note that only two Asian countries have won the Oscar’s best foreign language film—Japan and Taiwan. It is surprising that India whose Bollywood outstripped Hollywood in actual number of films produced annually never won this award and got three nominations only. Other Asian countries with nominations in this category are China and Hongkong (with 2 each), and Nepal and Vietnam (with a nomination each).

Therefore, after Italy and France, there are only two four-time winners in this international category. They are Spain and Japan.

Spain first won in 1982 (almost 35 years after the first award in 1947) with Volver a Empezar (To Begin Again) by Jose Luis Garci. It won again in 1993 with Belle Epoque by Fernando Trueba and in 1999 with All About My Mother by Pedro Almodovar. Its last win was in 2004 with The Sea Inside by Alejandro Amenabar.

Japan’s first winner was legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1951), followed by Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Gate of Hell (1954) and Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai, the Legend of Musashi (1955). Then followed a 43-year-long drought, broken only in 2008 when Yogiro Takita’s Departure was adjudged the world’s best foreign language film.

There are four three-time winners in this category—Sweden, the USSR, the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia.

All winning Swedish films were directed by just one director, the cineastes’ favorite, Ingmar Bergman. His films were The Virgin Spring (1960), Through a Glass Darkly (1961) and Fanny & Alexander (1983).

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) won three awards before the union was broken down into separate countries led by Russia. The USSR winners were Sergei Bondarchuk’s Warand Peace (1968), Dersu Uzala (1975) which was directed by the Japanese master Akira Kurosawa and Vladimir Menshov’s Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (1980).

The Netherlands finally won in 1986 with The Assault by Fons Rademakers and followed this up with Marlene Garris’ Antonia’s Line (1995) and Mile von Diem’s Character (1947).

The last three-time winner is Czechoslovakia with the following films: Jan Kader & Elmar Klos’ The Shop on Main Street (1965), Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains (1967) and Jan Sverak’s Kolya (1996).

Four countries have also won the award twice. These are Denmark, a re-unified Germany, Argentina and Switzerland.

Denmark won in two consecutive years for Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast (1987) and Bille August’s Pelle, the Conqueror (1988).

Re-unified into one country, the former West and East Germanys have already won twice in the last decade. These were in 2002 for Nowhere in Africa by Caroline Link and in 2006 for The Lives of Others by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

Argentina, meanwhile, won for Luis Puenzo’s The Official Story (1985) and the latest winner, Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes (2009).

Switzerland won for Richard Dembo’s Dangerous Moves (1984) and Xavier Koller’s Journey of Hope (1990).

There have been 10 countries lucky enough to win even just once. In chronological order, these countries are Algeria for Z by Costa-Gavras (1969); Ivory Coast for Black and White in Color by Jan-Jacques Annaud (1976); West Germany, before the reunification, for The Tin Drum by Volker Schlondorff (1979); Hungary for Mephisto by Istran Szabo (1981); Russia for Burnt by the Sun by Nikita Mikhalkov (1994);

Taiwan for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee (2000); Bosnia & Herzegovina for No Man’s Land by Denis Tanovic (2001); Canada for The Barbarian Invasions by Denys Arcard (2003); South Africa for Tsotsi by Gavin Hood (2005); and Austria for The Counterfeiters by Stefan Ruzonitsky (2007).

The decade of the 2000s have a remarkable number of nine winners with Germany winning twice. This also happened in the decade of the 1980s.

Let us now review the awards decade by decade. The decade of the 1950s (with no awards given in 1953) had only three countries winning—France with three, Japan with three and Italy with two with the ninth award being shared by Italy and France.

Six countries figured in the statistics in the 1960s—Sweden, France, Italy and Czechoslovakia with two each; the USSR and Algeria with one apiece.

Five countries shared the pickings in the 1970s. These were France with four, Italy with three and one each for the USSR, Ivory Coast and West Germany.

In the 1980s, Denmark won twice and eight others got one each, including the USSR, Hungary, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Argentina, the Nether-lands and perennial Italy.

Finally in the 1990s, seven countries figured out in the awards derby— Spain, Italy and the Netherlands with two each; and one apiece for Switzerland, France, Russia and Czechoslovakia.

Those were the facts and we can now draw out the odds on the chances of the Philippines ever being nominated or, much more, being awarded the best foreign language film of the Oscars for the next years or so.

I will still bet that we will do it halfway through this decade of the 2010s. May the gods of the Oscar awards smile on us.

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