What to know about the Oscar nominees for best foreign language film

Do you remember which movie won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2017? Neither do I. (Ok, not true, it was...

Posted: Feb. 26, 2018 6:33 PM
Updated: Feb. 26, 2018 6:33 PM

Do you remember which movie won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2017? Neither do I. (Ok, not true, it was "The Salesman.") But if you want to hold your own around the water cooler in the run up to the Academy Awards on March 4, you're going to need to stay on top of this most fickle of Oscar races.

The "other" best picture category is just as hotly contested and one of the toughest awards to predict (case in point: Golden Globe-winner "Into the Fade" was snubbed by the Academy). It's a rare opportunity for world cinema to have its moment in the Hollywood spotlight, and this year's Oscar nominees include prize winners at Cannes, Berlin, Venice and London film festivals.

Chile's "A Fantastic Woman" leads the pack among bookmakers -- it would be a first for the country, should it win. Still, awards season observers consider the category competitive, so here's what you need to know.

"A Fantastic Woman"

Sebastian Lelio's "A Fantastic Woman" was underpinned by a dazzling performance from breakout star Daniela Vega. She plays Marina, a trans woman mourning the death of her older lover in Santiago -- a process complicated by the deceased's ex-wife and children, who are out to persecute her. The film lays bare the stigmas faced by Chile's trans community, but stills manages to be joyous, thanks largely to our no-holds-barred protagonist. Whether she's stomping on car roofs or laying down moves on the dance floor, we're more than happy to go along for the ride.

Where to watch: Available in select US cinemas.

"Loveless"

Critical darling and controversial figure back home, Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev receives his second Oscar nomination for "Loveless." After ruffling feathers with "Leviathan" (2014), in which he took on state corruption, Zvyagintsev returned with this intimate tale of runaway boy Alyosha and his divorcing parents in Moscow. Forced to tolerate each other in the hunt as they face bureaucratic red tape, our sympathies lie with the son. Zvyagintsev keeps the political commentary on a low simmer, but when it bubbles up it's blistering. Like the bleak Russian winter, "Loveless" offers cold comfort for the soul.

Where to watch: Available in select US cinemas.

"The Insult"

Writer-director Ziad Doueiri uses a Beirut courtroom to examine old wounds that haven't healed in "The Insult," Lebanon's first foreign language nomination. Lebanese Christian Tony (Adel Karam) takes offense at a slur from Palestinian foreman Yasser (Kamel El Basha), resulting in a civil suit which escalates beyond their control, hijacked by lawyers with ulterior motives and whipped into a frenzy by a hysterical press. Dredged up are the Lebanese Civil War and the country's complicated relationship with Palestinian refugees. It will be an education for many and a painful reminder for some. But most of all, it suggests beyond enmity, there's always room for common ground.

Where to watch: Available in select US cinemas.

"The Square"

Ruben Ostlund cast his satirical eye on the art world in Palme d'Or-winner "The Square," bagging the Swedish director his first Oscar nomination. Claes Bang plays Christian, a suave but shallow gallery director with a stolen wallet and missing empathy. It's a MacGuffin which forces Christian, prone to intellectualizing society's problems with his arty chums, to engage with the real world. If you're expecting a Damascene moment or a shred of redemption, you may not be familiar with Ostlund's work. Built around a series of eye-gougingly awkward set pieces, and with support from Dominic West and a brilliant Elizabeth Moss, it's Terry Notary -- of "Planet of the Apes" fame -- who steals the show in one of the year's most talked about scenes.

Where to watch: Available to watch on iTunes, YouTube, Amazon Video and DVD.

"On Body and Soul"

A love story set in an abattoir might sound odd, but then Oscar frontrunner "The Shape of Water" is about a mute cleaner falling for an Amazonian fish man. Sometimes it's best to watch with an open mind. Hungarian writer-director Ildiko Enyedi shares none of the tender flourishes of Guillermo del Toro, opting for pools of blood and wipe-clean tiles as the backdrop for her off-kilter romance. Maria (Alexandra Borbely) and Endre (Geza Morcsanyi) oversee the slaughter of cattle by day, and by night share dreams of running wild as deer -- literally. The unconscious become a space into which they pour their nascent feelings, though expressing them to one another is a different matter. When words falter, Laura Marling's "What He Wrote" stands in as a leitmotif, the lyrics a poignant reminder of love's sometimes painful pull. Minimalist, but no less affecting.

Where to watch: Now streaming on Netflix.

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