As you may have heard last night AMPAS (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) announced that a record 83 films will compete for favor in this year's BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM showdown. This Oscar category has long been a specialty of mine and a couple of years back I even had the opportunity to speak about it on CNNi. The number of competing films and the media interest seem to grow each year. A dozen or so years ago when Oscar blogging first began to flourish, I was the only writer giving it a lot of attention and now virtually every movie outlet covers it, at least in list or press release format. The growing interest is somewhat odd since it becomes harder and harder for subtitled pictures to find audiences or get decent theatrical releases in the States.
Some movies with early heat in this category include Poland's Ida, an amazing black and white drama about a nun discovering her family history is a must see (it's available on DVD), Argentina's Wild Tales, a raucuous crowd-pleasing collection of outre comedic stories that's produced (but not directed) by Pedro Almodovar which is due in US theaters early next year, Belgium's Two Days One Night, a socioeconomic drama starring Marion Cotillard in yet another incredible performance which opens on December 24th. And…. No, no. We're getting sidetracked. Let's stop there.
There are so many movies worth loving.
For now let's look at movies (and their trailers) with something specific for LGBT audiences
AFTER THE JUMP…
Multi-hyphenate wonder boy Xavier Dolan is only 25 and "Mommy" is his fifth feature. Three of his films are now available on Netflix Instant Watch which is a relief because he's one of the most lauded international directors but has had a terrible time getting theatrical distribution in the US. Almost all of his movies have one some prize or another at Cannes. Mommy is his first feature without obvious queer content but the appeal is there from its BIG actress star turns to the volatile teen sociopath of indeterminate sexuality who causes all the drama. I am in love with this movie but it skews young and wild and AMPAS voters might be thrown by it. We'll see. Mommy will supposedly be released in January in the US by Roadshow Attractions but it's already a hit in Canada.
Finland's Concrete Night
This is another entry without gay content but the director Pirjo Honkasalo and writer Pirkko Saissio are a famous lesbian filmmaking couple in Finland. The story is about two brothers with an undependable mother who, left to their own devices, turn to lives of crime.
Brazil's The Way He Looks
This charming drama about a blind gay teenager falling in love is already a big favorite of gay audiences from its frequent festival appearances. (This feature was reviewed earlier here at Towleroad). Brazil hasn't been nominated in the category since the classic Central Station (1998) though.
France's Saint Laurent
This über stylish fashion biopic looks at Saint Laurent in all his addictive glory: the clothes, the dangerous sex, the drugs. I had mixed feelings about it but it's beautiful to look at and the actors are all quite good. Will Oscar love it? They enjoy a biopic but its inarguably gay, almost confrontationally so, with its frequent full frontal nudity and even a gay orgy. It will be released by Sony Pictures Classics next year… though they'll probably have to chop it up to get passed the MPAA unless they go NC-17 or Unrated.
Portugal's What Now? Remind Me
and Switzerland's The Circle
Oscar rarely nominates documentaries in this category. In fact they've only done it twice (both recently so maybe they're warming to them?) with Waltz With Bashir and The Missing Picture. Portugal's doc is an incredibly intimate nearly 3 hour film in which the filmmaker records his experience with experimental AIDS treatments. Switzerland's entry is set in the 1950s and looks at one of the first gay liberation movements. It appears to be a hybrid of doc and narrative feature though as the scenes are acted.
I'd have to see more of the entries to know if there is any more LGBT content or characters. But here are a few more films that might be of interest in a less direct way.
Masculinity as subject matter and internal struggle plays a role in Colombia's Mateo as well as Sweden's Force Majeure. In the latter film, the husband of a young family on a ski trip disappoints his wife with his reaction to a frightening avalanche on the second day of their five day vacation. The film becomes a brutally funny dissection of male ego, and marital strife. It's one of the strongest films in competition (I fell crazy in love with it in Toronto) but whether or not Oscar warms to its chilly precision and cerebral comedy is still to be seen. Meanwhile in Mateo, which I have not seen, the titular character is a 16 year-old who joins a theater troupe at the request of his crime boss uncle who seeks incriminating evidence against the actors. In an early scene the boy refuses to do the touch-heavy "trust" exercizes among the troupe because "it's for faggots" but as you can see from the movie poster (pictured below), he eventually embraces those tactile pleasures.
Gender studies enthusiasts should note that there are a lot of pictures, mostly from Middle Eastern and African countries with narratives that take on religious extremism, the subjugation of women, and sexual oppression: Ethiopia's Difret and Pakistan's Dukthar both feature women chafing against arranged marriages, in one case violently; Afghanistan's A Few Cubic Meters of Love, Egypt's Factory Girl, and South Africa's Elelwani feature forbidden or impossible love stories given their social / religious climate; Nepal's Jhola is a period drama about a widow who is to be burned alive because her husband has died and such is the custom; and, finally, Mauritania's Timbuktu, their first submission ever, is about a violent Jihadist takeover of a desert village. It's winning nearly universal raves and copious tears whenever it screens. It would not be surprising to see it among the nominees early next year. (It has a distributor for the US but no announced release date yet)
Finally, for those who love eye candy there are a number of period costume dramas: Hong Kong's The Golden Era is a 3 hour biopic about a writer starring Tang Wei of 3 hour epic fame (her debut was Ang Lee's incredible Lust Caution); Germany's Beloved Sisters (pictured above) looks at an unconventional decades-spanning romance between two sisters and the poet they both love. He's super hot in that very specific sickly poet way so if you were into Ben Whishaw in Bright Star, commence your drooling. It's good but three hours long as well and opens in limited release on December 24th; Venezuela's The Liberator, a historical epic about a war hero stars Edgar Ramirez (Carlos, Zero Dark Thirty) who qualifies as eye candy all by himself. A sad note, though. Venezuela's selection of The Liberator, by some accounts a stodgy Oscar Bait choice, prevented one of the year's best LGBT films from being sumbitted. The runner up in Venezuela's voting at home was a film called Bad Hair (previously reviewed here at Towleroad) about a young biracial boy in the projects who is obsessed with getting his hair straightened and wearing fancy clothing. His mother, terrified that he might be gay, makes all sorts of questionable decisions to extinguish that flame. It's an absolute must-see should you ever have the opportunity. (There are some indications that it will have a limited run in the US but specifics are hard to come by at this point)
We've only just scratched the surface, really, name-checking about a fourth of the lineup in this article. If you'd like to read more details, here is a handy chart/guide for all 83 films. This list will be narrowed to a finalist list of 9 films in a few months from which 5 will be Oscar-nominated. The 87th Academy Awards will be held on February 22nd, 2015 so start planning your parties.