Every Non-English Language Best Picture Nominee Ranked

14. Minari (2020)

Minari Review

Coming from the perspective of Korean immigrants in the USA, Lee Isaac Chung’s film’s language and cultural touchstones are East Asian but the story couldn’t be a more of a classic Hollywood one with the Yi family chasing their own American Dream.

Steven Yuen is revelatory in an assured lead performance, but between Han Ye-ri, young Alan Kim and Youn Yuh-jung (who went on to win Best Supporting Actress), there isn’t a weak link in the ensemble. This is soulful fare that shows every family hits roadblocks somewhere along the way, especially when you’re trying to start over again.

The controversy around how to categorise an American film for the most part not in English for awards purposes was frankly absurd, but it did call into question the validity of such splits beyond giving a wider range of films a chance at success.

Nomadland won this year, Chloé Zhao making history as only the second female Best Director recipient and the second Best Picture winner directed by a woman, a glacially paced redressing the balance that doesn’t seem to have gathered enough momentum since.

Recommended for you: 2021 Oscars Best Picture Nominees Ranked

13. The Emigrants (1971)

Ingmar Bergman wasn’t the only Swedish auteur changing the face of arthouse cinema working with Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow. Filming two historical epics about the hardships suffered by a Swedish family emigrating to the United States in the 1840s back-to-back (The New Land followed a year later), Jan Troell ambitiously adapted Vilhelm Moberg’s highly regarded “The Emigrants” series of novels from two decades earlier.

This is an epic in a true sense, with a 3-plus hours runtime, meticulous attention to grime-crusted period detail, and enough time spent with these characters and their trials and tribulations you feel like you’ve undertaken the journey with them.

The first half encompasses the Nilsson family’s unimaginably tough life scraping a living as farmers in a still-feudal Sweden before we join a hellish trans-Atlantic voyage and eventually arrive in a new and strange land to face an uncertain, but hopefully brighter future; Ullman and von Sydow’s performances serving as dependable anchors in the storm. 

The Godfather won that year because it changed cinema. And, if you’re going to sit through a 3-hour epic, people prefer one with gangsters.

12. Roma (2018)

Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical story of upper middle-class family life in a Mexico City villa is stylish and honest in its depiction of the interactions of vastly different classes day-to-day.

The majority of the story is seen through the eyes and experiences of the family’s Mixteco housekeeper, and among the biggest disappointments at this year’s Oscars was that lead actress Yalitza Aparicio didn’t revive an award for her raw and grounded feature debut performance.

Opening with an extended scene of washing dog dirt from a paved driveway, and alternating between powerful drama and pleasant family sitcom situations, Cuarón’s direction, writing and cinematography (because he clearly felt he wasn’t doing enough on the film already) presents us with a fully believable snapshot of his past, a time filled with good and bad memories in equal measure.

Green Book somehow won Best Picture this year, which still seems like a bad joke; the habit of the Academy awarding only the safest race relations dramas that excuse their own transgressions by being set in the past.

Recommended for you: 2019 Oscars Best Picture Nominees Ranked

11. Z (1969)

“Any similarity to real persons or events is not coincidental. It is intentional.”

Z is, appropriately for a film about political dissidents and revolution, spoiling for a fight, and it makes sure you know it from the above disclaimer in front of the film.

With a thin veneer of fictionalisation and setting in a consciously unnamed country, we follow the surrounding events and aftermath of the political assassination of a left-wing political leader. The conspiracy spirals and goes to the top levels of the autocratic military government who make use of civilian thugs to do their dirty work, and then it builds towards a magistrates investigation with the view to prosecute those responsible to the full extent of the law.

Made by a Greek-French filmmaker, starring a mostly French ensemble, but really about the corrupt Greek political system of the time, this is one that requires full engagement but rewards your attention with a gripping, twisty and thoroughly unsanitised political thriller.

The film by Costa-Gavras won Best International Feature and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars, while Midnight Cowboy went on to win Best Picture – given Midnight Cowboy was X-Rated at the time, this win represented a minor Oscars revolution in itself.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Leave a Comment