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Jul 05 2019

France and the Oscar Race.Then and Now.

by Nathaniel R

As you've probably heard,France has altered their Oscar submission choice rules a bit.They'll now allow for "special screenings"(i.e.some variation of the common practice here in the US of the "qualifying run") to determine eligibility.In truth this wouldn't be news if it weren't France we were talking about.Most countries already allow some form of this practice so a film can be eligible for awards even if it isn't technically playing for audiences in time.

But France in the past has not allowed this given the country's very strict distribution rules.That's one of the reasons why,for example,thatBlue is the Warmest Colour(2013) wasn't submitted in its year...

Now they'll allow "qualifying"releases which means films scheduled to open in France from October through December each year can still theoretically be selected.Oscar rules require countries to submit by the beginning of October with the end of September as the typical cut off date for eligibility.This off-calendar year system is necessary (lots of paperwork,subtitling required,ample screening times for the various committees within AMPAS that are tasked with the nominations in that category) but its why you sometimes have films that premiered at festivals well over a year prior competing at the Oscars with much newer titles.亚博主页

You know our feelings about "qualifying releases".In short it's bad news for audiences,leaving them out of the awards equation and upping the danger of the reductively described but somewhat true problem of "elitism"in awards.When movies the public has no access to are regularly competing for awards people tend to level this claim and the result is usually a spin-off complaint "out of touch!"because public response (which definitely colors awards prospects of titles that ARE traditional released) does not remotely affect the outcome.But this is good news for awards-primed French movies from Berlinale and Cannes (likeLes Miserables,Portrait of a Lady on Fire,By the Grace of God  -the three highest profile contenders for the submission thus far) that might not want to actually open in France until after their North American festival runs in September.

Another minor change that's interesting is they're adding French industry professionals to the selection committee who have "an acute knowledge of the American market".

Let us translate that for you: France wants to regain its former dominance in the Oscar race!France is #1 for most nominations ever in the Best International Film Oscar race (but #2 behind Italy for actual wins.That said,both countries have been struggling in the past 20+ years within the microcosm of the Oscars.亚博主页

Mon Oncle (1959) by the inimitably great Jacques Tati was the first "traditional"winner for France.But they'd already received 3 Honoraries at that point

Here's a list of every French film that's been up for the Oscars - the winners are in bold (and if we've written about the picture it's linked up).亚博主页This quick overview will show you how rapidly France has recently lost their Oscar mojo.

Not an official category but the Academy usually gave one Honorary Award to a foreign title.Italwayswent to either Italy,France,or Japan.

1948Monsieur Vincent(Maurice Cloche)
1950Walls of Malapaga(René Clément,co-production with Italy)
1952Forbidden Games(René Clément)

The Foreign Film category's infancy

1956 Gervaise
1957 Gates of Paris
1958My Uncle(Jacques Tati)
1959Black Orpheus(Marcel Camus)


1960 La Vérité (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
1962Sundays and Cybele(Serge Bourguignon)
1964 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy)
1966A Man and a Woman(Claude Lelouch)
1967 Live for Life (Claude Lelouch)
1968 Stolen Kisses (François Truffaut)
1969 My Night with Maud (Éric Rohmer)


1970 Hoa-Binh (Raoul Coutard)
1972Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie(Luis Buñuel)
1973Day for Night(François Truffaut)
1974 Lacombe Lucien (Louis Malle)
1976 Cousin Cousine (Jean-Charles Tacchella)
1977Madame Rosa(Moshé Mizrahi)
1978Get Our Your Handkerchiefs(Bertrand Blier)
1979 A Simple Story (Claude Sautet)

(France's most successful Oscar decade: winning 40% of the Oscars and  nominated 80% of the time)亚博主页


1980 The Last Metro (François Truffaut)
1981 -
1982 Coup de Torchon/Clean Slate (Bertrand Tavernier)
1983 Entre Nous (Diane Kurys)
1984 -
1985 Three Men and a Cradle (Coline Serreau)
1986 Betty Blue (Jean-Jacques Beineix)
1987 Au Revoirs Les Enfants (Louis Malle)
1988 -
1989 Camille Claudel (Bruno Nuytten)

(a sign of the oncoming drought.Plentiful nominations,no Oscars)亚博主页


1990 Cyrano De Bergerac (Jean-Paul Rappeneau)
1991 -
1992Indochine(Régis Warnier)
1993 -
1994 -
1995 -
1996 Ridicule (Patrice Leconte)
1997 -
1998 -
1999 - East-West (Régis Warnier)


2000 The Taste of Others (Agnès Jaoui)
2001Amelie(Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
2002 -
2003 -
2004 The Chorus (Christophe Barratier)
2005 Joyeux Noël (Christian Carion)
2006 -
2007 -
2008The Class(Laurent Cantet)
2009 Un Prophète (Jacques Audiard)


2010 -
2011 -
2012 -
2013 -
2014 -
2015Mustang(Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
2018 -

The Catherine Deneuve star vehicle Indochine (1992),is France's most recent winner

As you can see from that overview,this past decade has been brutal for France in terms of Oscars and what they're accustomed to.亚博主页AndIndochine,their last winner,is now 27 years old.What's especially frustrating about their performance of late is that though the selection committee has made some very odd choices this decade (RenoirandMemoirs of Warstick out as big "why?"candidates considering their competition) they've also made some amazing bold decisions in favor of films that were eminently worthy of nominations: likeElle(2016) andBPM(2017).

Oscar tastes change and Oscar has been drifting away from France,even when the country has made great choices.Will the new committee have better luck or is the competition just too strong these days (with more countries submitting than ever)?

What do you make of all this and how many of France's nominees have you seen?

P.S.Here are,arguably,the ten most acclaimed French films thatweresubmitted by France but Oscar skipped them come nomination time.

One of the first french movies I was ever obsessed with DIVA (1981) discovered from the local video store in the late 80s.My friend and rented it frequently

  • Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais,61)
  • Pierrot le Fou (Godard,65)
  • Diva (Beineix,81)
  • Wild Reeds (Téchiné,94)
  • The Dreamlife of Angels (Zonca,98)
  • 8 Women (Ozon,02)
  • Persepolis (Paronnaud & Satrapi,07)
  • Of Gods and Men (Beauvois,10)
  • Elle (Verhoeven,16)
  • BPM Beats Per Minute (Campillo,17)

P.P.S.Sixteen very famous and/or very excellent French films that were NOT submitted by France in the Foreign Film category.

One of the greatest films of all time,Belle de Jour (1967)

  • Elevator to the Gallows (Malle,58)
  • The 400 Blows (Truffaut,59)*nominated for 1 Oscar
  • Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais,59)*nominated for 1 Oscar
  • Breathless (Godard,60)
  • Bay of Angels (Demy,63)
  • Contempt (Godard,63)
  • Belle de Jour (Buñuel,67)
  • Playtime (Tati,67)
  • The Young Girls of Rochefort (Demy,67)
  • La Cage Aux Folles (Molinaro,78)*nominated for 3 Oscars亚博主页
  • Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring (Berri,86/87)
  • La Ceremonie (Chabrol,95)
  • La Haine (Kassovitz,95)
  • A Christmas Tale (Desplechin,08)
  • Holy Motors (Carax,12)
  • Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche,13)

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Reader Comments (18)

To add to the weirdness,France's only nominee this decade,Mustang,(which should have won) is 100% in the Turkish language,and contains not one word of French.Which I guess is balanced out by "Austria"'s Amour,which is 100% in the French language winning in 2012.(I'll bet if asked,almost everyone would guess It's a French film)

There's no excuse for Wild Reeds,Dreamlife of Angels and Of Gods and Me not to have been nominated.

There's no excuse for Stolen Kisses and Amelie not to have won.

July 5,2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s

This is the weirdest Oscar category.I'll never understand it and it's eligibility rules.

July 5,2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

ken s: I'd probably add Betty Blue to that tally of "how did that not win".I mean,okay,I get why.The Assault is an eminently classy movie about WWII tragedy and Betty Blue is a French softcore riff on A Woman Under the Influence.But from a quality perspective?How did that not win!?

July 5,2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

It seems utterly bizarre to me that Marienbad and Elle weren't nominated.

But very happy to see they're trying to get back in the Oscar mix given the strengths of what they produce.

July 5,2019 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Volvagia: Actually,in 1986 I'm partial to Czechoslovakia's My Sweet Little Village.Hilarious

Another weird thing about France's Foreign Film history is that Z won in 1969 as an Algerian film and in 1976 Black and White in Color won as a film from the Ivory Coast.Both are clearly French films,and in both years France had its "official"nominees,thereby slipping in two nominees both years.

July 5,2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s

The whole thing is a bit of a head-scratcher.Honestly,I blame the Academy more than France,but it ultimately just feels like a bit of a run of bad luck.

The foreign film committee often seems to want to "discover"certain titles in order to justify having watched so many movies as part of the process,resulting in a couple of surprise nominees each year which don't have the festival track record we're used to from foreign films.I don't even entirely mind this because it actually does draw some attention to underappreciated films that need the attention every once in a while,but I think it does disadvantage France because rightly or wrongly they aren't exactly perceived as underdogs in this category and the standards for them are maybe a little higher.

July 5,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMJS

Black Orpheus is a french movie entierely in brazilian portuguese.

July 5,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPlease come

I'm in love with the skipped movies list

July 5,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Well submitting MEMOIRS OF WAR instead of a major achievement like CUSTODY isn't helping.

To go alongside MUSTANG and Z,BLACK ORPHEUS is set entirely in Brazil.

July 5,2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I saw LES MISERABLES at the Sydney Film Festival last month and loved it.Amazon are rumoured to be keen to push it for awards (as they did for COLD WAR) so I'll be curious to see if that encourages France to submit it.Though I suspect they will go with PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE.

July 5,2019 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

Actually I think "Les Miserables"will be the best bet.The Anglosaxon reviews have been way better (And remarking the populist appeal).Also,it's a full man-show (Close to Police and War films).Also having a black director can create a narrative with Amazon.

-Portrait of a Lady on Fire is too feminine,and Neon has a bigger fish with "Parasite".Also,the AMPAS has a bad tendency to ignore these kind of low-key feminine stories.
-Polanski's new film may be on the shortlist but LOL if they choose him
-Ozon wasn't exactly loved by French groups.

July 6,2019 | Unregistered Commenterleon

How funny though that the two big French bets out of Cannes share titles with other very famous works.I imagine they'll go with PORTRAIT because I'm cynical and it ticks a lot of boxes.

July 6,2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I'm very confused by some of the comments here.I've not seen Les Miserables,but I have seen Portrait of a Lady on Fire and am absolutely gaga over it.I don't know why folks would be cynical toward its possible selection by France or skeptical of its chances if it is submitted.It would be a great choice for France!It will be big in the States as far as foreign films go,it is supremely Academy-friendly,and it's a total stunner.It's not just ticking off a lot of boxes;it has the merit to back it up.

"The Anglosaxon reviews [toward Les Miserables] have been way better."Everything I've read about 'Portrait' was a rave.It has 100% on RT at the present."[Portrait] is too feminine."The last two winners in this category were Roma and A Fantastic Woman.Ida was not long ago.And,as we've already discussed,France's last nominee was Mustang.The Academy may have issues elsewhere with "feminine"films as you call them,but less so in this category."Neon has bigger fish with 'Parasite.'"Juggling these two awards campaigns will be a test for Neon's marketing department,sure,but I'd argue Portrait is more likely to play well for the Academy than Parasite.Portrait could actually score nominations outside of the International Film race whereas Parasite probably won't (I'd say it's only real chance is Production Design.) And regardless,Portrait's distributor's upcoming film slate is unlikely to have a major role in France's selection process.

As for Les Miserables- again,I haven't seen it- but I am curious to see how it depicts the police,as I've heard it's surprisingly even-handed in its portrayal of both the rioters and the police.I wonder how that will play in the States,where police brutality is one of the stickiest subjects out there and the folks that go to see foreign films are precisely the folks that aren't as keen on exonerating the police.

July 6,2019 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

As a brazilian,I would love to see the same thing here,but,to be like that,brazilian filmmakers should do great movies first.

I am loving this new 'mood' of French Oscar committee to be the reign in the international oscar nominations and wins.Today,i would love to see PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE nominated as best picture,screenplay,actresses and directing and LES MISERABLES nominated as international film.BY THE GRACE OF GOD?nominated for screenplay.

If the french united themselves,they cant achieve this.

July 6,2019 | Unregistered CommenterNadia

"Everything I've read about 'Portrait' was a rave.It has 100% on RT at the present."

No Evan,i'm refering to the reception comparing Anglosaxon and European ones.And let's not forget,just because the film has 100% doesn't mean the film will be the perfect candidate.Last year "Never Look Away"was nominated with just 79% on RT;while BPM had better score and was snubbed.The point of predicting foreign language film is not searching just for the Rotten Tomatoes.It's reading the lines of the reviews.

"The last two winners in this category were Roma and A Fantastic Woman.Ida was not long ago."

These films weren't feminine in their styles.Sure,their stories are female-driven but "Roma"and "A Fantastic Woman"had more pushing qualities.Roma was in first a political and social statement of a dark time in Mexico,while A Fantastic Woman was a LGBT declaration.Even "Mustang"has the exoticism (common in this category).The only close example to "Portrait"is "Ida".But "Ida"has a full year of domestic release to compete and overcoming the bias.The point about feminine is not about the protagonists,it's also for the style.Sciamma created a wonderful film,but her style and narrative is not equal to Cuaron or even Pawlikowski to overcome that.

I'd argue Portrait is more likely to play well for the Academy than Parasite.

Well,you seem to check:

a.The post award at Cannes declaring how beloved was Parasite.Almost zero words for Portrait (And going for Inarritu recent interview in Mexico,Sciamma's award looks more compromise)
b.The full words of support by AMPAS members like Guillermo Del Toro,Ava DuVernay,Darren Aronofsky and even Christopher Nolan congratulating Bong.Many of them,directors branch voters.Don't underestimate this kind of approval
c.Just recently "Parasite"made one million of euros at Box office in France,becoming one of the most successful Palme d'Or films.And the first non European film.

Now comparing the three films (Ozon,Ly and Sciamma),even if I loved Sciamma,there's almost lost opportunity to choose her.Ozon can compete but he faced bias in France.Even if the point of the police can be true,the story is made in a mainstream style it can overcome that.Plus,it's relatable.

July 6,2019 | Unregistered Commenterleon

I should have known that you'd come back at me with the "Rotten Tomatoes isn't everything"argument.Of course,RT doesn't tell the whole story on a film's reception,particularly on the more middling scores.But we're talking about 100% positive reviews here.And I'll be happy to cite the raves from David Ehrlich,Eric Kohn,Richard Lawson,Stephanie Zacharek,and Amy Taubin if you'd like.Suffice it to say: it is loved.

"Feminine style"sounds a lot like code for "has a female director."Unfortunately,that is a bit of an issue for the Academy,but again that's less so in this category than in the Best Picture race.Portrait also has the LGBT angle you used to explain away A Fantastic Woman's success.It also has drawn comparisons to The Piano,which is the benchmark for female directors in the Oscars.亚博主页

All of this is to say: Portrait is great!It can do well at the Oscars and,亚博主页in my opinion,it deserves to do well.Anyone dreading its Oscar potential sight unseen should rest assured.Anyone who has seen it and still dreads its Oscar potential: yikes!

(For the record on Parasite: I do think it will be South Korea's first International Film Oscar nominee for the reasons you stated.But I'm still not convinced that the Academy that went for Green Book is going to go whole hog into Parasite.And while I could see Bong breaking into Best Director,if we're talking about historical biases as obstacles,Bong has it rough...)

July 6,2019 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Evan: Foreign Language Films in Best Picture: 11 mentions.Foreign Language Films in Director: 26 mentions.Foreign Language Films in Screenplays: 62 mentions.46 in Original,16 in adapted.So,Original Screenplay,at least?That's an easy fight to wage.

July 7,2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

As much as I like PERSEPOLIS,LA VIE EN ROSE was the safest bet for a nomination in 2008.It did win 2 Oscars (Actress & Make-Up).亚博主页And PERSEPOLIS could still compete in the Animated category (where it did get nominated).

CUSTODY non-selection still baffles me: it is the sequel of an Oscar-nominated short,with a well-known cast (Denis Ménochet),it has themes that resonates with #MeToo,and an international jury had already embraced it at the Venice festival (it won Best Debut & Best Director,from a jury starring Annette Bening,Naomi Watts,Edgar Wright,Taiki Waititi,...)

As a Frenchman too young to remember INDOCHINE's victory,I'm not that annoyed by our recently poor run in that category.French artists tend to get nominated elsewhere (Desplat,Huppert,Hazanavicius,...)
I'm happy other countries get recognized (Chile!Mexico!).Fingers crossed for South Korea & PARASITE !

July 10,2019 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

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