War Witch (Tribeca); Kon-Tiki (The Weinstein Company); Amour (Sony Pictures Classics); A Royal Affair (Magnolia …
While you're probably already quite familiar with at least most of the nine Oscar nominees for Best Picture, you might not be as well-acquainted with the five films that are up for Best Foreign Language Film. Pack your bags for faraway cinematic lands with our handy round-up and rundown of the nominees in this category that might (might) throw your office betting pool for a loop.
Writer-director Michael Haneke's devastating portrait of the inevitable, cruel passage of time is the frontrunner in this category, with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Original Screenplay (Haneke), Best Director (Haneke). "Amour" chronicles the final chapter in the relationship between Anne (Riva) and George (Jean-Louis Trintignant), retired music teachers who take on one last challenge in their marriage after Anne suffers a stroke that leaves her semi-paralyzed. The fact that it's been (completely unfairly) dismissed as "too depressing" Stateside gives it no chance at taking home Best Picture (we all know that's going to go to "Argo" anyway), though a Best Foreign win is highly likely - if not quite guaranteed ...
"Kon-Tiki," co-directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, focuses on Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his 1947 quest to prove his theory that people from South America could have settled in Polynesia during pre-Columbian times. Using pre-Columbian techniques, Heyerdahl built a raft, which he named "Kon-Tiki" (an old name for the Inca sun god), and sailed across the Pacific from Peru to Polynesia with a crew of five men. Unlike its fellow nominees, "Kon-Tiki" has yet to score a theatrical release in the U.S. (it screened earlier this week at the Portland International Film Festival); it's also an inspiring, rugged adventure film as opposed to the intimate character dramas that make up most of the competition, a unique distinction that makes it something of a dark horse candidate for the win.
Director Pablo Larrain's historical drama/political thriller portrays a country that's suddenly plunged into something resembling democracy -- and a world where advertising can make for an especially powerful tool in swaying opinions that suddenly matter one way or another. After 15 years of dictatorship, the public of Chile are asked to vote in the national plebiscite of 1988 on whether General Augusto Pinochet should stay in power; Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is the advertising expert who spearheads the campaign encouraging people to vote "No" ... as the boss of his advertising agency works on the opposing "Yes" team. The campaign consisted of 27 nights of television ads in which each side had 15 minutes to present their point of view -- and made for one of the most heated non-American media circuses of the 20th century.
"A Royal Affair" (Denmark)
Director Nikolaj Arcel's rather generically-titled "A Royal Affair" (though it does make for the most Oscar-ish-sounding title of the five candidates, no?) is an 18th-century drama chronicling the romance between Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), who just so happens to be the Queen of Denmark, and her court physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee ("Casino Royale" villain Mads Mikkelsen), during the reign of the mentally ill King Christian VII (Mikkel Folsgaard). "A Royal Affair" might make for the most "Hollywood" of the Foreign Language nominees with its titillating yet (relatively) classy tale of powerful people succumbing to forbidden pleasures; it's certainly not often that a sex scandal movie gets such a formidable costume and production design budget, too. The film won the Silver Bear for Best Actor (Mikkelsen) and Best Screenplay (Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcelat) at the Berlin International Film Festival.
"War Witch" (Canada)
Kim Nguyen wrote and directed this violent and often astonishing drama set in Africa, where 14-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza) speaks to her unborn child about her experiences as a child warrior. Komona is kidnapped by rebels at the age of 12 and forced to join their cause; soon, her special intuition and ability to "see things" puts her in the favor of the rebel leader and elevates her status to that of "War Witch." Komona is eventually convinced by a newfound friend to desert the rebellion, though she quickly discovers that leaving this world of superstition and brutality makes for a near-impossible task. Mwanza won Best Actress honors at both the Berlin International Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival; she was also recently granted a visa so she could attend the Oscars.