Golden Globes 2019: Why The Other Foreign Language Nominees Deserve Your Attention Too

Although most people typically ignore the non-major categories during awards season, the Foreign Language race is proving to be a particularly big deal this year. A favorite of both critics and audiences, Roma is considered a frontrunner to win the category at both the Golden Globes and Oscars, and is even expected to pick up a Best Picture nomination.

It’s a great thing that diverse world cinema is stepping into the spotlight for a change, but one film shouldn’t be hogging all of the attention. There are four other movies nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and they are just as deserving of your attention as Roma, if not more so. Below are the nominees ranked in order of how much they deserve the reward.


5. Roma

Country: Mexico
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Festivals Include: Venice, Telluride, Toronto

Why It Has Your Attention (And Maybe Shouldn’t):

Roma tells the story of a maid to a middle-class family in Mexico City in the mid-1970’s. It is one of the most widely talked-about awards contenders this year, and it is understandable why. It is pretty to look at, the protagonist is extremely sympathetic, and Yalitza Aparicio gives a top-notch performance, but that is all the film really has to offer. The writing is flawed: the message is straightforward, the supporting characters are underdeveloped, and the dialogue is frequently awkward. Also, why is it so polished if it is supposed to have a personal feel? It’s not bad — Alfonso Cuarón should be praised for telling a story so close to his heart in a way that looks gorgeous — but it just isn’t a good enough script to call it one of the best movies of the year.

What Are Its Awards Chances?:

People love it. It is almost universally-acclaimed with a 96 on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. It is considered to be one of the best films of the year by many, gracing multiple top ten lists and winning the top awards from more than a few critics’ guilds. Most analysts even have it pegged as a near lock for a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, and some even have it as a potential winner. Its Netflix release also ensures wide availability, so this has a very good chance of achieving success with a wider audience, especially since the director is highly respected (Gravity was a box office smash, and he directed what is considered to be the best Harry Potter movie).

4. Shoplifters

Country: Japan
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Festivals Include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto

Why It Deserves Your Attention:

Shoplifters is about a family of criminals who take in a child they find outside in the cold. It is surprisingly similar to Roma in both tone and theme, but it handles both much more effectively. It is very contemplative, but it is never slow. The messages that the movie has to offer about family and class are much deeper than those explored by Roma. There is also a big twist and accompanying tonal shift heading into the third act of the film, which makes it even more captivating. It has issues of its own — it isn’t as emotionally resonant as it could have been, and the supporting characters are rather underdeveloped — but these are much less obvious than the issues in Roma. It has some great cinematography too.

What Are Its Awards Chances?:

Shoplifters was looking like a favorite for this award heading out of Cannes. It is widely acclaimed with a 93 on Metacritic and a 99 on Rotten Tomatoes. The HFPA has never given this award to a film from Mexico before, but a Japanese movie (Letters from Iwo Jima) has won. That being said, Shoplifters probably doesn’t have very high chances. It didn’t make a huge splash during its theatrical release, and hasn’t been getting nearly as much attention as Roma. Also, since it is so similar to Roma, which is stealing most of the attention, it will likely fly under the radar.

3. Girl

Country: Belgium
Director: Lukas Dhont
Festivals Include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto

 

Why It Deserves Your Attention:

Girl is about a 15 year-old girl trapped in the body of a boy who, with the help of her father, dreams of becoming a ballerina. It is probably the least flashy and most nuanced movie of the batch. It’s not perfect, but its story is compelling and its characters even more so. The subject matter of the film — gender identity — is highly relevant, and this is one of the most effective treatments of said topic. This movie is focused more on the protagonist’s internal conflicts rather than the external conflicts she faces. There are a few scenes in which the narrative does begin to go off course, but it quickly brings itself back on track. In terms of execution, it is subtle but beautiful, much like the story.

What Are Its Awards Chances?:

Unfortunately, this seems to be the least likely to win the award. Netflix has to devote most of its attention to Roma, the safer bet for the win. It has a 77 on Metacritic and an 87 on Rotten Tomatoes, but there is also quite a bit of controversy surrounding this film. It contains full-frontal nudity from its star, who was underage at the time of filming. While this scene may not have been in the best taste, it shouldn’t cause the movie to be shunned entirely. Additionally, it was skipped for the Oscar shortlist for the Foreign Language category.

2. Never Look Away

Country: Germany
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Festivals Include: Venice, Toronto, AFI Fest

 

Why It Deserves Your Attention:

Never Look Away is a film about a painter living in West Germany who is tormented by his childhood under the Nazi regime. It is the type of old-school movie that they don’t really make anymore. It is a three-hour character-driven epic akin to Schindler’s List or Lawrence of Arabia. Although it probably won’t ever elevate to classic status like the aforementioned movies, it is still very good. This definitely stands out among the rest of the nominees in terms of theme and style. The first act of the film is absolutely riveting. The second and third acts may not be quite as strong, but they are still fascinating. In terms of visuals, it’s absolutely beautiful too, which can be expected given that the movie is more about art than it is about war.

What Are Its Awards Chances?:

Although well-received, this may be the least widely-acclaimed of all of the nominees. It is sitting at a 69 on Metacritic and an 80 on Rotten Tomatoes. Again, SPC is sure to give it a strong campaign, but its attention may be divided between this and Capernaum. Furthermore, even though the director’s last German film (The Lives of Others) won the Oscar for Foreign Language Film, it lost the Golden Globe. That being said, this has a lot of the characteristics of awards bait: it is a historical biopic set during a time of war and featuring art. It’s also likely the most approachable of the nominees (apart from the fact that it is three hours long).

1. Capernaum

Country: Lebanon
Director: Nadine Labaki
Festivals Include: Cannes, Toronto, AFI Fest

 

Why It Deserves Your Attention:

Capernaum is about a child who sues his parents while serving a five year sentence for a violent crime. It is probably the best film of the batch. While also similar to Roma in theme, it is very different stylistically. This takes a much grittier and more grounded approach to poverty, and benefits in so doing. The protagonist of this movie is a child, which makes it hit much harder than Roma. Additionally, its framing device — a child suing his parents for giving birth to him — is pretty mind-blowing, even if not used to its full potential. It is definitely one of the most emotional films of the year.

What Are Its Awards Chances?:

This movie is respected, but not as much as some other contenders, with a 74 on Metacritic and a 78 on Rotten Tomatoes. Sony Pictures Classics always does a good job of campaigning their foreign language films for awards, but they have two contenders on their hands this year. At least one of SPC’s movies is going to lose because there won’t be a tie. Also, since there are two other movies about poverty nominated in the same category, its chances may be hurt. That being said, the fact that this is the only female-directed film nominated in the category is definitely a plus as Hollywood is moving towards honoring more diverse movies.


Be sure to check out these films when you get a chance!

Roma is now available on Netflix and in select theaters. Shoplifters and Capernaum are now playing in select theaters. Girl is available on Netflix and in select theaters beginning January 18. Never Look Away opens in theaters in February.

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Sean Boelman
Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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