Oscar: Foreign Language Film Winners–Most Honored Films

In the Academy’s entire history, only a few foreign-language movies have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Nonetheless, several foreign-language films have received multiple nominations in various categories, such as Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which this years is nominated for six Oscars.

Among the high-profile foreign language films are: “La Dolce Vita,” “Z,” “The Emigrants,” “Cries and Whispers,” “Fanny and Alexander,” “Il Postino,” “Life Is Beautiful,” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

La Dolce Vita

Oscar Nominations: 4
Oscar Awards: 1

Fellini’s satirical view of Italian high society, “La Dolce Vita,” would not have been nominated for the 1960 Screenplay, Director, and other awards had it not created a world sensation with its view of decadence in Italian high-society. After the film’s release, Rome’s notorious Via Veneto, where some of the action takes place, became a major touristic site.

Praised by critics, “La Dolce Vita” became one of the most popular foreign films in America, grossing over eight million dollars. By the time “La Dolce Vita” was shown in the United States, it had already received recognition in the Cannes Festival and had achieved immense popularity all over Europe. The movie won, however, only Black-and-White Costume Design (for Piero Gherardi), but the Academy failed to recognize the great acting of Marcello Mastroianni as the hip journalist whose experiences form the center of the narrative.


Oscar nominations: 5
Oscar Awards: 2

CostaGavras’s political thriller “Z,” a FrenchAlgerian coproduction starring Yves Montand and JeanLouis Trintignant, enjoyed a special position in 1969. “Z” won the Best Foreign Language Picture and it was also nominated in the general competitive category of Best Picture. According to Academy rules, foreign pictures that have opened in the U.S. are eligible to compete in all the other categories. Hence, “Z” also won an Oscar for its editor, Francoise Bonnot.

The Emigrants

Oscar Nominations: 4
Oscar Awards: None

Two Swedish films received consecutive Foreign-Language nominations. In 1972, “The Emigrants,” which deals with the emigration of Swedish peasants to America in the nineteenth century, starred Liv Ullmann (who received Best Actress nomination) and Max von Sydow. Jan Troell was nominated as a director and co-writer of the film’s adapted screenplay.

Cries and Whispers

Oscar Nominations: 5
Oscar Awards: 1

In 1973, Ingmar Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers,” a haunting film about death and dying, featuring unforgettable performances by Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin, and Harriet Andersson, was nominated for Best Picture and four other awards, of which it received the Cinematography Oscar, by Bergman’s ace collaborator, Sven Nykvist.

Il Postino

Oscar Nominations: 5
Oscar Awards: 1

Two Italian movies were nominated for Best Picture in the 1990s, both distributed by Miramax. The 1995 “Il Postino” (“The Postman”) tells the story of an Italian postman who bonds with a legendary poet, Pablo Neruda, and wins the affections of a local girl through his heartfelt poetry. The film was based on The Postman of Pablo Neruda, a novel by Chilean author Antonio Skarmeta. Massimo Troisi, who played the postman, suffered from heart problems and died only one day after the final take of the shoot. Troisi headed an international cast, with French actor Philippe Noiret, New Delhiborn English director Michael Radford. Trying to recreate Southern Italy in the 1950s, The Postman was shot on two islands off the coast of Sicily.

Life Is Beautiful

Oscar Nominations: 7
Oscar Awards: 3

“Life Is Beautiful” became the second film after “Z” to have been nominated for the Best Foreign-Language and the Best Picture in the same year. A comedy-drama about the Holocaust, the film carried with it gravity and importance. The 1998 film received seven nominations, including Best Actor and Best Director, a record for a foreignlanguage film. The narrative concerns an accidentprone Italian bookshop owner (Benigni), who is imprisoned with his family in a World War II concentration camp. He bravely attempts to protect his son (Giorgio Cantarini) by making a game out of their tragic predicament.

Fanny and Alexander

Oscar Nominations: 6
Oscar Awards: 4

“Fanny and Alexander” is Ingmar Bergman’s most accessible and positive (as in uplifting) film. The story of two children growing up in Sweden around the turn of the century, “Fanny and Alexander” is an autobiographical film in the manner of Fellini’s “Amarcord” or Truffaut’s “400 Blows.”

This magical reverie tells the story of a year in the life of an extended Swedish family, seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old Alexander. After Alexander’s father, a famous actor, dies, his mother marries a harsh and sadistic clergyman. Alexander and his sister Fanny, who’s eight-years-old, are rescued from this household by their gentle and loving grandmother.

Nominated for six Oscars, “Fanny and Alexander” won four: Best Foreign-Language Picture, Cinematography (Sven Nykvist), Art Direction-set Decoration (Anna Asp), and Costume Design (Marik Vos). Bergman was nominated for the directing and original screenwriting Oscars, but lost the former to James L. Brooks (“Terms of Endearment”) and the latter to Horton Foote (“Tender Mercies”).

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Oscar Nominations: 10
Oscar Awards: 4

In 2000, an Asian film landed a spot in the Best Picture race– “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The thrilling fight sequences in this superbly mounted historical- romantic saga elicited heartfelt applause from audiences since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Ang Lee’s triumphant Hong Kong-style martial-arts film stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh as fellow warriors who share an unspoken love; porcelain-lovely Zhang Ziyi portrays a dazzling young prodigy who hasn’t yet found her true path.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” won four Oscars, matching Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander,” the previous Oscar record-holder for foreign-language films.

It will be interesting to see how many Oscars the brilliant Mexican film “Pan’s Labyrinth” would win out of its six nominations.