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Foreign Films at the Oscars

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The 85th Academy Awards are upon us! Sure, the glitz and glam of red carpet coverage is fun to watch, but behind the designer bags and gowns are actors, directors, casts, and crews of people who’ve worked hard to create the sort of films they hope will become embedded in our memories as truly great. While the Oscars are thought of as a Hollywood institution, a rich history of foreign films exists within the tradition.

When the first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929, there was no separate category to recognize foreign language films. The Academy did issue honorary Oscars to foreign language films between 1947 and 1955, but they weren’t given out every year, and they weren’t competitive (only one film was honored). It wasn’t until the 29th Academy Awards in 1957 that a competitive, annual category, Best Foreign Language Film, was created to honor non-English speaking films. Since 1947, there have been 64 Oscars presented to honor foreign films, 51 of which that have gone to European films (Italy holds the record with 10 awards, 3 special awards, and 27 nominations).

Outside the Best Foreign Language Film category, many foreign films have risen to critical acclaim, including last year’s winner for Best Picture, The Artistwhich was financed by France. But while that may be true, non-English speaking films aren’t often considered for Best Picture – only nine have been nominated to date. In fact, one of the nine, Austria’s French language film Amour, was nominated this year and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. Additionally, only twelve films financed outside the U.S. have won Best Picture, eleven of which were funded at least in part by the United Kingdom.



Films aside, many award-nominated and winning actors and actresses hail from countries outside the U.S. The 80th Academy Awards ceremony was a big one for foreign acting – all four of the major acting awards went to foreign actors and actresses.  Marion Cotillard of France won Best Actress for her portrayal of Édith Piaf in La Vie en Rose; English actor Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor for his work in There Will Be BloodJavier Bardem of Spain was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his role in No Country for Old Men; and British actress Tilda Swinton snagged the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance in Michael Clayton.

Foreign language performances have also been recognized in the Academy Awards since 1961. Up to this year’s awards, 28 actors and actresses have been nominated for Oscars for foreign language performances. Eight of them have won, and five have received multiple nominations. Recent winners include Christoph Waltz and Penélope Cruz for supporting roles, and the aforementioned Marion Cotillard for Best Actress. This year, Emmanuelle Riva is nominated for Best Actress for her performance in Best Picture-nominated Amour, so the upcoming ceremony could be another big year for foreign films and actors!

What’s your favorite foreign film?

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