5 Foreign Films That Should Have Been Nominated for an Academy Award (Part I)

The Academy Awards have always had a very difficult relationship with experimental and artistic films or with films dauteur, but, nevertheless, below are five films that should have received at least a Best Foreign Film nomination by the Academy (if not a win) and were unjustly ignored. I am listing only the films that were officially submitted by their respective countries for consideration.

I. Wings of Desire [1987]

The Academy ignoring of Wim Wenders’s masterpiece Wings of Desire in 1988 now sounds like a crime. Was this film really worse than for example Course Completed (Spain) or The Family (Italy) that were nominated in that year? No, it was probably simply too artistic and complex to understand for the Academy. A philosophically entrancing cinematic experience, Wings of Desire tells of two angels in Berlin who observe the behaviour of people around them and things take a more complicating turn when they slowly realise that they can no longer be just impartial observers.

II. Ivan’s Childhood [1962]

This cinematic debut by Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky must be one of the greatest film debuts ever. Thematically significant, visually poetic and unbelievably touching, it tells the story of a twelve-year old boy during the World War II whose zeal to be part of the Red Army fighting the Nazis gains him the admiration of all men around him. The Soviet Union submitted this film for consideration for the 36th Academy Awards and it was unjustly ignored, with the Academy, surprisingly – if not shockingly, nominating such films as Los Tarantos (Spain) and Twin Sisters of Kyoto (Japan) over Ivan’s Childhood. Incidentally, the country’s anti-war masterpiece Come and See [1985] was also later bypassed by the Academy.

III. Late Autumn [1960]

Japan submitted this film by Yasujirō Ozu for the 33rd Academy Awards, but, sadly, it was not nominated. Like so many other films by Ozu, this one is a meditative exploration of familial dynamics and many “deep” themes, including the generation gap and ageing. This story in particular concerns the impact of three friends’ decision-making on one family’s affairs. The trio of ageing businessmen want to see their friend’s daughter married and this desire causes the expected rift between the mother and the daughter. Ozu’s exemplary skill in presenting “the unsaid”, the beauty of every shot and subtle ironies in the dialogues all say that Late Autumn should have been nominated. Another film from Japan that should have received a nomination is Fires on the Plain [1959] by Kon Ichikawa.

IV. The Ascent [1977]

Larisa Shepitko (Wings (1966)) was a very talented director and Ascent is one of her crowning achievements that won the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1977. This World War II film tells of a group of “partisans” captured by the Nazis and stoically preparing to die. However, one of them, Rybak, starts to have plans of his own. Though difficult-to-watch, The Ascent is also a true masterpiece of a film once seen never forgotten.

V. Persona [1966]

Although three films of Ingmar Bergman did won an Academy Award (Fanny and Alexander, Through a Glass Darkly and The Virgin Spring), it is still a bit strange to think that Bergman’s Persona was not only not among those three, it was not even nominated. Again, was it too experimental for the Academy’s taste? Most certainly. Persona is a psychological film rich in symbolism detailing a strange relationship between two women, exploring such themes as identify and duality. France’s A Man and a Woman took the Best Foreign Film Award that year and that, arguably, only added insult to injury.

10 thoughts on “5 Foreign Films That Should Have Been Nominated for an Academy Award (Part I)

  1. Have only seen Ivan’s Childhood, and I would have to agree, Ivan’s Childhood was an award-winning film. I think I saw Wings of Desire but can’t remember it that well. I’ve added the others to my to-see list.

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  2. Interesting list. I’ve read about all five of these films, Wenders should’ve definitely been nominated. As to the ones from Russia, Tarkovsky definitely made an impression with his debut, but again it was his debut, and unfortunately the Academy tends to be a little more cautious with first time director’s over first time actors/actresses. As to The Ascent, I wonder if maybe after the controversy of Soviet authorities seizing Sergey Bundarchuk’s Oscar for War & Peace in 1966, calling it ‘capitalist propaganda’ , the Academy was just a little on the fence about nominating another Russian film.

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    1. Thanks. You are probably right about Ivan’s Childhood, still it is a shame and then also a great injustice that a film of that calibre should have suffered because “it was only a debut”. But, where did you get the information that Bondarchuk’s Oscar “was seized as a capitalist propaganda”? Even in the native Soviet Union War & Peace was considered to be a very complicated and scandalous production affair and quite naturally, as it was also common in the US at some point, it was deemed that the director was hardly the person that should be receiving the honours of the award, but the film belonging to the production overall (producers, as was once the case with director Hitchcock not receiving HIS Award) and in the Soviet Union in particular – to the state, etc. “joint effort” (sentiment at that time). And to whom then went the Best Foreign Film Oscar for the film submitted by Soviet Union but directed by Akira Kurosawa Dersu Uzala? – surely not to Kurosawa?

      Besides, it is very unlikely that War & Peace’s Oscar win had anything to do with the lack of nomination for Assent. After War & Peace’s win in 1968, there were Academy Award Best Foreign Film nominations for Soviet Union in 1969 for Brothers Karamazov, then in 1971 for Tchaikovsky and then 1972 for the Dawns Here are Quiet. In 1977 it had already been 10 years since the War & Peace’s win, and here in The Ascent we have a female director, too, and the one who was not exactly lauded by the Soviet authorities in the first place (her film Wings was deemed somewhat unpatriotic in the way it presented the country and its lack of support and understanding towards its veterans).

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      1. My apologies, I expressed myself poorly on the War & Peace part, this it what was said on the IMDb about it:
        Lyudmila Saveleva came to the 1969 Academy Awards and accepted the Oscar award on behalf of the filmmakers. Upon her return to Moscow, the Soviet authorities boarded the aircraft and confiscated the Oscar statuette.
        IMDb Trivia War & Peace

        After winning the Oscar, director Sergey Bondarchuk was intimidated by the Soviet authorities and was forced to join the Soviet communist party.
        IMDb Trivia War & Peace

        I hope this helps to clear up my thoughts.

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        1. Saveleva came and collected the award because Bondarchuk could not. I am not going now into any Soviet politics and possible intimidations exercised, and I beg your pardon, but IMDb is far from being an expert on the topic itself. Bondarchuk never won any Oscar – the film did. The State put millions of rubels into the production and therefore took the honours of the award on behalf of the film. I am not saying it is just, it isn’t it. But that was the situation in the country at that time especially as they apply to artists and their work. The state production WON the award and it took the Oscar from the hands of Saveleva as it was THEIRS (so here it was probably IMDb’s “confiscated”). Productions in the Soviet Union were not owned by companies but sponsored by the state. Bondarchuk was as much a Best Picture Oscar winner for War & Peace as Hitchcock was for Rebecca. They weren’t – and therefore did NOT receive their Oscars.

          I am not sure about your statements about Bondarchuk’s forceful joining of the Communist Soviet Party. Possibly…but then, it was considered very elitist and “posh” to be inside the Party with all the advantages that it gave. Before the US exercised any hesitation about giving film awards to the Soviet authorities it might have taken a good look into its own history of injustices of giving awards to powerful and rich and corrupt productions that simply provided all the money and ticked boxes and not to talented directors who did all the work.

          Liked by 1 person

              1. That’s perfectly all right. I have Asperger’s Syndrome and every so often I feel like I have to watch what comes out of my mouth and my writing. I’ve definitely gotten better with it, but it’s always a work in process.

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